Cut My Life into Pieces: The Story of Last Resort by Papa Roach | by Jason Henry | Jan, 2021
There are very few songs that are truly at the apex of their genre, or in other words, iconic AF. For nu metal, Papa Roach’s “Last Resort” is one of those songs that cannot not be played at your local rave because:
1. Everybody knows it,
2. Everybody demands it because,
3. Everybody knows all the lyrics and,
4. Wants to embarrass themselves rapping to it.
Whether it was the unedited LP version, the censored version or the other censored version, A.K.A. the “squeaky clean version.” You know the one. “Don’t give a… if I… my arm… would you even care if I…” Lyrical gold, I tell you. Shout out to the FCC because censoring that shit just made me all the more curious.
So how did Jacoby and the guys create one of the anthems of a generation?
When Jacoby Shaddix’s parents split up, he and his brothers moved with their mother to Vacaville, California. His mom remarried but Jacoby noted how loved he was by his new step-grandfather. He loved him as if he was his own blood. His name was Howard William Roatch, but they called him “Papa Roatch.”
And now you know how the band got their name.
As you probably know, Papa Roach’s debut major label album was titled, Infest. But they actually created a studio album two years earlier called, Old Friends from Young Years. When I first listened to it, it reminded me of Deftones’ Adrenaline album, especially in how Jacoby Shaddix rapped in this unintelligible way that Chino Moreno did where you can make out a random word here or there.
It was… weird, but understandable. Not that the words were understandable, god no, they were not. And maybe that was due in part to the recordings not being of the highest quality. But I understood that Deftones was a big influence on Papa Roach. And when a band is first starting out, they will eventually find their sound.
However, Papa Roach didn’t have it easy. In an interview with Kerrang! Shaddix stated, “I asked the local drug dealer for a $700 loan. Our first full-length was funded on drug money!”
And to add to the lawlessness, bassist Tobin Esperance stole a cassette that featured the Johnny Cash single, “The Man in Black” which gave Jacoby the bright idea that the band should be in all black, but more so, that the band should have an image. And that is clear to see in the video for Last Resort. Literally the only thing that isn’t black are Dave Buckner’s cymbals.
In 1998, Papa Roach recorded their 5 Tracks Deep EP, which had five tracks on it. They may have been lawless in the past, but at least they were honest now.
I love this release because while I can still hear the Deftones in the addition of the Korn and Wu Tang elements, you also hear the distinctive and classic Papa Roach sound emerging with more punk influences. There was also a major increase in the recording quality.
In 1999, they released, Let ’Em Know! which was another pretty good five track EP which showcased Jacoby’s vulnerability in his lyrics. Plus he was owning that East-coast rap sound and making it his signature style.
All their hard work paid off in a development deal with Warner Brothers to make another five track EP, but this EP featured the likes of Infest, Dead Cell, Broken Home, She Loves Me Not and Last Resort. Three of these tracks would be singles and all five would make it onto future studio albums.
And yet, despite having future smash hits, Warner Brothers walked away from La Cucaratcha. This was apparently due to the A&R guy Jeffrey Weiss who brought Papa Roach to Warner Brothers in the first place being fired.
But fortunately, Ron Handler at DreamWorks Records scooped them up, they hit the studio in late 1999 and had their major debut album, Infest, on shelves in April 2000.
In an interview with Songfacts.com, bassist Tobin Esperance explained that the guitar melody was inspired by them sampling classical music. Esperance played the now iconic melody on piano for Jacoby to hear, Jacoby started rapping on it and writing to it.
That made a lot of sense to me. Actually, I got somewhat triggered thinking about piano drills to strengthen my fingering agility. Never thought about converting it into a song though.
However, it has been suggested that the iconic melody was sampled (or ripped depending on who you ask) from Iron Maiden’s song, “Genghis Khan.” If you listen to the final thirty seconds of the track, it sounds extremely similar to the melody in “Last Resort.”
That was the prevailing rumor over the years before Tobin gave his explanation.
Thematically speaking, Last Resort is about… y’know. It’s like regicide but you’re the royalty being killed by your own hands.
Shaddix spoke to NewsTimes on the song where he said, “ ‘Last Resort’ is when I was working at a dead-end job, living with a friend of mine — one of my best friends,” Shaddix said.
“This kid, my roommate, tried to commit suicide. We caught him and took him to the hospital and he went into a mental facility and then he came out the other side better. He actually found God through the process, which was kind of crazy. So he’s on a whole different path of his life now, which is cool.
I’m really proud of him for the changes he’s made in his life. For me, it was a point in my life where I had nothing really going for me but my music, and that was it. I was pretty much in the garage, punk rockin’ it (and) doing shows in the van and that whole hustling scheme. That’s what we were in.”
In another interview, this time with Songfacts.com, Shaddix spoke more about Last Resort and how the themes of the song sprung up in his own life over a decade after the song was released.
“That song was a cry for help. That song was about one of my best friends, and then 12–13 years later, that song was about me. I found myself in that place, where I was like, “I can’t go on this way. I can’t do it anymore.
It’s awesome when your cry for help gets answered. My band has had my back over these years, and my friends and my family. That song is timeless and it connects with who we are today and what we do today in a major way.
I know I’ve got a purpose with this music, and I let it all hang out. Sometimes, I let a little too much hang out, but it is what it is. I just want to be real, and that’s how I do it: through this music.”
That’s the amazing thing about Last Resort. Damn near everybody felt it, which implies that damn near everyone had some personal struggle that they didn’t know how to deal with or didn’t know if they could deal with. Or worse, they thought they couldn’t deal with it.
And because the song is so catchy, the rapping infectious and the groove so heavy, people gravitated towards the sound and stayed for the lyrical content.
It’s about hopelessness. The least you could ask for is for someone to tell you that you’re fine and that everything’s going to be fine. But you’re not even getting that, much less guaranteed it. You can’t help but question if anyone gives a shit.
I want to address that line in the second verse that goes: “It all started when I lost my mother, no love for myself and no love for another. Searchin’ to find a love upon a higher level; findin’ nothin’ but questions and devils.”
For years I thought Jacoby’s mom had died. Maybe you did too. But no, that isn’t the case. Remember, this song wasn’t about Jacoby or any of the guys in Papa Roach. At least not yet. It was about their friend named Marc Parham who lived with Jacoby when they were seventeen who attempted suicide during an extremely dark time in his life.
Apparently he was the one who lost his mother and tried to find love “upon a higher level” which implies a god or religion. But instead of finding that, he just had more questions and devils.
Based on what Jacoby was saying, it seems that everything turned out okay for their friend. Religion worked for him and he got to a better place.
And while we don’t hear about that happy ending in the song itself, the song (much like nu metal and music in general) functions as catharsis. At least you know you’re not going through hard times alone and you get to scream your frustrations with all of us.
And when you think about the people who we’ve lost in rock or your own friends and family who took their own lives, you can’t help but wonder. Jacoby’s step-grandpa, Papa Roatch himself, also took his own life after being diagnosed with a terminal illness.
You have to ask yourself, “Would the music have helped them?” I know it’s helped so many people, myself included; and I know it helped them too.
But sometimes you wonder. The catharsis is good, but I think it’s important to address the specific issue that is messing with you. Again, I know that that has helped so many people, myself included. And I know it isn’t just that simple; some of these problems are multi-layered and takes years to unravel.
But if you do feel like leaving this plane of existence, talk to someone you love or speak to someone who can help. You may feel alone but you really aren’t.
Marc Parham said it himself. Last Resort isn’t a song about suicide, because he’s still here. It’s a cry for help and the response people have to your crisis. In their Vice interview, Marc and Jacoby both expressed guilt. Jacoby felt guilty because he thought he got Marc into that situation, while Marc felt guilty for not being able to deal with his issues and having Jacoby witness his deterioration.
But at the end of the day, the solution does not lie in isolation. It never has and it never will.
And I think that sentiment is captured perfectly in the music video for Last Resort. The band put out the message that they were going to do a video and they wanted their bands to feature in it.
You see this huge crowd of hundreds of kids dancing, moshing and headbanging together with the band, and then the camera zooms in on one kid in isolation in their room, and then the camera zooms back out and they’re back in the crowd with the people who get them. The music video even won the Kerrang! award for Best Video in 2001.
Finally, if you were ever curious about what Jacoby himself recommends to improve your mental health, he shared the recipe in an interview with Stereogum:
“Stop eating sugar. Start getting 30 minutes of sunlight on your face every day. Start working out five days a week. Start writing a gratitude list every day when you wake up in the morning. Call as many people as you possibly can and talk with them. Don’t be afraid to talk about your feelings. Putting your feelings on paper is another way — I call it “writing out the crazy.” Also, Google some breathing exercises.
I know I sound like I’m on some hippy-dippy shit, but these are things that I’ve implemented in my life that help me, and when I’m not doing it, I see the difference. Your mind can be a crazy, wicked-ass playground, and the loudest voices are often the most negative. If you can find ways to quiet those louder voices, that’s where the piece is.”