2012 ARN Hall of Fame inductee, Nick Verykios, is a rock’n’roll survivor, poet, Buddhist and philanthropist, as well as co-founder of the $250 million Distribution Central. This is his story.
On the wall behind Nick Verykios’ desk in the St Leonard’s offices of Distribution Central, is a framed poster of the 2002 induction into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame of legendary and definitive US punks, The Ramones.
It is signed by three members of the band. Only the signature of its beanstalk lead singer Joey - who was dead by the time the band was inducted - is missing.
Towards the bottom of the poster, a cover has been neatly placed on the poster. It comes from a copy of the band’s ridiculously rare first demo tape. It’s so hard to find, it’s almost priceless. On that plain white cover is Joey’s signature.
The tape is safely tucked away elsewhere.
On the main wall, Jim Morrison, the long dead lead singer of quintessential US rock band and psychedelic warriors, The Doors, smiles, enigmatic, almost God-like, as was his way, at any visitor that sits on one of the black leather couches.
Legendary US producer, Bruce Botnick, who helmed The Doors’ seminal LA Woman album, gave the photo to Verykios a decade or more ago.
There is no sign of any of his degrees. And Nick Verykios has them – a Bachelor of Commerce (Major in Marketing) from the University of NSW and a Corporate Director’s Graduate Diploma from the University of New England. But they don’t give out degrees in recognising and understanding of life. That, in many ways, is what Verykios is all about.
He talks a lot - because I ask him to - about his drive to help orphans, about his Buddhist beliefs and his relationship with the spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, about his family and how on earth the $250 million Distribution Central he founded eight years ago with long-time partner and friend, Scott Frew, fits into the picture.
To understand all that and this 48-year-old rebel with a cause, you need to go back to the very early days, poverty, and, in particular, his first dream. It wasn’t of being a train driver or a pilot or racing car driver or any other little boy’s normal fantasy career.
“I came from a really poor environment. We were dog poor, I lived in a place with lots of people in it,” he said.
“There were people there all the time. There were barbecues with lamb on a spit going all the time. Someone was a butcher, someone was a grocer, someone was fisherman, someone was this and that, everyone contributed. I had no idea we were poor because everybody else was - until I got to high school.
“I grew up in Rosebery and in our day Rosebery was the scum of the earth, unlike now. Across the road was Eastlakes, where they built this massive high rise. In my eyes it was 20-storeys.
"What I wanted to do when I was a kid was move from where I was into that building because I wanted to live somewhere where there wasn’t lots of people. It’s all I wanted to do. What I didn’t realise was that it was a block of Housing Commission flats.
"I didn’t care. That’s what I wanted to do. That’s when things started to go wrong for me. When I started to think that I needed to separate myself from everything. I was in and out of the wrong kinds of places.
“You really had to know how to fight well to survive the streets there. Just a lot of juvenile crime and that kind of crap. I just wanted to be free of everyone. That’s so crazy now because I hate being by myself because I don’t feel useful.
“That’s the softer bit. The harder bit was I wanted to be an achitect, to build things. But my dad was an orphan who spent all his time raising five sisters, who were all older than him, by singing in hash houses.
"He was a singer from an early age. He pushed me down that track so I learnt to sing operas when I was very young. Then all I wanted to do was become a musician so I became one.”
He was 17 when he joined his first band, US glam rockers Blue Passion in 1981, singing the higher registers. When he returned home, he joined Lung Slug which was put together to support grunge gods, Nirvana, when they toured Australia.
“I loved that band but it was manufactured so we didn’t really like each other but we wrote incredible songs. What is amazing is so many people still remember it.” He then went back to the US and played with a reformed Blue Passion, then Nasty Passion, before he moved on to another glam metal outfit, Alleycat Scratch.
Incidentally, its first album 1993’s Deadboys in Trash City is regarded as one of the better sleaze rock albums of that time, although I'm not sure whether Nick played on it.
Back in Australia, he also played with Wooden Heart and through it met legendary guitarist Deniz Tek.
“Around that time I stopped wanting to be a musician but I wanted to keep writing songs, writing poems. They got published through City Lights [founded in 1953 by the great beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin] in San Francisco.
"What I realised is you can be a musician, a songwriter, but you can be smart as well. It was Tek who made me realise ‘It’s cool to be at uni mate. Keep doing what you’re doing at uni, you’re doing well, despite yourself. You’re going to need it to fall back on because what if you are crap later on as a musician?’.
"That made me think, what happens if people stop wanting to come and see me? What happens if people stop enjoying my voice or my poems?”
While all this was going on, Verykios had, without knowing it, become a practising Buddhist. From the age of 21 he had been contemplating and meditating.
Drawing on the influence of several people including his mother who was a hardcore orthodox Christian (which Nick now sees as form of mystic Christianity), a university lecturer who ran flotation tank experiments, and Botnick, who was a practising Buddhist, Verykios arrived at a point where he realised that his purpose in life was “to stop people from wanting to kill themselves because they thought that what they were thinking was true”.