Dr. Brent Russell in something other than his surgical mask as his alter ego DJ Doc Rock and DJ Alien.
Finding a quiet space in E.R. doctor Brent Rock Russell’s head isn’t easy.
There’s a slot for the fatherly duties, the husband loyalties and the earnest librarian burning the midnight oil to preserve history, as well as a place where medical quandaries go for resolution.
And always, even in the darkest recesses of his mind, there’s a dance party in there.
The St. Luke’s Wood River doc who moonlights as DJ Doc Rock and DJ Alien, and founded the MASSV summer musical festival two years ago, has the moves and the adrenalin to keep pace with his thoughts even when they outrun everyone else’s, and is debuting a new book called “Miracles & Mayhem in the ER.” The self-promoting Russell has already moved on to his next venture, but he’ll be at Iconoclast Books on Friday, Dec. 27, from 4-6 p.m. to sign copies, and, likely slide over to the spotlight around 7 p.m. there for an Open Mic night.
While oft-times his stories—and his alternate planes of thinking—are a bit otherworldly, he’s a good old Southern boy at heart. And his road truly is paved with good intentions; he wants the world to be a little bit happier and healthier by honoring our authentic selves, even if his pace is exhausting.
IME: What was the genesis of the book?
People frequently ask to hear ER stories. Years ago, I was at a large party with mostly strangers and started telling a story, then the circle widened, and suddenly the entire party was listening. I thought, “I should write this stuff down.” Once I started writing, I found that I enjoyed it. “Miracles and Mayhem” is a memoir of friendship and hardship during residency and my early years as a new doctor, with ongoing intrigue and drama, as opposed to being a collection of short stories. ER stories are the bulk of the book, but there’s much more.
Is performance art in your genes?
As a child, one of my earliest memories is my grandfather playing a harmonica while everyone danced. Both parents are enormously popular teachers, but neither of them breakdance or rap very well. My dad used to moonwalk for my friends, but he wasn’t all that good. My parents have always been incredibly supportive. When I was 18, I saved up my money to record a rap album in a studio, and my parents encouraged me. As I’ve discussed trials related to MASSV, my parents have helped me see things clearly and rationally. They probably think it’s weird, but they’ve known me my whole life, so they’re used to weird.
Why did you leave performing for medicine?
Medicine and entertainment satisfy different parts of my personality. Medicine is intellectually stimulating, and deeply gratifying because we can help people in significant ways. Working in the Wood River ER is a dream come true; the staff and patients are awesome. Performing is a fun pastime, but I never had delusions of grandeur or thought I could make a living at it. I’ve always loved making people smile. In pictures of me as a child, the entire family is smiling sweetly and I’m making a dorky face. My son is the same way.
Did you ever worry about your credibility once you were out with both personas?
No one wants Miley Cyrus for a doctor, but I suspect my interest in entertainment is seen for what it is—a creative outlet. Entertaining, like athletics, has been a lifelong passion. Dr. Tom Archie is similar, as he’s a performing musician and an actor. People ask me at DJ gigs, “Are you really a doctor?” And I say. “Who told you that?” There have been some fairly successful folks who have been entertainers and crossed over into other endeavors, like Reagan and Schwarzenegger. Although not professional entertainers, Bill Clinton plays the sax and Obama likes to sing and dance. I guess I just destroyed my claim that I don’t have delusions of grandeur since I compared myself to them!
Who are some of the people in your video you released to promote the book who might be recognized locally?
You might notice that I don’t have nearly as much gray hair in the video, as we made it five years ago in Hood River, Ore. I got cold feet about releasing the book, and I shelved both the book and video for years. I am oddly conflicted about personal attention: an enigma wrapped in a contradiction. But finally I decided to go for it. The only Idaho peeps in the video are my son, who shocks me, (with paddles) and my wife, the beautiful dancer.
Speaking of your wife, what does she make of all this?
I get this question fairly often: “How does your wife put up with you?” If I had more self-awareness, I’d develop a complex. You have to know Missy to understand. When we met in college, I was in a rap group. She appears reserved, but she is a lighthearted, fun person who doesn’t take herself too seriously. As that video has gotten attention, I’ve seen Facebook responses from old friends. Many say, “Brent hasn’t changed a bit. He’s crazy as ever.” She’s known me through it all. My philosophy is, “It ain’t a midlife crisis if you never grew up!” She rolls with it and is very encouraging. She proofreads my writing, gives me creative feedback and dances until the bitter end at DJ gigs.
What’s the message you want your son to take away from the way you have meshed your passions?
He says he wants to be a DJ when he grows up. At age 10, he can aspire to be an NFL player, a rock star or Harry Potter. But as he gets older, I will tell him what I’ve told other aspiring DJs: pursue a career that pays the bills, and have fun on the side. The number of people who make it big in entertainment are as rare as a stylish mullet.
Christmas Eve at the ER or Whiskey’s, which do you choose?
Christmas Eve, I’d rather not work. But if I have to, no question, Whiskey Jacques’. ER is satisfying, but entertaining is amusing. To help hundreds of people have a blast is inspiring. But it’s also exhausting, so I only DJ every three to four months. It’s strangely more tiring than a busy ER shift. Probably because I’ve been an ER doctor for over 15 years, and my entertainment endeavors keep changing, so it’s new and mentally taxing.
What can we expect from you for 2014?
I’m so ADD that I’m always on to the next thing, and right now, my next things are MASSV 2014 and my next book. MASSV 2014 is going to be more diverse, a bit less hip-hop and EDM focused. Our goal continues to be providing something for our youth, and attracting youth to visit, but we want to change it up a bit. But don’t worry, we ain’t having Dolly Parton any time soon. My new book is an action-suspense novel about an ex-Navy SEAL and ER doctor whose son is kidnapped. My best friend growing up is currently a SEAL. He was a member of SEAL Team 6 and is now the Commander of SEAL Team 3. He is my technical advisor and we email almost every day about it. I’m obsessed with finishing it and getting it out there. By the time it’s out, I will be infatuated with trying something else. Maybe I can open up a breakdancing school for middle-aged doctors.
The doctor is in
Here are a links to the book webpage: www.docrockrussell.com, which includes a promotional video that has to be seen to fully embrace, and to his Facebook page: www.facebook.com/DockRockRussell