When Breaking Benjamin frontman Benjamin Burnley heard that his band’s fifth album, Dark Before Dawn sold more than 140,000 copies and hit the top position of this week’s Billboard album charts, it’s possible that he got dizzy and saw spots. The symptoms weren’t a reaction to good news, but part of a chronic condition that kept him out of the music business since June 2010, when he halted a tour the band’s last album, 2009’s Dear Agony.
“I’m still extremely sick after getting the same answers from some 300 doctors: ‘We don’t know what’s wrong with you,'” says Burnley on his way to an acoustic performance and signing in Northeastern Pennsylvania. “The last time I was in a doctor’s office, I slammed down my medical records, which are as thick as a phone book, and walked out. I’m tired of being a guinea pig. Now I push through the horrendous pain and do my thing.”
For Burnley to ignore his intense discomfort and write, record and produce crunching and atmospheric melodic hard rock songs like “Failure” — which has held the Number One slot on Billboard‘s Mainstream Rock chart for eight consecutive weeks — is impressive enough. But Breaking Benjamin also have a tenaciousness that keeps them topping charts 13 years since their breakthrough, “Polyamorous.”
“It’s crazy because not only have we held onto our old fans, but we’re gaining new fans all the time,” says Burnley. “We’re up to 5.8 million Facebook likes and 242,000 followers on Twitter. . .It’s the fans that broke us in the first place and I think that’s why they continue to welcome us.”
When did you first become ill?
Back in 2007, and I can only speculate that it was caused by excessive drinking. I used to be an alcoholic and I stopped drinking in 2007 because I got sick. I stayed up drinking for three days straight. When I woke up I was weak, seeing spots and dizzy and it never went away. I thought, “Wow, I really did a number on myself. I’m gonna chill for a few days and not drink and I’ll get better.” But that didn’t happen. It got way worse.
How have doctors treated your illness?
The medical system tries to cure your symptoms, but not your illness. That’s how the drug companies make so much money. And if you’re a person whose symptoms get worse with every single type of medicine you take, guess what? You’re shit out of luck. I’ve tried anti-depressants and they’ve made my symptoms 1,000 times worse. Now, I have a symptom that is beyond torturous. It feels like I’m being poisoned, electrocuted and spun around all at the same time. I’m in constant agony and torture and I also have severe joint and muscle pain.
Does that make it hard to play guitar and sing?
No, the muscle and joint pain is so horrendous it distracts me from my other symptoms, so it’s relieving in a sick way. Basically, my only relief is intense pain. It’s a horrible, horrible condition and if I didn’t have the support of all the fans, and if I didn’t have my incredible wife and son it definitely wouldn’t be worth living through.