Hippie Vaults: What It Feels Like To Die Three Times with Jeff Grosso


2017 Foreword: Hippie Vaults – from the “What It Feels Like” column in our Oct. 2012 issue. This was the raw interview text from Jeff that was shortened down for the magazine page. As the opioid epidemic and ODs have only grown in relevance since this was published five years back—drug overdoses are now the number one killer of Americans under 50 and new projections predict opioids will kill upwards of half a million Americans over the next decade—let this text be a cautionary tale for anybody thinking about messing with them. 


Original intro: Jeff Grosso was technically dead on arrival (DOA)—with no vital signs on three separate occasions after heroin ODs. Now 7 years sober*, he describes what it feels like so that you hopefully never have to find out for yourself.
* in 2012.   Original Illustration: Jay Howell. 

ME: We had talked years back but I think you have a couple OD stories right?
Grosso: Yeah. Same shoes as Duane (Peters) man. You shoot too much heroin you end up in the hospital. It's so romantic and cool.

I wish I were calling for something more upbeat. Was it three times that you were DOA?
One, two… and three. Yeah. I think three times.

Basically brought to ER with no vitals?
Yeah.

In the back of my mind I also have this frozen burrito story. Was that you or am I mixing this up?
That's me (laughs). That was actually one of the incidents were they were having a hard time keeping me alive. All these stories get embellished. Duane's stories are all embellished. Mine are whatever. It's not like it looks in the movies. It's not like, "Oh, he was dead. We drove him all the way to the hospital and he was dead the whole way. Then they brought him back." It doesn't work that way. They bring you back to life at the f—king place. They try to keep you breathing. You go back out again. You come to. They work on you for hours and hours trying to get you stabilized. Once they get you stabilized they're just like, "You fucking idiot." The time with the burrito, they have this shit called Narcan, which is this intravenous drug that they shoot you up with. It counteracts the opiates. Not adrenaline like Pulp Fiction. It just negates the opiates’ receptors. It basically feels like they lit you on fire from the inside out. It hurts real bad. The burrito time I had to be put on a drip of that for like a day and a half. That sucked.

Better days. Finger flip to tail at Raging Waters, San Jose. Photo: Vukovich. TWS Photo Annual 3, 1988.

Another time I overdosed out in Arizona at my mother's house, which is brilliant. That was actually a suicide attempt but whatever. I had been out for so long, that was one of those DOA trips. I had been out for so long, all your veins start to collapse. So they couldn't find a vein to get the Narcan in. Eventually they just had to shove it into my jugular. Right in the neck. So I woke up strapped to a table, my head strapped to a table with a pick line in my neck. It pops you right up. Like I said it's like being lit on fire from the inside out. You wake right up like, "What the f—k." And all these doctors are standing there like, "You idiot. Do you know were you are?" I was like, "I don't know. Australia?" The lighting in the room looked like Australia to me.

Arizona will do that.
(Laughs) Yeah. It's not all Pulp Fiction-y. It's not glamorous. It's not like the movies. It's pretty fucking retarded is what it is.

The frozen burrito was to wake you up right?
Yeah. That got embellished too to where they said I actually had a burrito in my ass (Laughs.) It was never in my ass. Sticking in my ass crack, yes. But it makes for a funnier, better story.

What could go wrong? Santa Cruz ad. TWS Feb. 1987. Photo: Keenan.

I think I read it in Big Brother years back.
Yeah. And like I said. I came to long enough to stand up and have this conversation with the cop, and then they get me down to the gurney and I nodded off again. Overdosing on heroin or any opiates is a very long and painful process. It's not a moment of quick release and then you’re out. It's basically hours and hours of basically suffocating to death.

You didn't walk towards the light or anything?
No. For me personally, everything went black and you either wake up or you don't.

No out of body experience?
No. I never had grandma or Jeff Phillips waiting there to greet me or telling me to go back. I have spoken to people who have had that experience. More power to them but that's not my story.

Some of the stories overlap. Another time I got a giant abscess on my arm. I have a big giant scar on my left arm. Abscesses are basically little pockets of poison. It was moving up into my arm into my armpit. I was at this indigenous (Native American) detox facility, trying to stay out of prison. They wouldn't send me to the hospital because they thought I was trying to get drugs. Finally some ex-junkie came to see me and called the paramedics who took me to the hospital. I have plates in my left wrist. The three abscesses had rivered together and were pouring in over the plates and the screws. The doctors saw this and started to freak out. I asked if it was serious and they said the last person that came in wasn't nearly as bad and he's dead.

Early nose stalls a la Blender. Bullets Wheels ad, TWS Oct. 1988.

Basically they were like, "We're gonna rush you straight to surgery and we're going to try to save your hand. You're either going to die, or you're going to wake up without a hand. One of the two." That was a heavy one to swallow. As a direct result of my idiocy. That was probably the scariest one because I was actually present for it. When you're being an idiot and drinking too much or doing too many drugs and passing out, you're not there for any of this. Like, "Oh, I drank a fifth of whiskey! Aren't I cool?"

You do a bunch of bullshit in like five-ten minutes, then you pass the fuck out. You black out and you’re not here for any of it. Or you shoot a bunch of heroin and you fall over dead. You're not there for any of this horror that everybody else has to go through. I was actually there for all of this bullshit. My dad showed up and was just like, "Well, you gotta pay to play. Time to be a man." Which was actually rad because that was exactly what I needed to hear. My head was telling me, "Just run. Leave and everything will be okay" No, then you'll actually die. Shooting yourself up with a bunch of dirty needles—Ooooh fun.

That's the deal they had in Requiem for a Dream right? He gets his arm amputated.
Exactly.

Movies taught me everything.
(Laughs) Yeah. Life imitating art. Like, hey, here's my little Requiem for a Dream trip.

Double thumbs up keep on truckin’. Photo: O. TWS Sept. 1989.

When did you get clean?
I started trying to get clean in '97. This go around, I've been clean since 2005. July 22nd will be seven years. My wife has eight years. We had the exact same amount of time but then I broke my hand at Channel Street and decided I would do some other shit. Seven years this go around. Twelve years to get seven years. The whole shithouse could go up in flames tomorrow.

You're an active twelve-stepper?
Yeah. It's supposed to be anonymous, but yeah. Couldn't really do it on my own. Asked those people for help and they saved my ass.

I did want to get the full story just so I don't enhance the burrito story even more.
Whatever. It's a double edged sword right? You tell the stories hoping that maybe they'll be cautionary tales. Some people are über private about it, my wife is like that. She's really down for traditions and being anonymous. I on the other hand am kind of a public figure. Most people that know me know this bullshit about me anyways. So it's like, well, why not try and at least make it count for something. You tell the stories, try to make it funny, and hope that it might serve as some sort of cautionary tale. Most of the time people end up thinking it's funny and they become mythologized.

Decked out Rock ‘n’ Roll with tie-dye flair. Photo: Mountain. TWS Any One Thing. Feb. 1990.

There might be a kid out there that reads it and relates.
Yeah. That's one thing with the advent of the internet. I have had people hit me up that were into me as a kid and maybe went thought their own stories. People have hit me up and told me I gave them hope and helped them get clean. I didn't do anything, you did it. But hey, we all get to live another day—neato! It puts you in this weird spot sometimes, like, am I promoting this, like, rad, let's all be Johnny Thunders!

I'm not sure how much promotion can come from that burrito story?
(Laughs) Yeah, right? I want to be that guy! That's just the heroin stuff. There are car crashes and all that too. Drink a gallon of rum; race your car to some David Bowie. Run into a telephone pole at 35 miles an hour, go through the windshield and walk away. Dumb shit like that. Skateboarding is littered with it.

Follow Jeff on Instagram: @grossosucks
Watch his show: Loveletters to Skateboarding
Don’t do heroin.

Pivot fakie for the cover. Photo: Brittain. TWS Oct. 1994.

Before fame, drugs, and ODs. Grosso’s intro ad for Variflex. TWS Sept./Oct. 1983.


Do yourself a favor and watch Jeff in Streets on Fire (1989). Best drop in opener and dismount ender. Music: Black Flag/Nervous Breakdown. Play this song while reading this.