Drugs and rock and roll; no sex involved, I’m afraid…
From Nick Haines…
More rubbish has been spoken about drugs and their place in music culture than almost anything else. I’ve taken my share. I’m not proud of that fact, but neither am I going to deny it. I’ve taken most of the popular uppers, downers, opiates, stimulants and mind expanders and have come to a few conclusions: drugs are overpriced, overrated and on the whole counterproductive. Which isn’t to say I haven’t laughed my ass off and had a great time during my excursions; I have, but the truth is that all too often the chemicals I’ve sniffed, smoked and swallowed have exacted a cost that outweighs even the financial considerations.
Let’s start with the biggest, baddest wolf of all: Heroin.
Heroin is the enemy of rock and roll, period, end of argument. The wasted cool junkie image is a lie. The film Trainspotting is full of lies. Junkies are not witty and full of insight; they are liars, thieves and worst of all, bores.
And yet the lingering image of ‘coolness’ remains. William Burroughs, Lou Reed, Ewan MacGregor as Renton in Trainspotting, all suggest that it is possible to create and to be attractive on heroin. Neil Young was famously misunderstood when he sang “Needle & The Damage Done”. The line “Every junkie’s like a setting sun” was interpreted as glorifying addiction when in fact he was alluding to the user’s ultimate demise. Heroin has variously been the subject matter of hits by Bowie (China Girl), The Stones (Brown Sugar) and The Stranglers (Golden Brown). Sid Vicious took smack, The Red Hot Chili Peppers have been plagued by it, Pete Libertine has flaunted it, even Boy George was a user; there are so many examples of usage, and how many of these users have produced anything of any merit because of their addiction?
You have to really want to become a heroin addict by the way, much as in the same way as you have to want to start smoking. Do you remember your first cigarette? Remember how ill you felt? It wasn’t until you had persevered and got past the sickness that the addiction kicked in. Heroin is like that but ten times worse. The first time you take it you are as sick as a dog. Even quite a small quantity is an overdose and your body does its best to tell you that it really doesn’t want this stuff floating around it. The sickness lessens as your body builds up a tolerance and after a while it starts to expect it and punish you if it doesn’t get a hit. Heroin isn’t a high either, it’s an anesthetic. It numbs, it encloses the user in a glass box where they become unreachable. It deadens any creativity, kills self respect and ultimately takes over your life. Yes, some people are able to maintain an ‘ordinary’ life whilst having a habit, but most can’t. Rock and Roll history is littered with heroin casualties, although actual overdosing and death through heroin itself is comparatively rare. Most heroin related deaths are due to contributory factors such as getting the s**t kicked out of you for thieving, lying and being a bore.
Heroin kills, but mostly it destroys the creative instinct. Junkies get kicked out of bands because bands are little communities. Junkies abrogate their responsibilities to others in favor of their cravings. After a while people will only take so much selfishness.
Drugs 2: Alcohol
The second drug, and a far bigger wrecker of lives than heroin, is alcohol. It’s the most freely available, the cheapest and most socially acceptable drug, but its grip is pervasive. Never mind the drug barons and drive by shootings attributed to crack dealing; the biggest gang war over drugs ever known was during Prohibition in America, the banning of our friend booze lead to more shootings, racketeering and organized crime than any other legislation. As is the case with most drugs (apart from heroin), some drink is fine but too much makes you a pain in the arse, and again a creative no go zone.
Shakespeare commented that “Alcohol inflames the desire but lessens the performance.” He was talking about sex but it applies equally to music. Over indulgence before going onstage can lead to numerous mishaps, most of them hugely embarrassing; forgetting which song you’re playing and launching into the wrong chorus tends to be noticed, as does complete amnesia over the lyrics of a song that you should know by heart. Pissed, one misjudges leaps and distance. Cracking your singer in the balls with your guitar as you swing round dramatically cause’s serious rifts in a band, and falling off your drum stool because you were sure the crash cymbal was further away also makes one look a buffoon. Dependent upon which particular beverage you have indulged in, drink can also make you argumentative. Inane heckling from the crowd can lead to full on confrontation as can some innocuous action by a fellow band member. Picking a fight with your own bassist mid song may sound funny, but in reality it just makes you look stupid.
Drink isn’t addictive in the same way as heroin, although some people’s make up leads them more naturally inclined to become hooked. Reliance tends to be psychological, with the belief that you can’t deal with certain situations without it. Alcohol isn’t a big killer of rock stars, accounting for only 9 out of 321 deaths in a survey carried out in 1997. Drink is however a depressant, and a further 36 rock stars have met their end by their own hand in suicide. Drink’s major danger is that it impairs judgment; one makes rash decisions when intoxicated. What seemed like an amazing idea last night can be a cause for regret when you look at it the next day, just ask Guns & Roses.
Drug 3: Speed
Speed. The “punk” drug of choice and party goer’s little friend. The wide awake, up all night drug that’s non addictive and available in numerous interesting varieties from powder to cough linctuses. Well, non addictive isn’t quite true, speed is another drug that you can come to rely on in certain situations, but it isn’t physically addictive. What it does do is gradually drain your body of calcium and energy and, through sleep deprivation can lead to some unpleasant psychological conditions and in extreme cases psychosis.
Speed in the form of pills, ‘Blues’, was adopted by the mods in the 60’s, went out of vogue as the summer of love came and went, then reemerged with a vengeance as amphetamine sulphate in the late 70’s, punk rock needing something cheap and readily available to help speed it’s anarchic way. Sulphate comes in a white powder that is cut, or diluted, by any number of different agents, this to increase its bulk and therefore profitability. If you were lucky it would be glucose or some other benign substance; most likely it could be cut with any one of a number of interesting household cleaning agents such as scouring powder, ketamine and rat poison.
So what does speed do? The Good Drugs Guide puts it like this; “Mentally, you start to feel confident and elated, along with an increased desire to communicate. As the whole Central Nervous System (CNS) becomes stimulated, increasing your alertness and endurance. Often users talk fast and continually, and a lot of shit.” This last sentence is crucial since a lead singer on speed can easily take on the persona of a megalomaniac. Inspired to communicate, gaps between songs become longer and longer as he gives vent to his opinions on anything and everything. These speeches are usually delivered in a garbled rush and pass by their intended audience completely leaving them at best mildly bemused and at worst causing them to back away from the front of the stage. Any time at a gig where there is a large semi circular space at the front, you can be pretty sure the singer’s on sulphate. The effects on a musician can be less obvious at first sight, but if you listen it will quickly become apparent who has had a noseful. The speeding guitarist will arrive at the chorus just a little ahead of his colleagues and then have to put the brakes on. As this happens for the third time he will start to get pissed off with his slowcoach fellow members and shoot them wild eyed aggressive stares, usually gesturing frantically with his head for them to; “Get a f*****g move on. When drink and speed are combined things can go one of two ways. Either the one counteracts the other leaving the user feeling fairly normal or it elicits the worst of both worlds. A speeded up uninhibited drunk is a dangerous creature, careering too early into the wrong chorus and blaming everyone and anyone for doing it.
And when it’s over, after you’ve been up all night grinding your teeth, it kicks in, the comedown. It’s a feeling of utter despair, wretchedness and general depression as your body pays you back for making it work at 125% of its capacity. The come down can be mitigated, usually by another line of powder and a drink. This is a cycle that can’t be carried on indefinitely. After a while the effect of speed lessens but the comedown gets worse, it obeys the law of diminishing returns faithfully. Speed is fun for a while, once in a while but it isn’t a lifestyle, not if you want to keep your teeth and your sanity.
Drug 4: Dope
Cannabis, the nastiest, most pernicious and anti rock and roll drug there is, with the exception of heroin.
A joint might help you enjoy all kinds of music, reggae for instance, a music form far too tedious to listen to without the aid of a spliff in my opinion. Even some jazz becomes almost tolerable on dope. I did say “almost”. As for anything even slightly energetic, forget it, man. Its effects are so subtle that even mentioning the substance leads one to use words and phrases such as “man.”
As previously stated, much nonsense has been talked about regarding drugs, and dope has an entire culture all of its own. Possibly the person to have talked most cogently about it is the late and hugely lamented Bill Hicks. He pointed out the benefits and by doing so, the reason why this drug has no place in rock and roll.
“I have never seen two people on pot get in a fight because it is f*#king IMPOSSIBLE. “Hey, buddy!” “Hey, what?” “Ummmmmmm….” End of argument.”–Bill Hicks
And this is the problem. Rock, and by that I mean guitar music played at and beyond a certain velocity, and dope, are ill suited to one another. On dope you become a cliché; what’s worse, you become a slow moving, slow thinking rock and roll cliché. It is exactly the opposite problem to that of speed insofar as instead of arriving at the chorus too soon, you’re lucky if you get there at all. Even when one does eventually arrive at the pre-arranged location in the song, one isn’t quite certain if it’s the correct chords you’re using, why they’re such a funny and difficult shape and exactly what the point is in doing it in the first place. Invariably the confusion caused will be a source of huge amusement to the user, who will grin like an idiot and often descend into hysterical laughter. The anger displayed by fellow band members at your inability to play only makes you worse and you try and tell them all to chill. Stoned people find everything and everyone funny. The only people to find stoned people funny are other stoned people.
Dope has been classified as a Class B and C drug, but given it’s effects maybe it should be a “Class S”.
“”S for slow, “S” for soporific and “S” for s**t.