Everybody Must Get Stoned: Rock Stars on Drugs

The addictive history of musical substance abuse


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.