Art

Everybody Must Get Stoned: Rock Stars on Drugs

The addictive history of musical substance abuse

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Thank God for Amy Winehouse. The British pop chanteuse has bucked the oppressively ubiquitous vision of the good life by declaring "rehab is a cop-out" and having a hit song on the same theme. To her unending personal chagrin (and the temporary benefit of her liver), the 25-year-old performer did eventually enter treatment for a spell.

Still, in a "Just Say No" age where athletes, actors, politicians, and other well-paid low-lifes are expected to be tee-totaling role models, musicians may be the last holdout. As R. U. Sirius (the nom de plume of Ken Goffman) writes in Everybody Must Get Stoned: Rock Stars on Drugs: "Trying to show a link between rock stars and drugs is like trying to make a link between mouths and tooth decay—too obvious to bother." In his new book, he documents the long-lived collaboration between peformers and all manner of mind-altering substances.

It makes for addictive, if sometimes nauseating, reading. As a member of the seminal proto-punk band The Stooges, Iggy Pop didn't just get high, cut himself, and bleed on stage. In The Stooges' group home, he shot enough blood from syringes onto the walls until he'd created "a sort-of degraded smack addict's Jackson Pollock mural." Pop would later check himself into a mental institution after passing out during a Los Angeles rainstorm and waking up soaked and disoriented.

To get through Japanese customs, Guns 'n' Roses guitarist Izzy Stradlin swallowed his entire stash in one gulp, thereby putting himself into a 96-hour coma. Marijuana enthusiast Paul McCartney got caught trying to sneak pot out of the Land of the Rising Sun in 1980, serving 10 days in jail before being deported. In true stoner fashion, the cute Beatle explained that he simply couldn't bear to leave his doobage behind because "it was such good stuff."

Despite his professed love of drugs and rock stars, Sirius, who collaborated with Timothy Leary, edits the fascinating transhumanist publication h+ , and contributes to the excellent website 10 Zen Monkeys, is not one to sugarcoat reality. "Lots of good music has been made by people on heroin," he observes. "Conversely, lots of good musicians have stopped making music (as well as breathing) because they took heroin."

A combination of imaginative essays and irreverent lists, chapters include "Rock Stars on Acid," "Rock Stars on Pot," "Rock Stars on Cocaine," "Rock Stars on Whatever," and perhaps most tellingly, "Dead Rock Stars on Drugs."

Drawing on themes articulated in his previous Counterculture Through the Ages, Sirius argues that music and drugs both allow us to "get a bit out of our rational mind[s]" and give us a temporary reprieve from our tightly focused, workaday life. In his telling, rock stars are the embodiment of that release and we follow their sometimes self-destructive exploits to seek vicarious thrills.

That's an interesting thesis, and so is Sirius' insistence that all drug use is not necessarily abuse, a sentiment wildly at odds with today's prohibitionist mind-set regarding drinking, smoking, trans fat and just about every vice under the sun.

"It's not my intention," he writes, "to encourage or discourage consenting adults to use mind-altering drugs…. Have fun with this book, but not too much fun, unless you want to end up like that doper Paul McCartney—a healthy, vital, talented billionaire who was knighted by the Queen of England."

Nick Gillespie is editor in chief of Reason.tv and Reason.com. A version of this review originally ran in The New York Post.

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  1. how awesome is it (as others have previously noted) that Iggy Pop’s song about heroin addiction is used for a cruise line commercial?

    (What is Lust for Life, Alex?)

  2. When I look at Ozzy Osbourne or Keith Richards (among so many others), I’m left to wonder what staggering level of chemicals one must consume before a fatal overdose occurs. They make a rather convincing case that long term drug use is kind of a bad thing.

  3. I’m worth a million in prizes

    With my torture film

    Drive a G.T.O.

    Wear a uniform

    All on a government loan

  4. rehab is for losers

  5. I can’t see that cruise commercial without thinking of Trainspotting.

  6. And thank your god for Frank fucking Zappa.

  7. Celebrities have to at least pretend to walk the straight and narrow because parents control the purse strings of their pay. Most spending based on celebrities is still still done by young people who depend on their elders for some or all of their spending money. Those elders don’t want to finance a drug addict as a role model for their loved ones.

    We all make economic decisions based the perceived moral character of celebrities. Few people want to put anymore money in Mel Gibson’s pockets after his racist rant. People concerned about the risk of drug addiction likewise don’t want to pay to have an message that drugs are okay beamed into their kid’s head.

    It’s voluntary economic behavior. If you want to get high without criticism, don’t be a celebrity.

    As an aside, I think the before and after pictures of Winehouse are some of the best anti-drug education material ever.

  8. Few people want to put anymore money in Mel Gibson’s pockets after his racist rant.

    Really? I’m not up on my movie grossings, but it certainly wasn’t my impression that Apocalypto bombed.

  9. I’m pretty sure most people don’t care enough about what Gibson said to purposefully avoid his movies.

  10. …thank your god for Frank fucking Zappa.

    jasno, I’d always heard Zappa was drug free, and rather hostile to the idea of doing drugs.

    Well, psychoactive drugs, anyway.

  11. BakedPenguin – Yep, you’re totally correct. Frank hated drugs and tried to keep his band members from doing them. Nicotine and caffeine not included of course. That’s why I brought him up. He really was one of the most talented musicians of our time and stayed clean and creative to the end.

    Not that I’m down on drugs or anything. I just hate the idea that drugs make you creative as much as I hate the idea that drugs make you stupid. Drugs make you… different, and they make different people different differently.

  12. Drugs make you… different, and they make different people different differently.

    I think that’s true. If you’re already creative, sparking a joint or drinking some opium tea might bring you to areas you hadn’t thought of before. If you aren’t creative, all the pot in the world won’t make you Peter Tosh, and all the opium won’t make you Coleridge.

  13. See, that’s where I’d disagree. There *are* some people who are morons, and drugs make them creative, sensitive artists. And there are geniuses, and when they take drugs they become morons… so, it’s really a lot more complicated than that.

  14. I think the views of advertisers/sponsors are more influential than parents (as seen in the Michael Phelps scenario).

    As long as rock stars and rappers can make big money on record sales, and don’t need a more wholesome financial sideline, they can snort whatever they want without penalty. Disapproving parents only make them more popular.

    But once their popularity starts to wane, and they want (and need) to endorse products, start clothing lines, get TV gigs, etc. it gets trickier. Remember Keith Richards and his hilarious Disney fiasco?

    I’ve done work for MTV Networks and was amused at how NOBODY but liquor companies and Geiko will allow their products anywhere the Tila Tequila based programming currently running on MTV and VH1, even though the ratings are great. If sponsors feeling you’re tainting their product, amazing ratings mean nothing. Otherwise, all porn sites would have major corporate sponsors.

    Unlike rockers of yore, few musicians today (and no rappers) are above selling out (something I totally approve of, by the way) so–sadly–if they want to make non-musical money, they’ve got to watch their image.

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  16. Thank you.

    -enabled stoner 🙂

  17. Rehab: No one likes a quitter!

  18. with drugs [and music], it isn’t an issue of creativity so much as it is an issue of dosage I think.

  19. And all the politicians making busy sounds.

  20. I’ve always read that Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull was a straight-arrow when it came to drugs, and they could rock when they needed to.
    (Not sure about the other guys, of course.)

  21. Zappa really was one of the most talented musicians of our time and stayed clean and creative to the end.

    Yet I, and most people, would much rather listen to the Stones or the Beatles or Hendrix or even Amy Winehouse than spend an hour with Zappa. I’ve tried to get into Zappa and just can’t – his music just doesn’t excite me, and his lyrics are pitched to 9th graders. Zappa may be a perfect example of how brilliant high IQ people tend to be emotionally stunted. If I want challenging music I’ll listen to Bartok, Anton Webern or Coltrane (who did plenty of drugs) or Miles Davis (ditto) or poor old Jaco Pastorius (killed himself with drugs). Any of those musicians/composers were as talented as Zappa but much more interesting and musically creative. Maybe Zappa should have done drugs, I think his music suffers from the fact Zappa was such an anally retentive guy. Didn’t Mozart do drugs? Opium maybe?

  22. Not to toot my own horn too much, but there’s a fair amount of ambiguous and hopefully complex conjecture about the effects of drugs on music and musicians and all the variants therein, mixed in along with the anecdotes and trashy bits of gossip…

    And Frank Zappa is number one in the list of Rock Stars Against Drugs. I liked Zappa a lot although it did seem like he was writing songs for his kids by the mid-70s…

    RU

  23. There are actually a ton of great rock stars who did not use drugs and most have had more interesting and consistent careers than most of the users: Zappa, Morrissey, Roy Orbison, Eric Dolphy, Prince, Jonathan Richman, Ian Mackaye, Henry Rollins, Stevie Wonder, Gene Simmons, Adam Ant, even motherfucking Roger Waters and Rick Wright of Pink Floyd.

    Moreover, musicians like John Coltrane and James Brown made by far their best music, respectively, after and before their drug years. Talk Talk wasn’t even a good band until they gave up drugs.

  24. Hmm. Adam Ant, Gene Simmons, and Henry Rollins? Are you trying to argue FOR drug use? Fugazi and Prince I’ll give you. Dolphy never used drugs?

  25. I’m not so into most of the people in that list Henry Rollins and after. Come on, though – Adam Ant is not bad, in fact the first two albums were quite cool. He did get shitty after that though… I didn’t include the Nuge (because I don’t like him) but he would be there too. But you have to admit that the first seven are all pretty bad ass.

    Actually Eric Dolphy died of a diabetic attack and the doctors assumed that he was just another stoned jazz musician so they didn’t treat him properly. It’s bullshit that he had to pay the consequences for the stereotypes created by others. A tragedy, and he died at his absolute peak. But no apparently he never touched drugs or alcohol, unlike most of the other jazz musicians of his age. Clifford Brown and Booker Little were also teetotal.

    I would add Felt, arguably the best/most underrated (and certainly my favorite) band of the 1980s, who openly rejected drugs and alcohol, but apparently the singer became a druggie in the 90s and his music got really shitty.

  26. The great Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull never did drugs

  27. For rock stars it is pretty much a rite of passage to go in and out of rehab. Nowadays, non 12 step drug rehabs have become more common as an alternative to the traditional 12 step programs.

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