Shortly before midnight on Sept. 19, 2008, a Learjet carrying six passengers departed Columbia, South Carolina, en route to Van Nuys, California, when something went terribly wrong. Air traffic controllers observed sparks coming from the plane as it streaked down the runway while an eyewitness reported that the aircraft, engulfed in flames, resembled a fireball. The plane settled about 400 yards from the runway in an embankment off a five-lane highway. Moments later, deathly screams of “Oh my god!” were heard by onlookers, who made out two survivors frantically removing their burning clothes. These two were later identified as Travis Barker, then-former drummer of Blink-182, and his best friend, D.J. AM (real name: Adam Goldstein). After being transported to a Georgia burn center and listed in critical condition, they both escaped the accident with second- and third-degree burns. The four other passengers—Barker’s personal assistant and security guard, and the two pilots—weren’t as lucky.
Prior to the crash, the two pals were collaborating on a musical project called TRV$DJAM, and had just performed together to heavy applause at a free T-Mobile-sponsored event in front of thousands of college students.
“I was on top of the world,” Barker told The Daily Beast. “My goal was to be able to do something with my drums that didn’t require me to be in the band, and I achieved that with DJ AM. And then our plane crash happened and it was, ‘Damn, I’m in a hospital and they’re talking about amputating my foot and I’m begging my friends to come shoot me.’ I was in a really, really bad place.”
A mohawked rocker with piercing blue eyes and nearly every inch of his spindly frame covered in tattoos, Barker took up the drums when his mother, Gloria, bought him a Muppets drum kit at the age of 6. According to Barker, his mom—who could play drums about as well as he could at that age—encouraged him to pursue percussion instead of his other hobbies: skateboarding and riding BMX. Then, at 12, mere days before entering junior high, he lost her to cancer.
“To be completely honest, I sort of lost it all,” said Barker. “That was my first really big, traumatic experience that happened to me. I had a rough couple of years and I was suicidal at 13, just trying to figure out a way to see my mom again. But as much negative as it gave me, it gave me a lot of positive to carry out the dream she had for me.”
In 1993 at the age of 18, Barker joined punk group The Aquabats. Five years later, the band served as the opening act for Blink-182, who had embarked on a massive nationwide tour in support of their platinum-selling sophomore album, Dude Ranch. Midway through the tour, Blink drummer Scott Raynor was dismissed by bandmates Mark Hoppus and Tom DeLonge due to a rumored drinking problem, and they asked Barker to fill in for the rest of the tour. According to Barker, who described it “like meeting a girl who has a boyfriend,” he had less than an hour to learn all of Blink’s songs backstage before his first gig, and has been in the band ever since.
Armed with a new lineup and a more pop-punk sound, Blink-182 rose to national prominence following the release of their 1999 album Enema of the State. They became unlikely teen idols thanks to the afterschool MTV music video countdown show Total Request Live, that championed their video for “What’s My Age Again?” featuring the band running naked through packed city streets. Barker personally laments the bizarre transformation MTV has taken in the past decade.
“I can’t watch MTV no more,” said Barker. “I get it—reality shows are crackin’ right now—but I wish they were music-related or something. I guess YouTube is the new destination spot for music videos. That’s where I go.”
Barker had his own brush with reality TV fame in 2005, starring with his then-wife, Shanna Moakler, on the MTV series Meet the Barkers, which chronicled the couple raising their three children and Barker’s music career. The show ran for 16 episodes over two seasons until he decided to pull the plug when MTV recommended more drama between him and Moakler.
After the show was off the air, Barker filed for divorce from Moakler in 2006. Things got messy, with each party publicly airing their grievances on their respective MySpace pages, and the drummer engaging in a brief fling with Paris Hilton that resulted in an infamous throwdown between Moakler and Hilton at an L.A. nightclub. Despite all the tabloid drama over the years, Barker and Moakler are still very close.
“I’ve never completely moved on and gotten a new girl,” said Barker. “We’ve both dated different people, but we still to this day talk about having more kids. If there was a girl I would have kids with, I would have more children with her.”
Around the time Barker’s reality TV series took off in 2005, Blink-182 was experiencing drama of their own. Tensions were rumored to have arisen with DeLonge, who had shifted some of his focus to his side project, Angels & Airwaves. After DeLonge reportedly pulled out of a show to help benefit victims of the 2004 tsunami, Barker and Hoppus aired their grievances and DeLonge quit.
“It’s weird man, looking back years later,” said Barker. “There wasn’t one event that did it. It was just a matter of us working and being on tour so much. Communication got bad and they’re still making us work and no one is speaking in this band and you could stab the air with how weird it was and how thick s--- was.”
Then came the plane crash. While Barker was holed up in the recovery ward waiting for the second- and third-degree burns that blanketed his legs and part of his torso to heal, he received a touching handwritten note from DeLonge that included pictures of him and his children.
“Up until that point, I had zero hope for Blink. It was something that I had really put behind me,” said Barker. “My accident definitely made everyone think about things a little more clearly, especially me. I was like, ‘S---, if God gives me an opportunity and I still have all my limbs, it’s still on and cracking in every way.’” He adds, “It’s horrible that it took something like that for everyone to wake up, but we realized, Man, life’s short! We were fighting about some bulls--- and not talking, and it wasn’t anything to be fighting over.”
At the 2009 Grammy Awards, the band appeared onstage together for the first time since 2004 and announced, “Blink-182 is back!” The trio then embarked on a nationwide reunion tour that July, supported by Weezer and Fall Out Boy. Midway through the tour, however, tragedy struck once again for Barker. His best friend and collaborator, DJ AM, died of an accidental drug overdose on August 28, 2009.
“Adam was my best friend and one of my only sober friends that was a very positive influence on me. He was the one I survived with, so he was the one dude that was left with me,” said Barker. “When he was gone? Whoa. I locked myself in and only went out to do shows. I didn’t want to leave the inside of a hotel. I was on some Final Destination s---, in really bad spirits. But at the same time, I always remember how positive he was when he was alive, and all the s--- he would do. He always said, ‘Find something you love and do it for free and then find some way to get paid for it.’ The person that passed away, I always look back and think, That couldn’t have been him because how he passed away man, that just wasn’t Adam.”
The day Barker found out about Goldstein’s death, he was working on the song “Devil’s Got A Hold” off his solo debut, Give the Drummer Some, which was eventually released in March of this year.
“Me and my one buddy Kevin had done that beat together so that one is especially heavy,” said Barker. “I had to leave the writing session because I just found out when I got into the session. I said, ‘Some ill s--- just happened and I’m going to have to regroup with you guys in a couple of weeks.’ And then two weeks later, they sent their verses. I think [the song] is definitely inspired by that day.”
With his solo album debuting at No. 8 on the Billboard chart, a third album with his side project The Transplants in the works, a new Blink-182 album out—with another to follow, according to Barker—and a huge Blink tour in progress, arguably the greatest living rock drummer is in a very different place now than he was during those dark periods.
“I want to keep pushing the limits for drummers and expressing myself,” said Barker. “And I’m just excited to play the new [Blink] songs live. There’s nothing like going out there and playing new music. That’s the most exciting thing for me.”
Or as they say, shake what your momma gave ya.