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So you wanna be in a rock band?: Putting the dope in sex, drugs and rock n’ roll

Rose Cora Perry | Interrobang | Lifestyles | October 14th, 2008



When we conceptualize the lifestyle of the prototypical rockstar, it is one that is associated with excesses in their many forms: namely exorbitant promiscuity, and copious narcotic consumption. While the pop culture expression, “sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll” didn’t begin to permeate the public consciousness until the 1960s and was further popularized by a ‘77’s single by Ian Dury, this image of the celebrity musician is nothing new. According to music history buffs, this portrait of the rockstar actually originated in ancient times and is a modern figure of speech derived from the Greek hendiatris (a literary technique in which three words are used to express one idea), “women, wine and song.” As apparent from its original expression, (which connotes a gender bias in favour of males as the adored performers, and women as the fanatical groupies) sexism within the music industry is nothing new either, but this is a topic we will look more into at a later date.

For the time being, I thought it would be interesting if we attacked the issue of drug culture and musicianship from both sides of the debate. Joined by my good friend, talented lead guitarist and industrial music lover, Jesse Tomes, we will examine the use and abuse of drugs in the music industry and both the benefits and the consequences of this from the artist’s perspective. As an avid anti-drug activist, I will naturally be taking the oppositional stance. But, before we get into the effects of this kind of lifestyle, let’s take a look at why artists and substance abuse have, for so long, gone hand in hand.

As I’ve stated in previous articles, many musicians (not all, but a great majority) first get involved in music as a means to soothe their pain. Whether the sons or daughters of abusive parents, those who’ve struggled with poverty, discrimination, and/or never felt as though they fit in, musicians often come to the table with a great deal of emotional distress, baggage, deep-seated resentment, and bitterness towards the world and anyone who stands in their way, to say the least. While their tortured souls prove beneficial for writing truly inspiring songs, their fragile states leave them in a position in which they are all too easy to take advantage of. In addition to partaking in songwriting as an outlet for their turmoil, before they even get their earliest tastes of fame, musicians are often already participating in semi-regular drug use as an additional form of emotional support and escapism. While smoking the occasional joint will likely not hurt themselves or any of their friends in a major way, their vulnerability, as well as the structure of the music industry itself, makes the transition towards harder drugs frighteningly simple to slip into.

For starters, clubowners, irrespective of one’s career juncture, frequently propose alcohol and/or drugs to musicians as the form of payment for a performance, and if they (the clubowners) don’t blatantly try to screw over musicians with this tactic, they will at the least encourage a good snort after a job well done in the pleasure of their company. Not to sound too much like your teacher from grade six, this is a form of peer pressure that is difficult (but not impossible) to challenge, especially when you are outnumbered by fellow musicians and promoters alike, who embrace this lifestyle. Seeing as networking constitutes an essential part of any successful artist’s life, avoiding these after-show meet and greets could prove detrimental to one’s embarking career. So what’s an artist to do?

An old trick that Gene Simmons likes to pull is to drink gingerale at such meetings as its resemblance to beer is rather uncanny, but how he would fake hitting a line of coke, well I don’t think anyone’s figured out a solution to that, as of yet.

Next, because of the incessant touring that is required for any band to establish a decent following, sleep deprivation and poor nutrition become additional battles with which musicians must contend. An easy solution embraced by so many artists of the past comes in the form of amphetamines (aka speed or uppers). Of course, the musicians who begin popping these pills almost always state that it’ll be a temporary thing, just until they are off the road, forgetting that in fact, drugs of this nature do have the potential to become highly addictive, and are known for producing serious withdrawal symptoms. To cope with the same issue in a slightly different manner, other popular drugs of choice are hallucinogens, which allow artists to temporarily escape reality. By no means would I ever support this kind of thing, but in this situation, when you are driving endlessly across the countryside to play a few 45 minute sets, which may or may not be worth your while, one’s stress and frustration levels are ridiculously high, and I can appreciate why so many artists feel they have no other choice, but to numb the experience by going on a temporarly vacation (at least, psychologically).

Finally, and in my opinion the biggest contributor to perpetuating, “sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll” as the norm and the expected behaviour of rockstars, is the media and its convention of glamourizing musicians who participate in this type of lifestyle, and by doing so, making it seem cool to aspire to be just like them some day. While most music rags don’t outwardly promote this kind of conduct as something desirable, the fact that they are more willing to devote page space to stories about drugged up rockers speaks for itself. As the audience of said magazines is largely composed of young, highly impressionable, and idealistic youth, what kind of message does this send? It makes drugs seem cool, and makes people such as Nikki Sixx (Motley Crue), who was officially pronounced dead for two minutes on Dec 23th, 1987, and then revived by two adrenaline shots to the heart by a Crue-loving paramedic only to return to his house that very same night to ingest more heroin, seem even cooler.

In my opinion, considering all of the trials and tribulations that our youth have to deal with today, this is hardly the kind of message that we should be sending them. It shows that the repercussions for substance abuse are trivial, at best, and that playing music and getting high is what will gain them fame, fortune, and of course, in the words of the boys of Crue themselves, “girls, girls, girls.”

Next Issue: Pt. 2 Potential Benefits & Consequences of Drug Use & Abuse in the Music Industry

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