King Diamond in the RoughPosted on May 5, 2010 – 2:55 AM | by OldManFoster
Recently, Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson and a few associates made a pit stop at the venerable Midtown watering hole, the Rubicon Brewing Company. While there, he was goaded into singing “Happy Birthday” to Charles Adrian Thomas, a Rubicon regular who was celebrating his 41st year on earth. Mayor Johnson, never one to oppose a majority voice, gamely serenaded the birthday boy, muffing up his name only slightly. By all accounts, the mayor did a half-way decent job, adding one more episode in the life and times of Mr. Thomas, or, as every good denizen of Midtown knows him: ‘Ground Chuck.’
Ground Chuck is an institution in Sacramento, a true individual who personifies the unique and quirky city we love. Those who might dismiss Chuck as a “mascot” or, as many who are not in the know might presume, a street person, are denigrating a multi-talented artist/musician/comedian who’s been embraced by a wide swath of Sacramentans from all walks of life. Such a dismissal also demeans someone who has overcome great obstacles in life and come out the other side, not only with no bitterness, but with humor, a thirst for knowledge and experiences, an overwhelming love of people, and a healthy acceptance of who he is.
Who he is started in Portland, Oregon, where Ground Chuck was born in 1969. When his mother passed away when he was four, Chuck and his father relocated to Sacramento where he was left in the care of his fundamentalist grandparents. Soon afterwards, Chuck was diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome, a neurological disorder that causes physical and/or vocal “tics.” His grandparents, overwhelmed by the responsibility, made him a ward of the State. He was owned by the courts and sent to a succession of group and foster homes. “They weren’t tackling the problem, they were just medicating me,” he sighs. “With Tourette‘s, every day I wake up, I feel really helpless. So I have to go out and find my friends and my self-esteem starts to come back. And I do that every… single…day. That’s my therapy, that’s my medication.”
The way that Chuck talks about his Tourette’s makes it seem that he has taken an adversity and turned it into strength. He talks about the positive side effects, such as a heightened sense of awareness and an endless stream of creativity. It almost seems that he’s proud to have Tourette‘s.
“I am proud,” Chuck replies without hesitation, “because I might not be the same person I am. I’ve embraced it.”
In the mid-eighties, Ground Chuck reunited with his father. Currently, his father lives with Chuck and is in failing health; Chuck is very protective of him. “Sometimes I have to yell at my dad but it’s only so that he knows what’s going on. But I always tell him ’I love you, dad’. I don’t want him to be alone. I love him, he’s my dad.”
Chuck pauses for a moment. It is the only time during this interview that he seems to be uncomfortable, a hint of melancholia in his voice. “Are we done talking about this stuff?” he asks, clearly wishing to fast-forward and wanting this part of his story to be locked in the refuge of memory.
One profound influence on Ground Chuck was his discovery of punk rock, that oasis for the different, the creative and the outsider- all three qualities describing Chuck at age 15. Since joining his first band, Outcasts of Society, in 1985, Ground Chuck has been a steady presence on the Sacto music scene. He has played drums or guitar in over 20 bands, including Pollution Circus, The Driven, The Raisin Brains and his current metal band, MDL aka Mental Defective League.
“Punk rock is great for kids. They can write songs about what bothers them, things they hate or are upset about and it’s always been a really good thing. The punk rock community has embraced me. I’ve become kind of a legend in the scene! Throughout my life, I’ve spent one or two days with thousands of different people. Then I’ll run into their kids or friends or relatives…it really is a small world. My band opened for Fang recently and after the show this guy came up to me and said, ‘You probably don’t remember me, but when I was five years old you were my best friend!’ He’s 23 now.“
A self-taught artist, his big, fun, colorful chalk art pieces enliven sidewalks throughout Midtown. “I heard about people in Europe that were doing chalk art, they’re called “screevers” in Italy and France, so I wanted to become a screever. So I got some determination. You have to have determination to do anything!” He also paints on canvas and many local businesses display at least one of his works- evidence of Chuck’s habit of gifting portraits he’s made of friends to show his appreciation of their support and friendship. Kids immediately sense that they’ve found a kindred spirit. “I love kids. That’s one of my main things, man! There’s nothing better than the vibes kids give me. They’re an inspiration. Just wonderful.“
These days, Ground Chuck is most excited by his fledgling career as a stand-up comedian. Egged on by the likes of The Comedy Spot’s Brian Crall and Keith Lowell Jensen, Chuck has been appearing at various comedy open mic nights and from all accounts will have milk coming out your nose. “I’m definitely a comedian. I love telling jokes, making up bits. I love the components of a joke. I don’t have a problem with performing.” To catch Ground Chuck in action, there is a short film that can be seen on YouTube. Created by local musician Matt McCord and Rubicon bartender/director Brett Sublette, it has Chuck replete with his guitar and his face painted up like Darth Maul, riffing on the subject of the Seven Deadly Sins and improvising songs for each one. At the premier of the eight minute film it received a standing ovation. (See it below…)
With his celebrity status on the rise, Ground Chuck has no plans on leaving our fair city. “There are some good-ass motherfucking people here. They can appreciate my candor and my way of being. When I meet somebody and they’re cool to me, it makes me happy and I see all the possibilities involved in that.”