Everything was going better than fine for Gavin Degraw on August 8. The singer was on a wildly successful tour with Maroon 5 and Train to support his fourth CD, Sweeter (out now). Having a rare night off, he decided to pop into his NYC bar, National Underground, to hang with a few friends and catch up. But things went terribly wrong afterwards when, on the way home early the next morning, he was brutally attacked on a NYC street.
Degraw, 34, recently sat down to tell me about the incident and his sweet recovery.
UsMagazine.com: A wrench was sort of thrown into all of your album promotion plans with the incident that happened. First of all, what happened that night?
Gavin Degraw: I had been out on the tour for a few weeks and we had done maybe about 20 days working. We had a night off but it was in the New York area and basically my whole life is based out of New York City. I live in New York and it's my primary stomping ground. So I called some buddies of mine and said, 'hey I'm in New York. Let's meet up. Let's meet at my place.' So I get down there and I had a few drinks with them and put them in a cab and I left not so long after that and I ended up walking home because I live pretty close to there. Typically when I'm at the bar, I walk home. It's a nice walk. I left and got a few blocks before all hell broke loose. It got bloody and I had to find a hospital. I was trying to walk to the hospital. Ultimately, I got there I guess but it wasn't walking. It was in an ambulance.
Us: Did somebody find you or did you call 911 on your cell?
GD: I was having a hard time calling because my cell was so bloody. I was bleeding so much and I remember my fingers were sliding all over the keypad. I remember that being very frustrating. I got there because someone said that I had an encounter with a cab. I didn't know anything about that at that point. I had a pretty serious concussion already so I don't remember very much. Your brain is kind of bouncing around inside your skull so it's kind of off from what you want it to be. I think the person who called the ambulance said that I had been hit by a cab. I don't know exactly what that means. My speculation is that I saw the cab and it stopped so I went up to it to get in because I was so bloody and needed help to take me to the hospital. He probably saw how bloody I was and stepped on the pedal from there. This is more speculation, you know what I mean? I don't know if I was hit by a cab. I probably grabbed the handle to get in, he probably saw it, and stepped on the pedal which could have thrown me. Maybe the cab kind of grazed me at that point and threw me off into the road or sidewalk or whatever. That's when the person called the ambulance. My recollection says that I was walking past them, they walked past me, they had something to say to me that I didn’t appreciate.
Us: Do you remember what they said?
GD: No. I just remember not liking it. So I turned around and said 'why are you saying that to me?’ Basically I just let them know that I didn't appreciate whatever it is they said. They said something I didn't appreciate and I let them know I didn't appreciate it. And the world wasn't big enough for all of us at that moment in time.
Us: How many of them were there?
GD: Three that I remember. I let them know I didn't like what they said. I wasn’t having a conversation with the debate team. It wasn’t like 'hey guys, you know, I didn't like that. Uh, can we discuss what it is about you that makes you say something about that to me and makes me not appreciate what you said?' (Laughs) You know what I mean? It's just New York, you know.
Us: But it feels safer in recent years.
GD: Exactly, exactly. I got a text message from a girlfriend of mine from down in that neighborhood who bartends down there and she’s like 'get this, this is really crazy. This past week, two more of my friends had something similar happen. One was within a block of where it happened to you, maybe
even on the block and another one was two or three blocks away.' One of them was stabbed with a broken cane. Same kind of thing. Two different people. I was like 'whoa!' It’s terrible. What can you do? Granted, it's terrible and fortunately I got through it but what happened to me, it was a bad moment. I had a concussion and ended up a little bit banged up but it's nothing that NFL players don't volunteer for every weekend.
Us: They get paid a hell of a lot.
GD: They do. They get paid more money, but I probably could have used one of those helmets that night. But I guess I picked the wrong team in the neighborhood.
Us: Besides the concussion, what else? Was your nose broken?
GD: Yeah, I had a few fractures on my face: cheeks, cheekbones, orbit of the eye, nose.
Us: And you just sort of blacked out too?
GD: Yeah, that concussion didn't help me. I definitely got hit in the lip but I kept my teeth fortunately. Teeth are a big deal. But all the swelling went down kind of quickly. I don't know why it went down so fast but I got really lucky. I woke up with a breathing tube down my throat. That, and you wake up and they've got all the precautionary measures on: breathing tube, neck brace, the whole thing. It could have been a very much worse case scenario but it wasn't fortunately.
Us: Did these guys use their fists?
GD: I guess so. Somebody must have been wearing a ring because I had some cuts on my face.
Us: It’s nice you can laugh about it now.
GD: (laughs) I have to look at it like this. All the swelling went down, so I look like myself which means I look like my mother. I’m lucky that it went back to that. I still look like the people in my family. Fortunately, I wasn't disfigured, I was just swollen really. It could have been a lot worse. The fact is, to me, this is just really more a bump in the road than anything else. I love New York City, I built my life and my career out of New York City and New York City has been very good to me. I have to love that town. You can do anything you want in that town but you play at your own risk. You bump into unsavory characters, that's the nature of it. New York City has all kinds. You end up with the bad with the good in New York City and that’s just kind of the rules. I still love New York. I live a very independent lifestyle and New York allows me to do that. I still like living independently and I take full advantage of that and I also take responsibility for that.
Us: You're still going to walk the streets unafraid?
GD: I don't live in fear. The fact is that I have always known the risk of living in a big city and everybody does. It just makes you aware and it reminds you. It's more of a reminder of the environment. It doesn't change the environment and doesn't make me not want to be affiliated with the environment anymore. It just makes you cautious but not afraid.
Us: Are you going to make any other changes in your life because of this?
GD: I don’t think so. To me, this is just one bad moment. There have been a lot of really great moments. Bad moments are bound to happen at some point and this is just one of them. This is the one maybe perhaps. Maybe this was the one. I got through it and I was really fortunate. I'm not even really that upset about it. Literally it was just a bump in the road. The thing that upsets me more than the physical damage is that my mom's 60th birthday was coming up and we were supposed to celebrate it around the show date when we played the arena in Nashville. We were going to have a big birthday party for her August 15 and that kind of interrupted that. And of course I missed the show days.
Us: There was such an outpouring from fans. What celebrities or famous friends reached out?
GD: It was incredible. When you're in a bad situation and you end up in a bad spot, the upside is getting that love from people who care about you. I have to say it really helped my spirits. I have an amazing group of fans and they were incredibly supportive. I have a great family, great friends — friends that I've had since we were little kids who are still my friends as an adult. They all reached out from every chapter of my life. It was an incredible experience in that regard. And then feeling that coming from artists as well was really special. The guys I've been touring with sending me Tweets and texting me, asking when I'm coming back out. Also, guys I've toured with in the past and buddies of mine – from musicians to comedians. I even got flowers from Elton John! I was like 'wow, these are beautiful, thank you.'
Us: Do you know Elton or was that out of the blue?
GD: I've met Elton a couple of times and every time I've met him, he's been the greatest guy. Sometimes you meet someone and they're very nice but he's just an over-the-top gentleman. The flowers were totally unnecessary for him to send but it was a beautiful gesture. One of my idols, sending me a gift 'Thinking of You' really lifts your spirits. It was maybe the second day when I first left the hospital. It really helps your spirits when you're all banged up.
Us: But you sing the same?
GD: I think so, and I'm really happy about that. We got the gig and it felt like a really big victory. We got off stage and the band was like 'hey, man, just to let you know, tonight was a victory. That's how we feel and great show.' There are people rooting for you when you’re down and it helps you get back up there.
Us: You must have been nervous how you'd sound, right?
GD: I was very nervous. I think I got it back. We just had to go up there. I went to the doc and was like 'hey man, can you mend this thing back together the same way it was?' (laughs) He was like 'Yeah, we can do that.' We'll see if we have to do anything down the line but I think for now I'm pretty well fixed up.
Us: Did they catch the guys or are they looking for them?
GD: I don't think they caught them. I know NYPD was quite tenacious and thorough. They did quite a bit of work. If they catch them, great. If not, that doesn't kill me either. It's not that you want that personality running around but it's a big city and it's hard to police every square inch of a city like New York. If they want to keep it going and keep that neighborhood a little safer for other New Yorkers, that's great. But I'm so past it already, honestly. That's already behind me. It was a hurdle a couple weeks back and it's going to stay there.
Us: What do you credit for your positive outlook?
GD: I would say that I've had a lot of jobs that I didn't like and I finally have one that I love and I want to stay on this particular path. This is my best life possible right now. And that's the path I want to stay on.
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