If you can’t find an officiant for your unconventional wedding, need a temporary home for a stray animal, are experiencing a deficiency of quality metal, or just require a nice defibrillation, DonnaMarie SanSevero can probably help. Besides being the best officiant you’ll ever book, DM is also a medic, rockstar, animal savior, and who knows what else. All Up Together is all for highlighting people and businesses that make this world a better place, so we had a chat with DM about what she’s doing, how she got there, and how she keeps on keeping on….
AUT: As “The Reverend D”, you officiate and facilitate unique and non-traditional weddings. What got you into this, and what kept you in?
DM: Well, I became a Reverend under the mistaken belief that I would be able to perform my own wedding. You see, when I was looking for an officiant, I typed in every weirdo adjective I could think of into search engines— offbeat, gothic, rock, punk, Halloween, sci-fi, cosplay, freak, mutant, funny, weird, S&M…you name it, I typed it – and all I got back were pages and pages of sorta normal-looking people who were fairly bland and made the same generic promise to give Ricky and I a “personal, meaningful service” that would “showcase our love”. On top of that, they wanted to charge me an average of about $800 for what would essentially boil down to 10 minutes of my life. I wanted to vomit. So I got ordained and registered with the city, all to find out there’s only one state where you can marry yourself, and New York ain’t it. I didn’t really think too much about it until (our mutual friend) Brian was getting married, and he asked me to preside over the ceremony. I am fairly certain that the only reason I said yes was because of the truly heroic amounts of alcohol I had consumed that evening, but no matter. Turns out I did a pretty good job, and it then occurred to me that if I had been looking for all of those things in an officiant, probably other people were as well. So I got myself a website and started whoring myself out. So far, I’ve done about 25 weddings, and it’s been awesome. I mean it; this is probably the best job I’ve ever had. If I had a time machine, I’d go back 20 years and punch myself in the face for not doing this sooner.
AUT: You’ve also had a lengthy career as an EMT. What made you decide to do that, initially?
DM: I used to work overnights in the presentation center of an investment bank. On the morning of September 11, 2001, I got out of work at 8:30 a.m. and was about to go up to the 34th floor of WTC to go to my credit union and deposit my check. Laziness got the better of me and I went home. So I not only should have been in Tower 1 when the plane hit, I very likely would have still been in the elevator that was doused with burning jet fuel at that time. I spent about a week crying, drinking and listening to 1010 WINS before I decided that I was tired of being a useless piece of shit. I was gonna make a difference, I thought, so that if anything like this ever happened again, I would be able to help. Little did I realize that I would spend the next ten years picking up drunks and grown men with toothaches, but no matter. My intent was noble. And technically speaking, I am now a paramedic. Of course, that really only means that I’m a super-fancy EMT, so it’s all the same.
AUT: Just for clarification, what is the difference between the two?
DM: As a medic, my title is EMT-P. So like I said, I am still an EMT, just a fancier one. And don’t knock EMTs…they’re lifesavers too! In fact, Basic Life Support always comes before Advanced Life Support, so sometimes the best thing we can do for our patients is to stop dicking around on scene and get them to the hospital. That being said, there are also times when medics can do a lot more for our patients than EMTs can; we can start IVs and administer medications, we can intubate, we can use electrical therapy (shock both dead and live people, including pacing their hearts for them) and we are the highest pre-hospital medical authority in the field. That includes doctors, by the way, unless they happen to be REMAC certified (Regional Emergency Medical Advisory Committee). So that’s kinda huge. I became a medic 5 years ago. It required a lot of school and many hours of rotations. At the end of the day, I make a few dollars more than I used to for basically doing the work of no less than 10 highly-trained medical in-hospital professionals, all of whom make at least double my salary. *sigh*
AUT: You have many wonderfully horrible stories about your experiences in the field. What kept you going? What were the redeeming moments?
DM: I think what kept me going was that, despite the enormous number of people who abuse the system and don’t need an ambulance, there are those who do, and I have literally saved dozens of people’s lives. That feels kinda good. I think one of the most redeeming moments was when, after a devastating house fire, three little girls entrusted to my care drew some very sweet pictures to thank me as they waited in the hospital for their mom (who was okay). I still have them, and they still make me tear up when I see them. The pictures, not the kids.
AUT: Let’s talk about music, since that’s how I first came to know you. Would you consider your music empowering? Reactionary?
DM: It sure as shit was empowering for me! I mean, at that time, how many women fronted aggressive bands? Very few. On the downside, I don’t think the music industry was ready to see women like that, and I think that they still aren’t. Sure, there’s a chick fronting Arch Enemy, but she’s basically not doing anything more than looking hot. Ditto Lacuna Coil. And don’t even get me started on Evanescence. It was pretty frustrating at the time. We were good, I thought. Good music, good live show, good reviews, and when the Internet came along, we had a worldwide fanbase. But the labels we met with kept trying to fuck things up. One outright told me to dump the rest of the band and go solo; another told us I was “too scary” like “Marilyn Manson’s sister”. It was maddening; why couldn’t we get a break? I was talking about this recently with a friend of mine, who summed it up perfectly in a way I hadn’t thought of. He said, “No one watches a missing: show and thinks ‘Yeah, I wanna fuck DM!’ They think, ‘Holy crap I hope DM doesn’t fuck *me*!’” It made me laugh, but he was probably right on some level. Sex sells. I never played the sexy card. (Mind you, I wasn’t ever dealt one, but still.) I was aggressive, angry, and brutally honest with my music and my performances. Our fans got it; the industry never did. It’s been a long time, but I think I’ve come to terms with that. I may not have brought the missing: the fame I thought it deserved, but at least I never had to compromise my integrity, and I never had to apologize for who I was or what I was doing. Not a lot of famous artists can say that.
AUT: When you write lyrics, who are you writing for? What would you like the people hearing your songs to think about? Do you think there’s a gap between who you’d like to hear your songs and who actually listens to them, and how do you reconcile that?
DM: I write for myself, and hope that other people will identify with what I write. I don’t write poems, I write stories. And I never write lyrics ahead of time. I know some people have that composition notebook full of dark poetry that they drag out whenever the rest of the band puts a few riffs together and then they pick a poem and call it lyrics. I don’t. I wait for the music to tell me what the story is about. That sounds weird, but it’s true. I get a very visceral feel from the music, so that, when I sit down to write the lyrics, there is literally nothing else that the song could be about. It tells me what to write. I can even visualize it, not with pictures, per se, but with colors and shapes. It’s hard to explain, and it drives almost everyone who has ever attempted to write music with me insane. When people hear the lyrics, I hope they think about them as not being something that I just threw together. I put a lot of thought and emotion into them, and I am proud to say that I have never written “oooo” or “yeah” or “baby” even once. As for who I would like to hear my songs, I can only say more people. Aside from the people who’ve come forward at shows or online, I’m not sure who is listening to our stuff. But I’d like to thank them for it. Hey look I made a smiley face!
AUT: Between being a rockstar, a medic, and a wedding officiant, you seem to have made your life’s work helping people be healthy and happy. Do you see yourself that way? What do you think about others who see you like that?
DM: I do? Wow, that’s kinda cool. I don’t really see myself that way, but that’s mainly because I still see myself as a 20-something-year-old idiot. And (while I may be an idiot) 20 is a long, long time ago. However, there really is a benefit to getting older, and it’s that you can look back at everything you fucked up and give really meaningful advice to younger people who might just be about to make the same mistake. I guess you could say that I try to do that when I can. Also, I don’t really like a lot of people, so I want to try to look out for the ones I do.
AUT: What would you love to be doing as a full-time career now?
DM: Humane Law Enforcement for the ASPCA. I apply every few months or so, and they have yet to call me for an interview. Bastards. One of these days, I’m gonna Fight Club that shit and stand outside of their offices until they let me in.
AUT: What would you love to be doing as a full-time career now that’s realistically (maybe with a little luck) attainable?
DM: Reverend. I mean it; this is the best job EVER. Let me break it down for you. I meet cool and interesting people, most of whom I would not have met outside of this job. We often meet in person, and this usually entails drinks or a meal or both. Very enjoyable. I get to perform (let’s face it, that’s what I do) in front of a new crowd every time, and getting those laughs is a huge rush for me. I get to help great people celebrate the best day of their lives, and many times that means staying for the wedding reception as well. Sometimes I even get to bring Ricky, so it’s like a free date night. And at the end of the night, they pay me, and then write nice things about me on my website. To top it all off, I’ve stayed in touch with some of them, and we’ve become friends. Now tell me: what about any of that sucks?
AUT: That sounds incredibly awesome, actually. Is there any other stuff you have going on that you’d like to talk about?
DM: Well, I also volunteer as a therapy dog trainer for the Delta Society; I work with people and their dogs so that they can go visit sick people in hospitals or nursing homes or whatever. It’s extremely rewarding. Plus, I get to play with dogs! I also foster for the ASPCA, and I deal almost exclusively with under-socialized and near-feral cats and kittens. (I was actually featured on their national website so that’s pretty cool.) I wrote a book based on my experiences in EMS, and as soon as I leave my job (which I am planning on doing this year) I intend to self-publish it. So it’ll be fun to see what happens with that, although I suspect it might be like the missing: all over again; the stuff I write is basically how I speak, and (as we have discussed) I may be a bit too intense for your average reader. Finally, I’ve been writing and performing in a metal band called Bloodwork, so I still get my singing fix, but I’d love to revisit the 80s cover band idea. *HINT* *HINT* *HINT*.
Check out The Reverend D at http://www.the-reverend-d.com/