A drummer for a rock and roll giant drums in a different tune in Tilton, to the delight of dozens of veterans

  • Lauren Monroe plays guitar and sings while Rick Allen plays drums in the background during a recent show for dozens of veterans. Sarah Stanley, New Hampshire Veterans Home Courtesy

  • Courtesy

  • Courtesy

Monitor columnist
Published: 11/19/2022 3:01:01 PM

Gary Simard of Nashua had heard of the rock star scheduled to play drums this week at Simard’s home in Tilton.

In fact, Simard had seen one of their shows, back in the big-hair 1980s.

Logically, few if any others living at the State Veterans Home knew the name, but Simard, at 79 and considered young for the residents at the Vets Home, was the perfect age to experience rock music from the ground floor, then bring it with him as he got older.

While lots of residents danced to the big-band sound of the 1940s, Simard grew up on rock and roll in the 1950s, a lover of Elvis and the new energy that was sweeping the country.

A member of the National Guard, he served in Vietnam in 1968, earning his place at the State Veterans Home and returning with PTS.

“I’m still dealing with it,” Simard said. “I have good reverend here. I’ll be alright.”

This was a new sound. A traffic jam of wheelchairs and walkers gathered in the Home’s enormous meeting room – called the Town Hall – to hear a refreshing and obscure band play, and Simard showed his lifelong allegiance to rock and roll.

The band was called Lauren Monroe. She’s the band’s singer and central figure. Her drummer and husband, Rick Allen, was at the back of the stage, with curly silver hair and loop earrings, rhythmically keeping the beat with his right arm only.

He lost his other arm in a car crash 38 years ago, while playing for a band on the rise. That band waited for his return, waited for him to heal and learn how to use his feet to replace the sounds that he used to make with his left arm.

The band was Def Leppard, which evolved into one of the most successful rock bands in history. They were loud, they had a lot of hair and they sold both albums and tickets to the biggest stadiums across the world.

And they had Rick Allen, their drummer. Still do, as a matter of fact, for shows in the U.S. and internationally.

“Absolutely,” Simard said in a phone call when asked if he had heard of Allen. “I liked them right off the bat. They were awesome.”

He says he saw the band in Philadelphia decades ago. He recalled Allen’s car crash in 1984, saying, “He was a standout in the band and drumming out of this world. I played drums in high school and I still wish I could do what he did.”

The Lauren Monroe band recently finished a 17-show tour, covering both coasts and taking only the summer off. The band played in Boston on Nov. 13 and Portsmouth on the 15th.

Their date with the vets was sandwiched in between, unscheduled and unofficial. The executive director of the Raven Drum Foundation – co-founded by Monroe and Allen, it educates and empowers trauma survivors through advocacy, storytelling and music – is old friends with Heather Spirano, the volunteer services program assistant at the Veterans Home.

“My good friend called and asked how far we were from them, how big was our capacity?” Spirano said. “They said without hesitating that they would love to come and perform.”

The mixture of these old veterans and the drummer for one of the loudest bands in history made for a nice narrative. The collision of two worlds. Former soldiers – some of whom stormed beaches in Europe and the Far East, others who endured the muddy jungles of Korea and Vietnam, and still others who earned Purple Hearts – gathered to see this band, based in California.

It was therapeutic. Monroe is the front person, writing songs, playing acoustic guitar, singing gentle ballads with gentle messages, and capturing the audience’s attention with long, shiny black hair and a kindness that jumps off the stage.

The sound of Def Leppard was nowhere to be found. This genre was acoustic, bluegrass, folk. Lyrics were designed to move listeners to a better place, with a better way of living.

Residents were rolled to the stage in wheelchairs, leaned hard on walkers and walked slowly on their own. They loved the band, and there’s video showing dancing, clapping and smiling, lack of mobility be damned.

Monroe took a break to speak to the crowd. She explained her lyrics, her thoughts, before playing each song.

“I want you all to take a deep breath,” Monroe said to the crowd. “Let that rhythm fill your heart up. Take another deep breath and feel your feet on the ground.”

The couple’s music and lyrics reminded no one of the hard-charging metal sound produced by Def Leppard, beginning in the early 1980s and continuing through today.

This was a softer, gentler style of music. Simard said it calmed him.

“You could feel what they wanted to do in terms of healing,” Simard said. “It blew my mind.”

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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