My Friend Paul, By Corey Taylor
Corey Taylor’s tribute to Paul Gray was originally published in Kerrang! issue 1568
Paul Gray hated amusement park rides.
That’s a fact. He was not a fan of roller coasters, or Ferris wheels or, anything that would make you vomit uncontrollably. Whenever Slipknot had a chance to go to these theme parks, like Disney or Knot’s Berry Farm or Six Flags, he’d roll his eyes and sigh, knowing full well what he was in for.
Because of that, and because I am a huge fan of said rides, I always made sure I was sitting next to him.
We were nearly finished making our self-titled debut album in 1999 when Ross Robinson, our producer, told us that he was going to take us all to Disneyland. I was stoked – I’d never been, and I was so ready for a break from the studio that I was already pulling my shoes on to wait for the band in the van. Paul was not too enthused, but he knew that it would be a great time for the band. And so with coats and smokes, we headed for ‘The Happiest Place On Earth’.
Disneyland in February is a ghost town. There were maybe 100 people there that day, so we were able to run right on to every ride we wanted. Of course, I kept Paul right beside me… which was easy, since Paul was not a big runner. You could always find Paul on the way to stage, because he was always last. He didn’t need to rush; he was on his own time.
With Paul next to me, we jumped onto Space Mountain. That’s where the fun began.
We both sat down in the car and pulled the metal safety bar down to lock us in. I immediately started fucking with it, a look of concern on my face.
“Does this seem broken to you?” I asked him.
He gave me a look of pure panic. “Wh-what are you talking about?”
I started messing with the bar, as if it were too loose. “It just… It just doesn’t feel like it’s locked in good enough! Look! See how I’m moving it?”
Paul was starting to sweat, scanning the area for the ride’s attendant. “Where’s the guy? Where the fuck’s the guy? We gotta get off this thing!”
Unfortunately, the guy was back at the controls, getting ready to hit the ‘GO’ button. Paul was losing his mind, casting around to get the guy’s attention. Meanwhile, suppressing the shittiest grin, I settled back for what would be the loudest screaming known to man.
The ride started and we plunged into darkness. Paul’s screaming started low before slowly creeping up into ‘Horror Movie Female Victim’ range, piercing my ears and scaring everyone on board. Thank god, because he would have heard me laughing my balls off the entire ride. With every corner, he got louder and louder. When we finally reached the end, Paul was nearly hoarse from his terror siren.
With a laugh and after helping him out of the car, we wandered out, a little dizzy, into the cool air.
We ran right for the Matterhorn – and it started all over again!
We’d sit in the car. I’d pull on the bar. “Is this thing broken?” “Somebody get the fucking guy!” Screaming. Laughing. Dizzy. And next ride.
That has to be one of the happiest days of my life. And even though he ‘hated’ me for a second, Paul and I always talked about that day and how much fun we had.
I miss Paul.
What do you say about someone who had such an impact on you? Where do you even begin to talk about what that person meant to you? Memories crowd around your focus all at once, like water rushing for the drain. It makes it hard to hone in on what you want people to know about the friend that you miss so much. It pulls you in several selfish directions, and that right there is a reflection of the man himself. There were so many things great about Paul Gray that you never know which way to begin. As someone smarter than myself once said, ‘Many people talk about the way we die; I’m going to talk about the way we live.’ So that’s what I’ll do for my friend Paul.
Paul could be the giddiest, most mischievous of us all. He loved practical jokes – especially if he was the one in on it – which was awesome, because he had a laugh that could fill four rooms and more. It was an infectious laugh that invariably made you want to laugh with him, and once you started laughing, he couldn’t stop! His sense of humor was great; even when you were trying to pull one over on him, he’d embrace the prank so much that you’d look like the fool in hindsight. Embarrassing shit just never stuck to Paul. So many of us take ourselves so seriously that we forget to enjoy life with a laugh. Paul was going to have a good laugh no matter what was going on.
That’s not to say that he didn’t have his serious side. If you fucked with the family, you’d find yourself dealing with a man whose loyalty knew no bounds. Paul would throw down with anyone who fucked with us, or any of his other friends. He was a scrappy son of a bitch – tough as nails when the shit got real. Out of all of us, he had the roughest upbringing, growing up in LA. He brought that LA attitude to Iowa with him, and infused us all with it. I saw him swing a guy around by his hair one night because he broke a piece of art in Clown’s club. Then he threw him out in the street and told him never to come back.
But Paul would also give you the shirt off his back – literally. This is why so many people were so protective of him in turn. There are people to this day around the world who would drop everything they were doing in support of anything that had to do with Paul. He took care of his friends, even if that meant putting himself in a precarious situation. He’d help you get back on your feet even if he had to sit down for a while. He had a heart the size of this planet.
When it came to music, he was up there with some of the greats. So many things set him apart from the rest: his attention to detail; his ear for hooks; his approach to a riff; his ability to hear several variations on a riff so it never felt repetitive; his vision for songs or passages; his single-mindedness when it came to fighting for what was best in a song… I could go on and on here.
Just when you thought that you’d heard everything from Paul, he’d hit you with a curveball, like the blended melodies on Dead Memories. Just when it’d feel like we had no more ideas in the tank, he’d come in with the chorus riff for All Hope Is Gone. He had his own style and his own way, and there was nothing that anyone could say about it that would make him feel like he was wrong. I remember when he and I were writing Virus Of Life together. He said to me, ‘It’s gotta feel gross, so that when the riff comes in, you want to destroy something.’ I’ve never forgotten that.
I don’t want to deify Paul. He was a man; a human with very human problems. He had a terrible temper and it would take a long time to calm him down. He was almost compulsively late – you could set your watch to the fact that Paul wasn’t going to be there on time. There were times when we were left waiting for him, each of us getting angrier and angrier to the point where we knew that we were going to scream at him. Then he’d show up, right when it felt like he would never get there, give us a laugh, pull on his mask – only after chaining a full cigarette – and we’d get on with it. Afterwards, most of us would feel so good that we’d forget we were mad.
He could have been the world’s worst driver. None of us ever wanted to ride with him. He’d get to fucking around with his stereo or trying to light his smoke, he’d stop paying attention to the road, and suddenly you’re either going 90 miles per hour or swerving into the next lane… or both. The man had more tickets and had had his license suspended more than anyone else I’ve ever known. However, Paul being Paul, he was always able to get his license back. I’ve met so many policemen who let Paul off with a warning that I can’t believe he ever got a ticket to begin with – another testament to just how wonderful he was.
All of these things and more are what I miss the most about my friend. His compassion was ridiculous. His personality was warm and incredible. His intelligence was extensive, and the way he talked or argued about things he believed in was beautiful to behold. Yes, his demons were a great many, and exposed for the world to see. He was a wonderful, flawed, imperfectly perfect brother. He could be your best friend and your worst enemy all at once. But he was an original. He was my original.
I know the other guys in Slipknot miss him as much as I do. Sometimes it’s hard for us all to talk about him, because it feels like it happened yesterday. Maybe that’s how you judge the impact a person has on your life: by the power that your loss has over your emotions. Paul was one of the few people to try to keep the peace in this shit-crazy band. That’s because he loved it, and us, with all his heart.
Without him, we all do our best to fill the void, but it’s a void of massive proportions. How do you make up for the loss of someone who was so many things to so many people? That’s the thing about Paul – I’m still meeting people who he helped, or he touched in a certain way in their lives. It’s like I never fully appreciated my friend until he was gone, and now I can’t say it to him.
There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about him. When I’m on the road, the live shows bring back our times together. When I’m home, this house and the pictures in it remind me of good times and bad. When I’m listening to music, I think about the two of us, cranking new and old tunes in his car or mine, rocking out like little kids and giggling because the stuff is so awesome.
I think that’s the overall memory I cherish the most about him: his energy and his excitement. Even if you weren’t ‘feeling’ something musically or anything else to do with the band, he was the world’s best cheerleader. After one conversation with him, you’d be so ready to play or tour or record or whatever that you’d be jumping out of your skin. Whenever I’m feeling jaded, I remember that. I remember this gift that he and I and the rest of Slipknot were able to build together.
I had the privilege of making music with Paul Gray for 13 years. I learned so much from that man that I still use his ideology and methods to this day. I got to travel the world with him. I got to see things not a lot of others would ever hope to in their lifetimes. He and I built a career out of passion, music, anger and art. We may have had our ups and downs, but he loved every minute of it. I know I did.
If I had one chance to talk to him, I’d tell him everything. Most importantly, I’d thank him. I’d thank him for not just being an influence and a band mate, but also for being my friend.
If there’s one thing I want you to know, it’s that you should never take your loved ones for granted. That’s hard sometimes, because we’re all human, and that’s what we do. We never really know what we have in our lives until that something or someone is taken away from us. I didn’t know; I thought I had all the time in the world. I would give anything to have one moment back. Any moment. The time at Disney; the writing sessions; the long bus rides; the jams in our cars; the barbecues or the walks through the airports… I would give any amount of anything to have one moment to tell Paul that I loved him, for everything he was and still is to me. I have very few regrets in this world. That is by far my biggest.
The world will never see another crazy motherfucker like you, Paul Gray.
I will never know another man as amazing as you.
The world misses you, brother. The band misses you. Your family and friends miss you. If your giant spirit is out there and can hear us, we all love you very much.
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