Daniel B. Kline: Finding success as the bottle runs dry

Published 6:48 am Saturday, August 1, 2009

He stood on the stage much to the indifference of the crowd ironically enough reading a story from his book about the negative audience reactions his band once received opening for the Violent Femmes.
People were talking and only a handful of us were listening, but nothing could faze him as he had been through the worst and it would now take much more than an impolite bunch of rock fans to knock him down.
Chris Campion has a rock star’s voice, a comedian’s stage presence and a charm that makes it nearly impossible to not like him.
His band, the Knockout Drops, remains legendary on the New York club scene and if talent was the driving factor in determining musical success, well, then pretenders like Coldplay and Fall Out Boy would be opening for them.
Instead of headlining arenas and picking places to hang his platinum albums, though, the middle of Chris’ story finds him drowning under a river of liquor having used up the considerable goodwill his undeniable charm bought him with so many people.
He had been through interventions, institutions and the best efforts of the many, many people who care about him to get him straight. Unfortunately, nothing they tried made him do much more than halfheartedly pretend to not be drinking.
Campion was a rock star whose band never quite made it – a man who never got what he truly deserved, though in retrospect that may have been for the best, as stardom might well have killed him.
Chris had gotten close enough to know what he was missing and the ride to the very bottom of the top had left him a penniless alcoholic who had run out of couches to crash on.
He was the life of the party who had stayed at the bar long after everyone else had gone home and his story seemed likely to end in the morgue.
Tales like Chris’ rarely have a happy ending, making it all the better when one does.
When Campion got sober, he did it with the same zeal he once put into charming a bartender out of the next drink that he could not possibly afford to pay for.
He put down the bottle, picked up a pen and wrote “Escape from Bellevue,” a one-man-show that brought him a little bit of the fame that his talents so richly deserve.
The book that grew out of the one-man-show “Escape from Bellevue: A Dive Bar Odyssey” was so compellingly written it made me want to be Chris Campion despite his excesses and his endless failings.
Campion made becoming blindingly drunk oddly appealing only because you know that in holding the book with his name on it, he probably comes out the other side relatively intact.
Whether drunk or sober in concert or on the printed page, Campion has an impossible-to-ignore charm.
He would not be out of place leading a late night talk show band or sitting around telling stories to friends and strangers over a cup of coffee.
Campion is a hard guy not like as evidenced by the sheer amount of friends he managed to have even when he was drinking, lying and doing just about everything wrong one man can possibly do.
Sobriety has brought Campion success but, if you can judge by the e-mails we have exchanged or his passionate reading in the face of a less-than-loving crowd, sapped none of his vitality.
Perhaps in his second act, Chris Campion becomes famous and maybe the Knockout Drops become more than just a beloved secret on the New York club scene.
He deserves nothing less and the world could do a lot worse.

Daniel B. Kline’s work appears in more than 100 papers weekly.  When he is not writing, Kline serves as general manager of Time Machine Hobby, New England’s largest hobby and toy store, www.timemachinehobby.com. He can be reached at dan@notastep.com, you can see his archive at dbkline.com or befriend him at facebook.com/dankline.