by Jenna Romaine
The year 2020 was to be a highlight for the darlings of pop-punk Dashboard Confessional. After two decades spent together, backed by seven studio albums and hit singles like “Screaming Infidelities”, “Hands Down” and “Vindicated”, singer Chris Carrabba and the band were on the first leg of a tour celebrating the 20th anniversary of the group when the coronavirus pandemic struck, shutting down sites and, indeed, the entire world in its wake.
“It was a drag to be taken off the tour we were on,” Carrabba said on Zoom, a stark reminder of the perpetual state of the company. “We had a moment of real connection with this audience which has been with us for the most part the entire time. It was quite charming.
Returning home in Tennessee with his family, Carrabba attempted to maintain that connection early in the pandemic, performing for fans via live broadcasts in an attempt to connect “on a smaller scale.” But it all came to an abrupt end in June. While touring outside of Nashville on his motorcycle, he struck debris left by a car in a crash hours earlier, hydroplaning before being launched into the air and in a ditch, helplessly watching his motorbike land on top of him.
“I didn’t really feel any trauma in the accident,” Carraba said, looking away. “And I didn’t feel any trauma in the ambulance. It all looked like a broken rib or something. It was only after the surgeries that I really understood.
The reality was much harsher. Carrabba had broken both shoulders, severing his biceps and triceps completely on both sides. “This team of doctors and surgeons went out of their way to make sure I knew what I was facing,” he said, “and it was the worry that I could see on their faces, and I’m like : ‘They see this every day and they seem terribly concerned about gravity.
It was hardly a concern for him at the time, but the intricate ink that describes the majority of his body suffered from the accident as well. “I have a full sleeve on one arm and a [on the other] that has intentional space, ”he says, pointing to his arms, currently obscured by a sweatshirt but covered in traditional Japanese ink with contrasting koi fish on either side. “The scar on the right side is in the tattoo and is really visible. But it turns out that [the surgeon] was able to go into that gap on the left side where I have the little gap of nothing tattooed there.
He’s not afraid to tattoo on it, potentially, but he knows that inking scar tissue can be tricky. When he was younger he had a large scar tattooed on his elbow, an already tender area that annoyed him by swelling and keeping a fever for a few days. Still, it was nothing compared to his first tattoo experience.
By the age of 16, Carrabba’s friend, whom he describes as having been “a good artist for a 16-year-old”, had acquired his own machine. Desperate to get a tattoo before he reached legal age, Carrabba was his guinea pig. With a bucket placed under his hanging arm to catch the blood flowing from the aggressive force his friend was squeezing, chewing on his skin, Carrabba came out with “an armband, of sorts”, which was eventually dropped. He became infected and his mother found out after noticing blood stains piercing his shirt. She was angry, to put it mildly, and sent him to the doctor where he received a second reprimand. These days she doesn’t care about her tattoos, but “she’s always mad” about the first one.
The pain of his tattooed banter in his youth was not even on par with the extensive rehabilitation Carrabba envisioned in June. “I lost the ability to play the guitar when my muscles were severed and redraped there, so I had to relearn,” he says. “My strength is coming back to some extent, it’s just amazing how much muscle atrophy is progressing.
“Of all the things that I went through with this process, in any other circumstance, I would have turned to music, and it was gone,” Carrabba continues. “I had just lost that ability completely, and it didn’t feel temporary. So that put me in a dark position. Forget it’s my livelihood [music] is my passion and the thing through which I channel all of my life experiences.
When he was finally able to return to his guitar, it wasn’t as smooth as it used to be. The two metal plates and the 26 screws put a strain on him, and when he tried singing again for the first time, he found that he couldn’t get his voice to sound properly or find its height, things that once seemed second nature.
For the past eight months, he has worked three minutes to ten minutes and ten minutes to several hours a day. “I think I’m almost as good as I was, and I think someday it will be as easy as before,” he says. “I have really high hopes for the quality of life that I will recover with. And I’m excited about it because for a while there it was nebulous. I didn’t know what it was going to be.
He hopes that these experiences will continue in his music. In true pandemic fashion, he tweeted: “I’ve finally reached the point where being trapped in my house and trapped in a broken body is either going to make me write the best music of my life or cut bangs,” laughs Carrabba. “They are in dead heat. Hope these are songs, I don’t want bangs at all.
In the present, Carrabba is focused on healing, writing, and achieving something that was lost for many during the pandemic: enjoying the purpose and the time given to him.