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Warren Ullom: Death, drugs and rock 'n' roll, Part I

A talented musician. A beautiful woman. A fatal cocktail of heroin and cocaine.

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In 2006, Warren Ullom and his then-year-old band the Judies were starting to land promising gigs, including this bill they shared with the Selmanaires and Anna Kramer at the original Lenny's. - ALEX ADAN
  • Alex Adan
  • In 2006, Warren Ullom and his then-year-old band the Judies were starting to land promising gigs, including this bill they shared with the Selmanaires and Anna Kramer at the original Lenny's.

It was an exciting time, so much so that Warren and founding Judies drummer Mike Sprinkel could hardly contain their enthusiasm: "When we first started, Sprinkel and I had so much nervous energy that the momentum seemed to carry us off the stage and right into the next show."

Warren adopted a squirming, electrified, crawling-out-of-his-skin stage presence. For a while, before addiction got the better of him, it was a blissful, fitting release of his pent-up anxiety. "Everything is exploding and I am a powerline in a puddle," he writes of the sensation. "I see Dave and he is both totally losing it and completely holding it together at the same time, in time, and the audience is a howling, many-limbed sea monster, and in between songs you have to smile because you can't stop grinning, at the keyboard, at the floor, at Dave, back at the keyboard, at life."

As for his lyricism, it became increasingly informed by his budding drug problem. "I wrote into roughly two categories: 'reporting from the front,' and 'why am I doing this to myself?'"

His No. 1 temptation, though, was pretty girls — pretty girls who liked to party. At first, they were far more intoxicating than any of the drugs they introduced him to. Warren had more than enough friends to keep a steady stream of cocaine, mushrooms, Ecstasy, acid and Adderall flowing, and when he was hanging out with a girl, the two would spend days getting fucked up and accomplishing nothing.

In addition to playing shows and rehearsing, he managed to work full-time — and didn't sleep, even when he wanted to. Most nights, he'd find himself lying awake next to one of the girls, his heart still racing at 9 in the morning.

That's where heroin came in.

"The first time I had heroin in my veins, an 18-year-old girl put it there," he writes. "We had been hanging out, and she asked if I was interested in trying it. I was pretty dumbstruck. If she was into it, I was into it. As much as I faked cool in those days, if a girl as alluring as her was into running across the highway, well, I was into that too."

For so long, he'd had a hard time relaxing. Then, all of the sudden, he was more relaxed than ever.

"That's when the first cycle in my addiction began," he writes. "I developed a pattern of behavior where in the end, heroin was the final solution."

By the time he met Rachel two years later, he was a different person. His old weaknesses were amplified. He was strung out, bad. And there she was, a pretty girl who seemed like she wanted to have fun.

They exchanged numbers in the parking lot. She was only in Atlanta for a few more days, so why not? They agreed to meet up before she left town. Her plan was to return to the same summer job she'd held the past two years in the Hamptons. But before that, she had a more pressing obligation. On her way out of town, she needed to visit her elderly father in Milledgeville, to do his laundry and cook him enough food to fill his fridge and tide him over for a while.

Rachel was good like that. She wanted to help. She wanted to comfort. She wanted to be trusted, and she wanted to trust in return. In the eyes of those who knew her best, it was that last trait — her willingness to trust — that turned out to be her biggest downfall.

The day after the parking lot run-in, on her last night in Atlanta, Rachel cabbed it over to a girlfriend's place to talk her into going out. But her friend had cramps and wasn't feeling up to it, so Rachel decided to go out for a late bite to eat with her friend's neighbor. They ended up around the corner at the Highlander, for bar grub and a few drinks. Toward the end of dinner, Rachel got a call. She handed the phone to her dining companion. "This is Warren," she said. "He's going to give you directions to his apartment." Warren lived on Highland Avenue near Little Five Points, in a one-bedroom place his 20-year-old girlfriend recently rented. His girlfriend was out of town that weekend, but she didn't leave him empty-handed. She'd been kind enough to give him $100 to help cover his heroin habit until she got back. The plan was for him to quit using upon her return.

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