Rocky Basile is the compact drumming dynamo behind the sound the Modern Rock Band Mildly Medicated. What do you get when you combine a lead singer with Hemophilia, a guitarist with ADD, a guitarist with diabetes, a bassist with Tourette’s, and a drummer on HGH therapy? You get the modern rock band Mildly Medicated. Against all possible odds, these uniquely talented young musicians from Monmouth County NJ found each other in 2012, all unaware that each of them had medical issues. It was only until they were discussing possible band names that they all realized that they shared a commonality.
Labels – Sometimes the packaging hides what’s really within
I’ve been called them all, midget, dwarf, shrimp, shorty, just to name a few. When a girl writes in your middle school yearbook “Rocky, you’re my favorite midget in the whole world” it’s hard to find the compliment in that statement. By then I was already one of the best drummers my age in the state of NJ, but that didn’t seem to matter much to people my age. I think that’s one of the things that drew me to drums, other than the fact that I sucked at everything else, was that I sounded big. I mean you could barely see be behind the kit, but there was no question I was there when I stated to play. My beats were loud, angry, attacking, and complex; all the things I wasn’t in physical form.
You see, at age 12 I was diagnosed with a non-functioning pituitary gland, which just happens to be the gland that produces human growth hormone when you sleep. My growth velocity was measured as zero. I was destined to be a little person. Other than being able to park in the handicapped zone, I wasn’t really happy with the prospects of being 4’2″.
My parents gave me two options, one being to break my legs and transplant bone grafts into the gap and put rods through my legs to hold everything in place, or lobby our insurance company for legal human growth hormone, which costs around $5,000 a month. I opted for hormone therapy, and thus we embarked on a two year battle with our health insurance company to get them to pay for it. Their position was I was not sick. Our position was that we wanted them to look at the situation holistically and treat the entire patient, not just an affected area. I would be a happier and healthier person if I was able to grow to a normal height. During this two year battle with them, my internal clock was ticking, and my growth plates would eventually lock up, and no hormone would ever make a difference. I became depressed hearing my father constantly fighting with the insurance company, while trying to hide the pain of labels and the natural abuse you get in school by being the “favorite midget” .
Even though we finally won the battle over the insurance company and I was taking daily injections into the flank of my stomach, I threw myself in my music because I could feel the depression and the anger start to build. School was still problematic, and I had not yet found my voice. My body was changing, some of it for the better, but some not. It’s a funny thing about human growth hormone, it makes everything grow, even the bad stuff inside you. And for me, the bad stuff wanted to make itself known. I developed tumors in my wrists and ankles, which is not great if you’re a drummer, causing me to have multiple surgical procedures. I had just started playing with my band Mildly Medicated, I had just starting feeling like I was accepted and surrounded by people who understood me, and now my drumming career could potentially be over.
I opted for a series of orthoscopic surgeries on my wrists instead of the normal procedure. Over a series of painful procedures, they got most of what need to be removed. Thankfully all were benign. I felt like an old lady when I got my feet fixed because I had to wear those silly foam boots while I recovered. And, then told me “no drumming” for over 2 weeks. Yeah, right. Tell me not to breathe for two weeks. I drummed in my foam boots while my parents were at work. My mood changed also. I became dark, frustrated, I withdrew from everyone and everything, except drumming. It became my mistress, my anchor, the one thing nobody could take away from me. I’m really not a religious person, but it is fair to say that they became my salvation. I found peace in the effort to make them sing, and needed solitude that my basement and my drums provided. It was safe. I was in control.
During the recording of our first CD, “Stop the Voices”, I got a phone call from my endocrinologist. It came down to this really, “You’re done”. And that was it. My growth plates had locked and no amount of hormone was going to make me any taller or more acceptable to the world. It was then I decided to make some changes. I cut off my traditionally long hair. I threw myself into the gym like a religious zealot. I began to sculpt the body that science had helped give me. My attitude changed. I treated my body as the temple it was. I shed pounds, and the harder I worked the better I felt.
I began teaching at my father’s music school, mostly with young and special needs young people. Who better to understand them than I? I know their frustrations, and I can understand the frustrations of their parents, who sometimes are just as lost as their children. I have seen the same look in my father’s eyes plenty of times. He never stopped fighting for myself or my sister who has a form of Tourette’s, and I will continue to push my students so they form a connection with their instruments, so they can speak through them, like they did for me. I’m no miracle worker that’s for darn sure, but I can certainly help be a conduit to an art that will put them in a better place. Isn’t that what life is all about? Making it a better place? That’s what I’m trying to do, one note at a time.
I’m no longer the short fat kid, at least on the outside. I go to the gym and challenge myself daily, and I focus on my music and my band family. These guys went through it all with me. I might have big muscles now, but the labeled short fat kid still lives within me, and I’m ok with that. He keeps me grounded. He is that voice that reminds me to go to the gym and to study. He is the one that reminds me what it feels like to me the one everyone looks past or chooses last in a game of dodgeball. As I said before, the packaging might not tell the full story about what’s inside. (And I found out that it’s the inside that matters. It always has, and it always will….I just had to go through this journey to open my eyes and heart to this very simple fact) I’m glad I did.
When not performing with Mildly Medicated, Rocky entering his junior year of college and pursuing a career as a psychologist.
Watch the video for “Leave This One Behind” here
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