Nashua’s Gary Simard had heard about the rock star who was set to play drums at Simard’s home in Tilton this week.
In fact, Simard had seen one of her shows in the 1980s.
Logically, few if any living at the State Veterans Home knew the name, but Simard, at 79 and young for residents of the Vets Home, was the perfect age to experience rock music from downstairs and then bring it as he got older.
While many residents danced to the big band sounds of the 1940s, Simard grew up on rock and roll in the 1950s, a lover of Elvis and the new energy sweeping the country.
As 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 a good reverend here. I’ll be fine.”
That was a new tone. A traffic jam of wheelchairs and walkers gathered in the home’s vast meeting room – dubbed City Hall – to hear a refreshing and obscure band play, and Simard demonstrated his lifelong commitment to rock and roll.
The band was called Lauren Monroe. She is the singer and central figure of the band. Her drummer and husband, Rick Allen, stood at the back of the stage, with curly silver hair and bow earrings, using only his right arm to keep the rhythmic beat.
He lost his other arm in a car accident 38 years ago while playing for a budding band. This band was waiting for his return, waiting for him to heal and learning how to use his feet to replace the noises he used to make with his left arm.
The band was Def Leppard, which went on to become 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 in the world.
And they had Rick Allen, their drummer. Still do it for shows in the US and internationally.
“Absolutely,” Simard said in a phone call when asked if he’d heard from Allen. “I liked her straight away. You were great.”
He says he saw the band in Philadelphia decades ago. Recalling Allen’s car accident in 1984, he said, “He was a standout in the band and was out of this world on the drums. I played drums in high school and I still wish I could do what he did.”
The Lauren Monroe band recently completed a 17-show tour that covered both coasts, taking only the summer off. The band played in Boston on November 13th and Portsmouth on the 15th.
Her appointment with the vets was in between, unscheduled and unofficial. The executive director of the Raven Fund Foundation, co-founded by Monroe and Allen, which educates and empowers trauma survivors through advocacy, storytelling and music — is an old friend of Heather Spirano, the volunteer service program assistant at the Veterans Home.
“My good friend called and asked how far we were from them, what was our capacity?” said Spirano. “They said without hesitation that they would like to come and perform.”
The mix of these old veterans and the drummer from one of the loudest bands in history made for a beautiful narration. The collision of two worlds. Former soldiers — some storming beaches in Europe and the Far East, others enduring the muddy jungles of Korea and Vietnam, and still others earning Purple Hearts — flocked to see this California-based band.
It was therapeutic. Monroe fronts, writes songs, plays acoustic guitar, sings soft ballads with soft messages, and captures audience attention with long, shiny black hair and a kindness that bounces off the stage.
Def Leppard’s sound was nowhere to be found. That genre was acoustic, bluegrass, folk. The lyrics were designed to take the listener to a better place, with a better way of life.
Residents were wheeled to the stage in wheelchairs, leaning heavily on walkers, and walking slowly on their own. They loved the band, and there’s a video showing dancing, clapping and smiling, damn lack of mobility.
Monroe paused 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 this rhythm fill your heart. Take another deep breath and feel your feet on the floor.”
The pair’s music and lyrics reminded no one of the hard-hitting metal sound Def Leppard produced, which began in the early 1980s and continues to this day.
This was a softer, gentler style of music. Simard said it calmed him down.
“You could feel what they wanted to do in terms of healing,” Simard said. “It blew me away.”