Rob Dukes Makes Amends
The Generation Kill vocalist discusses his relationship with former band Exodus.
Posted January 25, 2019
“Are you in fear of retribution
For all the actions of your past
In the wake of your destruction
All the lives shattered from your wrath”
—From “Prophets of War” by Generation Kill
That pretty much sums up the resentment that Rob Dukes held towards his former bandmates in Exodus only a few short years ago.
Resentment — or a deep sense of bitterness that we can feel towards someone who has wronged us — can be a powerful and contradictory emotion. On the one hand, seething resentment can be protective by providing the enduring motivation that we need to keep toxic people out of our lives. But on the other hand, that burning resentment can itself become a toxic flame that consumes us, serving as a potential trigger for unhealthy behavior such as alcohol abuse.
Dukes described how resentment was a “go to” emotion for him, in part contributing to his developing alcohol dependence early on in his life. As an example, Dukes explained the deep resentment he held towards his parents.
“I’ve done that with everyone in my life… Me and my parents we weren’t close at all. We didn’t talk — I was angry at them,” Dukes told me. “They abandoned me when I was real young. They didn’t take care of me. And I had to learn it all f*cking myself. A lot of ugly, dark sh*t happened. I was resentful and I was angry.”
While Dukes did not feel connected to his parents, he found a deep connection to punk rock and heavy metal music. He found bands that had a serious and powerful message about the state of the world and the human condition particularly compelling.
“Punk rock really affected me. At first, I liked bands like Kiss — but they weren’t saying anything. Then the Sex Pistols and the Clash came along and they started singing about the injustice of the world,” Dukes explained. “A lot of the metal bands started doing it too… Metallica sang about issues. They never picked a side but they talked about the awareness of it.
“The world isn’t just snowflakes and rainbows, man.”
Dukes eventually carved out a career for himself as the vocalist for Exodus, a band that Spin magazine recently named one of the greatest thrash bands of all time. He recalled how special he felt the bond was not only to the music but also to the members of the band — highlighting Exodus’ performance at the Wacken Open Air festival.
“It’s like five marriages. You have relationships with these four other members, and you have a different connection on stage. As soon as the intro rolls, it becomes very serious… during that intro, that adrenaline starts flowing. As soon as you walk onstage… it’s f*cking all over. And you’re in that moment you’re in. All those things become a machine where you become one with everything and it’s a very special moment,” Dukes said. “I have to say one of the greatest moments was 2008 we played Wacken. And we’d already been on tour for a month. So we were on f*cking fire man… It was just go out and f*cking kill. It was 65 or 70 thousand people and it was incredible. And when you see the video we’re all connected. That feeling — those emotions that come with that — if you haven’t done it, I really can’t explain it. It’s the reason people still play in bands.
“They’re looking for that moment.”
It was perhaps the intensity of the connection Dukes felt for Exodus and its members that set up the resentment he felt when things started to change for Dukes in the band. The first disappointment Dukes experienced was in 2011 when guitarist and songwriter Gary Holt began playing with fellow thrash legends Slayer. While Holt did not officially leave Exodus, Dukes felt that Holt’s first priority was Slayer, thus limiting the amount of touring that Exodus could do.
“Gary was the center of Exodus. And when Slayer came calling, he abandoned Exodus to join Slayer — gave up his whole career, his job, a job he built from the ground up — and he left it in the hands of other people to join Slayer,” Dukes described. “To be in that band, that amazing band… I’m not judging the guy for that. But at the same time, you abandoned five friends who stood by you and toured with you for ten years.”
But Dukes’ resentment truly manifested in 2014 when Dukes was forced out of Exodus in favor of the return of former frontman Steve “Zetro” Souza. Dukes felt that Souza’s return was a business decision whereby Exodus could play shows for more money with a “classic” lineup.
“I think towards the end, it became about business. And the business aspect got in the way of friendship… I took it personal. I didn’t really give a fuck about the business aspect… I don’t care about the money. I just wanted to play,” he explained. “I missed the camaraderie. I missed the nights on the bus driving from Spain to Italy. And me and Lee (Altus) and some of the boys just hanging out late and bullsh*tting and talking and listening to Black Sabbath and arguing about who was the best hockey players.”
His exit from Exodus came at a particularly difficult time, as Dukes had just recently been married. “So at this point, I had a wife — I had spent most of my savings relocating across the country and I had no job. Now I’m f*cking 47 years old and I’m starting over. I was pissed. I wasn’t walking around the house in a f*cking rage… at home with my wife, I would put a smile on my face and tell her everything’s going to be fine. But inside I was not only terrified — I was seething,” Dukes recalled. “If I didn’t have a wife, there would have been no terror. I could fend for myself. But now I have obligations to another human being who I love and care about immensely — and just the week before I said I was going to spend my life with you. I’m going to take care of you in sickness and in health and all of that. Not being a good provider — that’s the terrifying part. You have to remember this was only in my head — I wasn’t talking to her about it. I should have. But I didn’t because I didn’t want her to live in fear. I wanted her to feel that things are going to be OK and that we’re going to be fine. For about a year I was living in panic trying to make ends meet.”
Soon Dukes found work as a mechanic specializing in car restoration. Dukes had been sober for 25 years, but he felt that the emotional pattern of resentment that had followed him throughout his life was consuming him.
“Even though I stopped drinking it doesn’t mean I stopped hurting people and making mistakes and doing things that were unhealthy. At some point, you cannot blame your past for your future actions. And sometimes you have to sit down with yourself and go ‘Why the f*ck am I doing that? It’s so f*cking unhealthy,’” Dukes explained. “And it doesn’t make me feel good but I continue to do it. Why? It’s a human experience that I can’t understand. Why do I continue to make the same mistakes over and over again even though I don’t want to?”
Dukes described how he began to take ownership of his resentment. He cited conversations with both Dave Ellefson of Megadeth and Jack Grisham of TSOL as having helped him reorient his perspective.
“A lot of times it’s just looking in the mirror and being like, ‘Hey man, what the f*ck are you doing?’ I had something at the bottom of my mirror that said, ‘You’re looking at the problem...’ And that would keep me grounded. My friend Jack Grisham from TSOL… we sat down and talked. And I laid my life out for him,” Dukes recalled. “And I remember Dave Ellefson of Megadeth calling me asking me if I was OK. And I was at work, and it was lunchtime. I spent my lunchtime on the phone seething. Then I took an hour and wrote on a piece of paper why the f*ck I was angry. After work, I called Dave and met Dave for coffee and showed him this piece of paper. Honestly at that moment it all kind of went away.
“I wasn’t mad anymore.”
Dukes explained how taking ownership over his role in the deterioration of his relationship with Exodus helped assuage his resentment. “My part in the Exodus thing was I was abrasive. I was sometimes overly honest and awkward, putting people in awkward situations. And I was kind of over it. I was pissed at the double standard that was happening. And one of those things was we went to Japan right before we recorded the record. We all sat down one night and we all talked about what we want to do — what we want to accomplish, and what is the goal. The goal was to make the best record we could make, and that meant we were going to have input from everybody. Everyone was going to come together — we weren’t going to do it like we’ve always done,” Dukes recalled. “And none of that happened. It was just the same rehashed stuff. I felt pissed about that and I voiced my opinion. There were a few things happening on the production side that I had said out loud. And when I said that it caused resentment with those people. And they didn’t have my back – they said he was a d*ck to me so I’m going to be a d*ck to him. Now if I had just kept my mouth shut and sang the songs I would have lost my job anyway because they needed to bring Zet back for the validity of the band. So it didn’t really matter.”
But it did matter, because by taking ownership of his role in the conflict, Dukes accomplished two things. First, he saw the issues between him and Exodus as part of a system, rather than a unidirectional relationship in which things were simply done to him rather than with him. Second, rather than focusing on what others were doing, which is inherently out of his control, he could focus on what he was doing, thus regaining control. Thus even though the same events occurred, he had the choice as to how these events affected him.
To be sure, this does not mean all is forgotten and forgiven. Rather, by taking ownership of one’s actions, the protective function that is provided by resentment is replaced with the recognition that certain boundaries need to be in place — but that resentment does not need to be the mechanism.
“I call that ‘not letting you back in my house...’ I’m not going to let you back in my house, I’m not letting you back in my life to the level that you were before,” Dukes explained. “But I’ll be cordial and I’ll be nice and kind. But I have this understanding that if it came down to it, you’re going to choose yourself over me every time… You will f*ck me over again if given that opportunity… There are very few people that put themselves before others on a regular basis.”
Dukes explained how understanding and managing his own resentment opened up that path towards making amends with others. Making amends is the act of sharing with another person that we acknowledge what we have done to them and are taking ownership of our behavior.
“I was a member of AA for the first 10-12 years of my sobriety, and the amends directly came from that. If you want to live your life, resentment is one of those killers of personality and love and caring. Resentment will lead you down a path that you don’t want to be on. And one of the things you can do is call the people you harmed and make amends to them,” Dukes said. “For me making amends was taking an honest look at the situation, and recognizing your fault in the situation. There’s no way you’re not at fault for something. No matter how angry you are, however you’ve been wronged, if you look at yourself honestly, someway somehow, you are at fault for a part of it because you’re two people dealing with something.”
Critical to making amends is not expecting anything in return from the other person. “When you make amends with someone, you can’t care what their response is going to be… Whether that person says 'I forgive you,' or that person says ‘Go f*ck yourself’ is immaterial. The amends comes when you look inside yourself and you say 'I was wrong and I’m sorry,'” he described. “And sometimes they say 'I’ve been there, I understand, I’ve done sh*tty stuff too, I forgive you.' And then the other side is ‘Go f*ck yourself.’”
But for Dukes, making amends has thus far great results. Years ago, Dukes had made amends with his parents, resulting in an improved relationship. “At one point in my life I was going with those feelings — I was done with this. Instead of calling them on the phone, I drove to their houses and looked them in the eye and said, ‘I’m sorry for my part,’” he described. “And both of my parents who aren’t together both broke down and said their part and made amends to me. Now we talk every week — we’re close. They don’t keep anything from me and I don’t keep anything from them. It’s a much nicer life to live.”
More recently, Dukes was invited to play a show with Exodus — he accepted and took the opportunity to make amends. “I went and played a show with them a few months ago we all sat down at a table in San Francisco and it all came to an understanding,” he said. “Everyone gave hugs and that was it. It was all washed away — all that terrified, all that seething — it all went away. To do that with the Exodus guys was awesome. It’s nice to not walk around with that. It’s a lot of weight to carry.”
And Dukes was able to reconnect with Holt — inspired by another musical feud — Eddie Van Halen and Sammy Hagar. “Eddie Van Halen really hated Sammy Hagar… but on his birthday, Sammy Hagar sent him a happy birthday text. And then Eddie said 'thank you.' That was it — it was on Twitter. And someone asked Sammy why he did that. And he said because he didn’t want to go the rest of my life with that resentment, that anger,” Dukes explained. “And that lead to me talking with someone, and they talked to Gary. And Gary called me. And we had our moment. And we talked for like 20 minutes. And when I hung up the phone, I felt good — I felt at peace… A lot of it subsided and went away… And we had more phone calls and that lead to hey man you want to do a show. And now it’s weekly texts and Instagram messages — cool sh*t.”
Things have really stabilized for Dukes. He feels financially stable and has continued making music with his band Generation Kill, including collaborating with Darryl McDaniels of Run-DMC.
“We moved from an apartment to a nicer house… Things were better financially. So the terrified part of that was starting to go away. I started making another record with the Generation Kill guys. And I met Darryl from Run-DMC. And he and I started working together with the Generation Kill guys. So my musical creative stuff was still going… Gary played a solo on the new Generation Kill album.”
Dukes seemed thrilled with how his making amends has improved his relationships. But he seemed particularly moved that he might be influencing others to learn from his path.
“I went to see Slayer recently — they were playing in Arizona, and I went to see Gary and Kerry (King) and Tom (Araya), and Behemoth were the opening band so I hung out with them, and Lamb of God was there so I hung out with Randy (Blythe). So I’m backstage with me and my wife, and we had just finished talking to Rob Halford — he was talking about motorcycles and cars and I turn around and there’s this huge dude standing there,” Dukes recalled. “And he puts out his hand and says, ‘I want to thank you.’ And I said, ‘For what?’ He said, ‘I did an interview with you in Finland about 8 years ago, and you had just made amends with my dad and you mentioned it. And I hadn’t talked to my dad in years. But you inspired me to go talk to my dad. So after the interview, I went and talked to my dad and now we’re best buddies.’
“If I was put on this planet just for that guy, just for this moment… That’s cool as f*ck man.”