Gunned Down – Steve Myers
Rocker Steve Myers was shot in a drive-by in front of his New Orleans house. Then his day took a turn for the worse.
Maxim, November 2002
As told to Charles Coxe
You know how in the movies when the hero gets shot, he grimaces and shrugs it off like a stubbed toe? That’s bullshit. I know, because I was shot not once, not twice, but in six different places in a matter of seconds. And it hurt. Bad. The best way I can describe it is that it must be how roaches feel when they’re stomped in half but still alive. That’s also about how powerless I felt at that moment, soaking the sidewalk in front of my house with my own blood, two gunmen still looming over me, not knowing whether they were going to finish me off with another blast…or if they even needed to.
My life didn’t flash in front of my eyes, but if it had, the last few months would’ve stood in sharp contrast to this fucked-up twist of fate: After running into the lead singer of the Afghan Whigs, Greg Dulli, in a New Orleans bar, he’d asked me to sing on the band’s latest album and then go on tour with them. The night we played Jazz Fest, this hot goth chick came backstage and handed Greg and me small bags of gris-gris, which is supposedly a voodoo charm that brings luck—but it can be good or bad luck. Still, you don’t refuse a present from a hot voodoo groupie. Life was sweet.
Not too long afterward, at a gig in Austin, Texas, Greg was jumped by two meth-head bouncers, who cracked his head with a two-by-four. But two months after almost dying, with a fractured skull and memory loss, he took us back on the road. I hoped we’d put our bad luck behind us.
June 8, 1999 was one of those hot-ass, rainy New Orleans nights, and we’d just rolled back into town after opening for Aerosmith. I didn’t feel like going out, but a friend, DJ Black Pearl, was performing at a club in town. My girlfriend and I had been fighting, and I knew we were on the verge of breaking up. We left the club around 2 a.m. and drove to my place in the Garden District. I lived two blocks from Trent Reznor and three from Anne Rice; it’s a nice neighborhood, as far as nice goes in that city. The reason there’s so much crime in New Orleans is that there’s little separation between rich and poor. The poor live next door to folks a lot better off than they are, and occasionally they decide to level the playing field. Parked in front of my house, my girlfriend and I sat in the car and fought. Between all our yelling and a hard rain pounding down outside, we never noticed another car pull up next to us.
As soon as I stepped out of our car, I spotted the two kids with black shirts wrapped around their faces. I’m from New Orleans, so I know when to run from a bullet. But I kept slipping on the rain-soaked pavement. My adrenaline was pumping so hard that I never heard the gunshots, but suddenly I felt like I’d been nailed by a truck and smacked to the ground. I struggled to get back up but couldn’t; I thought every bone in my body was broken. I saw my left arm was snapped; on my right the little finger was hanging off my hand. One of the kids came up and put his hand on my back as if to say, “Stay down.” He said something, but I couldn’t hear him, so I told him to take my wallet. Then they sped off, leaving me lying in my blood.
I didn’t fully realize I’d been shot until the pain grabbed me. I tried my best to stay alert, because I knew if I passed out, that would be it. My girlfriend was smart; she had crawled under the car and out of the way. Once the shooters were gone, she came out and my neighbors ran over with blankets and ice.
The naked and the near-dead
When the ambulance arrived, the paramedics flipped me over onto a stretcher and rolled out. I was so freaked out I made jokes all the way to the hospital, like, “I’ve never been in such a nice ambulance before,” and, “Did anyone pick up my shoes? I just bought those!” The paramedics eventually told me to be quiet. They cut off my clothes, but I didn’t look, not wanting to see just how shot up I was. When they wheeled my naked ass into the hospital, I yelled for them to at least give me a sheet; if I was going out, I didn’t want to go out buck naked on a stretcher in Charity Hospital. Give a man some dignity.
A doctor ran up to help, then stopped and stared at me.
“Where do I know you from?” he asked.
“I live across the street from you,” I said.
“Oh, my God. Where were you shot?” he asked me.
“In front of your fucking house!”
He rushed me straight into surgery. The nurse asked if she should put in the catheter. I shouted, “The what? Let’s not!” Then the nurse started shoving this tube up my urethra. OK, I admit it: I screamed like a little bitch. That hurt more than being shot.
I told the doctor my allergies, all my past injuries—I didn’t want to leave any room for fuckups. As a young black male gunshot victim at Charity Hospital, I wanted them to know that I was someone special, that I wasn’t your everyday thug. The last place you want to be judged is on the operating table.
The nurse put a mask over my face and asked me to count backward. Then they discussed the surgery. “Guys, I can hear you,” I said. “Don’t start cutting me open. I’m still awake.”
“Mr. Myers, please relax and count backward,” the nurse replied.
“I’m just saying maybe you wanna give me another shot, ’cause I can still…zzzzzzzzz.”
That was the best sleep I ever had.
Twelve hours later I woke up in a hospital bed with all my family and friends standing around me. I thought, Am I dead? Nope—they’re all smiling! I checked myself: I still had both hands; I still had both feet. But I couldn’t feel my left foot at all. The doc told me not to worry, that the sensation would come back, then he showed me what they pulled out of me—it looked like little pieces of metal that had exploded. Apparently, I’d been hit by two or three shotgun blasts in the back (twice), hip, ass, arm, and hand. They said they had to leave some of it in me because they were worried about causing more nerve damage; there’s some by my spine, and I can still feel the one in my stomach.
They asked if I wanted something for the pain. They didn’t tell me it was morphine. After a week I asked them why the walls were dripping. They said, “Oh, that’s just the morphine.” I said, “Shit, you gave me morphine without telling me? Um…give me some more.”
I spent the next three weeks in the “shot-up” ward with all the other victims of random violence. One guy had been shot two blocks from me that same night. He was in a wheelchair. After week two it was time to part with Mr. Catheter. I’d already been shot and stripped naked, and because of the surgery on my digestive system, I couldn’t burp or fart for weeks. You don’t know pain until you’ve felt never-ending, unrelievable gas pressure. So how could it get any worse? Well, in walks the new nurse, a girl I’ve known since kindergarten and haven’t seen since eighth grade! What the fuck did I do to deserve this? “How’ve you been, girl-I-haven’t-seen-since-eighth-grade? Could you please yank this tube out of my johnson? You know, I’m usually much bigger…” This was easily the most embarrassing moment I’ve ever experienced. I must have killed babies in a past life.
I spent the summer learning how to walk again—a tough act with both arms in casts. The Whigs did a benefit concert to help with my medical bills. By September I was well enough to move to New York and get on with my life.
I still have nerve damage and muscle atrophy in my left leg and hip; I work out every other day to try to get strength back. They took out a quarter of my intestine, so I shit 14 times a day. Yeah, I’m regular.
The cops never caught the kids who did it; they said it was probably some sort of gang initiation, like the kid had to shoot some random person to prove himself. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. In New Orleans, stuff like that is a badge of honor: How many times has your car been broken into? How many times have you been robbed? Have you been shot? Yes, I have. And I have the scars to prove it.