From groupies to gemara

Dan Reed gave up the road to stardom for a path to spirituality.

Dan Reed 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Dan Reed 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Walking away from fame and fortune at the height of success and trading it in for an ashram in India and a yeshiva in Jerusalem is not your everyday career path. But it seems to have suited Dan Reed just fine. The 44-year-old native of Oregon was once sharing stages with The Rolling Stones and Bon Jovi as leader of The Dan Reed Network, a hard rocking quintet managed by the late legendary Bill Graham that sold over two million copies of three albums released by recording giant Polygram between 1987 and 1992. Now, the soft-spoken guitarist, singer and songwriter - looking nothing like the 'big hair' rocker he was in the '90s - is living in Jerusalem and recharging his music career after a decade and a half of soul searching and spiritual quests. "We were set to do our fourth album and our management, which also handled Metallica and Def Leppard, advised me to take a break for a few months, and think about the next record. And I took a break for 17 years," Reed laughed, as he downed a cappuccino in a downtown Jerusalem café. With an endearing smile, shaved head, t-shirt, and backpack, Reed could be anything except a rock star as he describes his journey from stadiums around the world to the hushed halls of Aish Hatorah yeshiva. Moving from his family's farm in South Dakota to Portland in his early twenties, Reed formed a band which was discovered by music mogul Derek Shulman, who had guided the careers of Bon Jovi and Cinderella. "I remember vowing to myself when I was sitting on a tractor on the farm, that I was going to move to Portland, put a band together and get a record contract... It just seemed like everything was going according to that plan. So I wasn't in awe of it, but at the same time, I felt very fortunate," said Reed about the heady period when he was groomed for success. But after five years of living the rock dream, Reed began to realize that the reality wasn't what he had actually hoped for. "I just felt like I had become a machine to sell posters and T-shirts and photos - a marketing tool for Phillips Petroleum that owned Polygram," he said of his decision to leave the music world in the early '90s. "Listening to the music we were producing, I realized that half the songs had some kind of social content that would resonate for years and the other half was coming from the crotch. And I didn't want to be known for that music," he said. Reed described a curious decision in 1990 to shear his Samson-like locks as being based on an increasing interest in Buddhism and a desire to move the focus away from image and onto music. However, the timing couldn't have come at a more awkward time. "It happened on the day of a $100,000 video shoot in San Francisco, and two weeks before we were opening up a huge stadium tour for The Rolling Stones. So I showed up at the shoot, and the powers that be were not pleased," said Reed. "I also got hate mail from fans for shaving my hair, saying they'd never buy my records again, and I realized I was just on the wrong path here. There were too many photo shoots with my shirt off in a sauna. It just pushed me off the music business." Returning to Portland, Reed pursued an acting career, wrote a number of screenplays, and in 1997, produced an independent feature film called ZigZag. Then he opened a music club in Portland called The Om, which he ran for five years, before bottoming out amid drugs and alcohol abuse. "Ironically, I had never touched drugs or alcohol during all my years playing music, never even had a beer. I was too worried about my voice. I was a real simple farm boy," said Reed. After cleaning up, Reed began his spiritual odyssey, traveling to India for year, where he not surprisingly encountered Israelis along every path. "The first one was a soldier that was in the medical corps. He said he was into not firing guns but healing people. I started asking him lots of questions about the conflict. It wasn't until I started talking to Israelis in India that I started getting a clear idea of the complexities involved," Reed said. Another chance encounter which led to a friendship with a traveling Israeli fashion designer paved the way for Reed's first visit to Israel in 2005. The designer was opening up a boutique in Haifa and invited Reed to the opening, an offer Reed accepted. "When I got here, I just fell in love with this country. When I flew over Tel Aviv, at night, I broke into tears. I watched so many World War II movies, and read so much about the Holocaust, and as I'm flying over it and looking at the city lights of Tel Aviv, I realized that the dream of this place was for it to be the one place on the planet where the Jewish people could finally stop running. It was beautiful to me," he said. WITH A network of Israeli friends he had met on his travels, Reed immediately felt at home here, but desired to understand more about Judaism. Raised by adopted parents as a Catholic, he had foregone formal religion by the time he was 12. But in Jerusalem, he decided to attend yeshiva. "Most of the Israelis I met had been in Buddhist retreats, in attempts to find truth away from their own religion. I made a commitment to myself after being here for six months that I wanted to know something about Judaism," he said. Describing the nine months he spent at Aish Hatorah as a very positive experience, Reed said he came away disturbed over the communication gap that exists between the country's religious and secular Jews. "There are so many secular people who are scared of their religion when they look at it from an Orthodox view. They don't want to dress or live this way, they like using electricity on Shabbat, so many things they'll never embrace. But I feel there's a hunger in the secular world everywhere - not only in Israel - for spirituality. I think the word God is very scary for a lot of people." "Everything that Buddhism can teach you is in the Torah - even the Dalai Lama says that to Jews who come to him seeking enlightenment. Unfortunately the way it's perceived on the outside by secular Jews is that you can't achieve that truth unless you become Orthodox," he said. Reed's decision to leave the yeshiva stemmed from his feeling that as a non-Jew, he was not ready to make the leap to conversion, an idea he's toyed with. "I just know that when I came to Israel, I felt immediately at home. And I've had seven or eight rabbis over the last two years come up to me out of the blue - and ask me if I've checked on my roots. That's without me even instigating it. They knew I wasn't Jewish for some reason, but they asked me to check on my roots. There's something going on in the air," he laughed. Another mystical occurrence has been the revitalization of Reed's musical career. He's gearing up for the release of his first album in 17 years - Coming Up For Air - which is set for release in May. A far cry from his funk metal days, the uplifting and melodic album was recorded in his home studio in Jerusalem and features a number of local musicians including Mark Eliyahu, Kfir Shtivi. American-born guitarist Bradley Fish, and Palestinian vocalist Reem Talhami. And much to Reed's surprise, and delight, the album has sparked connections with a number of his relationships from his rock star days. "I sent some of the tracks to a friend of mine in the music business in England, and she said that she wanted to help me connect to all the people who used to support me in the old days. I hadn't talked to anybody in years, it seemed to me to be kind of cheap to go 'hey, I've got a new record, sorry I haven't been in touch for the past 15 years,'" said Reed. Nonetheless, Reed contacted his old mentor Shulman, who has since directed the career of Nickelback, and sent him the tracks. Shulman was so elated that he agreed to throw his weight behind Reed once again. "It's going to be different this time," said Reed, saying he's going to use his music to do some good in the world. "I hope to use the opportunity, if the record has any success, to do interviews and talk onstage and use my music as an instrument to make people relax at the end of a hard day and give some hope when the news is always so negative." Plans are for Reed to temporarily relocate to New York and form a touring band which he hopes will consist of Israeli and Palestinian musicians. And while he's required to leave Israel in order to renew his visitor's visa every three months, he is expecting on calling Jerusalem home for some time to come. "Jerusalem is a great place to be to get connected, to get inspiration, to write and record," said Reed, adding that he'll be performing some album preview acoustic shows in Jerusalem in May. "I think I'll do the same thing with the next record - come back here and rent an apartment for a year. Israel's brought me a lot of energy."