In the Spring of 2004, an Australian group known as The Vines quickly became one of the hottest bands in the world, topping charts and mentioned in the same
breath as bands such as Nirvana. Lead singer/songwriter Craig Nicholls was
well-known for his unpredictable behavior and marijuana smoking, as well as his unhealthy
burger-only diet. Rude and uncommunicative in interviews, Nicholls was prone to messing up photographs with goofy
faces and his wild-eyed, guitar-smashing antics, enthralling a new generation of young music fans.
In support of a new album release, The Vines launched a grueling US tour followed by gigs in Japan. Nicholls’ onstage antics grew more out-of-control and dangerous as the tour wore on. He verbally abused the crowd, even kicking at a photographer, smashing her camera. Assault charges followed.
Thrown off both Jay Leno and David Letterman for tearing up their sets, no one would book Nicholls. By May 2004, it was all over for The Vines and their great promise was laid to ruins by the seemingly inexcusable behavior of their twenty-seven-year-old frontman.
Then fate and a perceptive friend intervened. Having seen his share of crazy rock n´ rollers, the band’s guitar technician felt that Nicholls had an actual neurological problem and hypothesized it was Asperger’s Syndrome. Dr. Tony Attwood, the pre-eminent authority on the subject, was brought in and confirmed the layman’s diagnosis.
Nicholls expressed relief at finally being able to make sense of his life. While growing up, his obsessive and reclusive behavior concerned his parents enough that they took him to see a psychologist at age fifteen, but no mention of autism had ever been made.
Called as an expert witness in court the following November, Dr. Attwood announced his diagnosis and explained that after performing, Nicholls suffered from sensory overload and physically lashed out as a result. He did not intend to hurt the photographer, he just couldn’t bear her intrusion into his personal space. Assault charges were dropped on condition of immediate therapy.
Dr. Attwood explained to Nicholls that the lifestyle of a touring rock musician with its erratic schedule, constant changes and sensory overload was the worst career he could have possibly chosen for someone with his condition. He then recommended that Nicholls curtail his touring, create a recording studio in his home, improve his diet and stop smoking pot. Attwood emphatically stated that smoking marijuana was one of the worst things a person with Asperger´s can do to themselves.
Nicholls has spent the last seven years coming to terms with being a rock star on the autism spectrum. He’s taken long breaks, punctuated by the release of excellent new music and a smattering of live performances. No longer a pot smoker, he can’t even recall the many incidents that lead to the turning point in his life. When told of them, he is contrite.
Some of Nicholls’ best work came after his diagnosis, such as his ¨Get Free¨ performance two years ago, which is posted below. His amazing stage presence is a testament to the gifts that autism bestows, even as he continues to shoulder its burdens. Look for the release of The Vines’ new album ¨Future Primitive,¨ in April of 2011.