[Senses Fail photo by: Tyler Ross]
A man walks over guitar cables and through crowds of industry faces as he makes his way behind Warped Tour’s many stages. To festival founder Kevin Lyman, this man doesn’t look like he’s supposed to be backstage. Lyman walks over to ask him what he’s doing there, but what he doesn’t expect is the story he’s about to hear. The story is Dylan Flynn’s, founder of the Pass The Bass campaign, and it is more than enough to qualify him for a VIP spot.
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When Flynn was just 15, he suffered a traumatic brain injury as the result of an automobile accident. After the accident, he was in a coma for 12 days and subsequently underwent a 12-week rehabilitation program. Still, doctors believed he would never be able to function in society again. To add to the tragedy, Flynn’s aspirations of becoming a great bassist were completely dashed.
“I had received my first bass guitar for my 15th birthday,” Flynn tells AP, “which was about five months prior to the accident.” Now 33, he wishes desperately that he’d had more time with his instrument. “I picked up a bass and had hopes of someday accomplishing something with music,” he continues. “Here I am, but it’s 17-and-a-half years later [and] I’m not really able to accomplish anything regarding music.”
But despite the fact he couldn’t play after the accident, Flynn was not done with his bass. He might not be able to get up onstage and play it like he always wanted, but other people, he realized, can.
“Other than my house and my car,” he says, “my bass is the most expensive thing I own, and it depressed me to just have it sitting in my closet doing nothing.” That’s why Flynn launched the Pass The Bass campaign about 2-and-a-half years ago—now an official non-profit organization—putting his prized instrument into the hands of some of the biggest names in punk rock.
Mark Hoppus (Blink-182), Fat Mike (NOFX) and Jay Bentley (Bad Religion) are just a few of the iconic bassists who have put Flynn’s bass—and his message—onstage for the world to see. Anti-Flag, Senses Fail, the Menzingers and Dropkick Murphys also have supported him by playing his instrument.
Flynn doesn’t just do this for himself, but for the other 1.7 million people who sustain traumatic brain injuries each year. While he describes himself as shy and isolated, his incredible effort to involve himself in the punk scene has pushed him to the frontlines, fighting to help others like him.
“I still see doctors, and they tell me how lucky I am,” he explains. “They look at my records from my injury, and they’re surprised at how functional I am. So I feel that I am in a pretty ideal position to help others who weren’t as fortunate as I was when they suffered an injury.” To do that, Flynn sells T-shirts at every show a band uses his bass. His proceeds—an estimated $6,000 so far—go to the Brain Injury Association of America.
“Senses Fail are the band [whose] show I made the most at,” Flynn recalls. “They were very generous. They gave me $60 of their tips for that show. I made $484 at that show [in total]. If I could do that at every concert, that would be absolutely wonderful. After that show, when they had given me the opportunity to give a shoutout to Pass The Bass, there was an actual line of people waiting at the table for me when I got there.”
It was a special moment for Senses Fail's Gavin Caswell, too. “Meeting Dylan has been a huge inspiration. His dedication to making the most of a very tough hand that was dealt to him is something that I think anyone can admire,” Caswell says. “I'm honored to be a part of one of the bands that Dylan has said inspired him and helped see a new world through music, as well as getting adding my name to the list of bassists who have played his beloved blue P-Bass. His hard work and his vision matched with his witty, sarcastic sense of humor makes me proud to call Dylan my friend.”
It’s this kind of heartwarming collaboration between Flynn and his favorite bassists that remind people like Lyman why they went into the music business in the first place. “The biggest thing to me is how independent he wants to be and how he pushes,” the Warped Tour founder says of Flynn. “It’s all inside of [people like him]. They still have these thoughts, and they still can be very productive in society. We just have to give them outlets for it.”
It was that line of thinking that turned the stranger Lyman found backstage one summer into a friend. After hearing Flynn tell his story, Lyman took him from the shadows of Warped Tour to the stages of the festival, and has since continued to support his cause. “He’s got the kindest heart in the world,” Lyman says, “and the best intentions. I think he’d be a great representative for people with brain injuries. He’s one of the Warped family, and we’ll always be there for him.”
Flynn is extremely grateful for Lyman’s help, as well as for everyone else he has worked with so far. His bass has been played by 35 musicians, and he can’t wait to get more onboard. Specifically, he hopes to someday have Dan Andriano (Alkaline Trio), Greg K. (the Offspring) and Mike Dirnt (Green Day) get involved.
[Dylan Flynn with Alkaline Trio bassist, vocalist Dan Andriano]
Flynn also looks forward to the day when his efforts will grow beyond a one-man operation. Given his impressive level of function even after 17 years of living with a traumatic brain injury, it seems as though those goals are within his reach—a rare thing for someone who was predicted to spend the rest of his adult life removed from society. “I’m an anomaly,” he gladly admits, “which in lots of ways I take pride in. I pride myself on not being ‘normal.’”
There isn’t a more punk statement than that.