So you wanna be in a rock band?: Are drugs good or bad in the business of rock?
The “marriage” between drugs and rock’n’roll, although obviously a rocky one, has been longstanding. And as for the sex part of the equation? Well, just as alcohol has the wondrous effect of lowering one’s inhibitions (translation: makes you act like a slut), drugs do even more to get your mojo a-kicking. Hence, all of the stories of hook-ups that you hear about, like that of David Bowie and Mick Jagger.
Partly because of the fragile nature of most musicians, but mostly on account of how the industry itself is structured, this unfortunate image of the “true rockstar” continues to be perpetuated from generation to generation creating serious consequences (and pressures) for the up and coming musician. It’s quite a rep to live up to, and of course, the media’s glamourization of this lifestyle as being the epitome of “rock’n’roll” doesn’t help either. However, I would be a hypocrite to assert that all of the excesses of our past rock’n’rollers have left us with nothing of value. In fact, some of my favourite artists including Jimi Hendrix, I know with absolute certainty, have been inspired from drug-induced states and/or written in response to having one too many close calls with The Reaper.
As pointed out by fellow musician, and my close personal friend, Jesse Tomes, there is a difference between drug use and drug abuse. In Tomes’ opinion, the artists who’ve been successful in mastering intake moderation are those who have been able to utilize the effects of narcotics in a positive way through their art. No one can argue that Pink Floyd or the later records of The Beatles (which some purport as their greatest work) would have ever come into fruition without the assistance of certain illegal substances. The Beatles, for that matter, even came right out to say that they “got by with a little help from their friends,” - the same friends with whom, as the song states a stanza later, they got high.
But on the other side of things, despite Tomes’ arguments, I would still suggest that there are far more examples of drugs gone wrong as illustrated by the ever-growing population cited on what’s been called, “Music’s Most Infamous Death Club.” This list of entertainers who’ve lost their lives at the tender age of only 27 years. Even for the recovering addicts who managed to miss the bullet earlier on, it’s not as though they are shining examples of health today.
Let’s be honest, Keith Richards looks like a walking zombie ready to keel over at any minute, and as for Ozzy, no one on earth can understand what the hell he is saying except for his devoted wife, Sharon (bless her for putting up with him). Despite the fact that both of these icons of rock used to flaunt their bad boy images (and everything that these personas entailed), during interviews, I’ve heard both of them denounce their past behaviour(s) because of the crippled states that it has left them in today. Unfortunately, despite both Richards’ and Osbourne’s acts of penance, the image of the drugged up rocker still remains “the image of cool, and this has devastating consequences for up and coming artists.
Suffice it to say, drug use makes you vulnerable to manipulation, and clearly record labels aren’t too low to take advantage of this weakness (whatever makes for more money right?)
The problem, in Tomes’ view, is not drug use in itself, rather, it is the fact that we rarely hear about the cases of constructive narcotic use; something he blames on the media’s love for sensationalization and scandal.
According to Tomes, because the slant is biased in favour of depicting “rockers of rehab”, drug abuse is normalized, and addiction as a lifestyle comes to be seen as a required component to making music for a living.
Tomes believes that the vast majority of the population (clearly, myself excluded) actually participates in drug culture, in one way or another, including our lawyers, our teachers and the members of society whom we deem as “functional”, but this remains a little known fact because most people, as a result of moderate drug consumption, don’t do anything wrong while “high” on life.
Further, Tomes argues that proper drug use, regardless of whether you are a musician or not, can aid in meditation, spiritual growth and enlightenment - practises that I too agree are positive and important in regards to maintaining a balanced psyche.
Regardless, the choice is clearly yours. As demonstrated, there are benefits (if done properly), and consequences (if not) to the practise of narcotic consumption in the music industry. Though, as I stated at the beginning, many of my own favourite artists have been serious doers of drugs, I do wonder whether drug-induced art may limit one’s audience. As someone who prides herself on trying to maintain high esteem for all of the artists of the past who’ve revolutionized what we know today as the music industry, I still myself struggle to really “get” psychedelic artists like Pink Floyd, or their musical offspring, Tool. Maybe I should take a trip down to Kansas with Dorothy while grooving to the soothing tunes of the “Dark Side of the Moon” and consuming a little LSD. On second thought, maybe not. After all, I firmly believe, musical genres exist to appeal to everyone, and clearly, not all genres are meant to be “gotten” by everyone equally.