Mar 162018

I’m fascinated by the topic of drug use in the arts. You cannot separate the drugs from the art because without the drugs, in many cases, the art would not get done, or it wouldn’t be as “free from restraints”.

Booze, cocaine, speed, heroin as well as pharmaceuticals like Adderall and beta blockers, all are the fuel that drives the creative arts industry.

I’ve never done hard drugs myself. (Full disclosure: I’ve enjoyed some pot an a few occasions.) I’ve watched a number of friends use drugs to “get creative” but in the end it killed them and they were only, really, 1/10th as creative as they could have been because having a ton of great ideas and having a ton of finished works are not the same thing.

Many artist have said, both privately and publicly, that without their drug they “couldn’t do it”. That’s statistically true; most people are not creative and they’re full of anxieties. You give them some drugs and woah! they relax and the ideas come flooding in. I’ve always believed that there was a better way.

You have to also ask,”are drugs for artists like steroids for athletes?” I think that, yes, they are. Cheating really.

Cheating because, well, take speed or cocaine for example. Watch old footage of Tommy Shaw from Styx playing on that 12 string acoustic and just tossing it around while playing complex chord patterns. The drugs gave him “super-human” abilities. Abilities that are, really, a lie because without their magic powder those artist cannot perform the same way. You can see that in old videos too.

Look at guys like Jimmy Page. On drugs he was a god, now he can barely strum a chord. Others like Johnny Cash were fuelled by speed and whiskey, while being sold to the public as a wholesome country singer.

That’s why I believe that music made by drug users is false and leads to a shitty, selfish mindset in the public that says, “I don’t care if they fuck their lives up on drugs as long as ‘I’ get some good music to listen to!”. And that’s the very thing I have heard people say time and again, “…who cares about the drugs…the music is Great!”

A tragic downside to this is that it informs other up-and-coming musicians that they either must suffer from being not as good or fast or creative as the drug users or they should do drugs to compete; it’s the same quandary as athletes face vis-a-vis steroid use.

Having some music biz clown offer an artist cocaine is de rigure, that is to say, it’s pretty much a thing. A great line from, I think, (but could be wrong),  the movie about Judy Garland is, “I don’t care what’s wrong with you! Get those drugs into you and get the hell out there!” Regardless of what movie it’s from I have heard this said to musicians at real shows by real music industry people. No one should ever have to put up with that in their careers and we should not tolerate, let alone celebrate, drugs as a tool for art. Or worse, as a tool to enrich the music-management class.

We should not dismiss drug use in the arts just because we selfishly love the music. That concept is so lacking in human empathy and dignity that it reeks of a kind of black magic or voodoo, where spells are used to get others to do your bidding. No thinking, feeling person should accept it as the status quo.

When I hear music made by the drugs all I hear is the artist’s soul leaving their body through the doorway of the music. It’s a bargain with the devil. But more than that, when I hear someone doing something that they could not easily do without their magic substance putting a spell on them I know that it’s kinda fake. But it’s mostly just sad.

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Feb 272014

Back in ’86, when I was 25, I was “the new guy” on lead guitar in a regionally popular country rock band called Buzz Woodcock & Bitter Whiskey.

Buzz was 24, a year younger than me, but he looked like a 40 year old Waylon Jennings and sang like Charlie Pride, was a hard drinking mofo, been married twice and was “that guy” that kicked the back windows out of a cop car to try and escape, hand cuffed, before spending his 3rd stretch in jail.

We were booked to play in a “resort” in the distant north of Ontario, Canada, a town called WahWah.

When we arrived the owner, a dumpy, beer-soaked Cree Indian with a hate on of musicians and white men came thumping up to the stage and handed Buzz a sheet of paper.

“Here’s the songs you’ll be playing tonight.” he gruffed.

We all just stood there wondering what just happened.

“We don’t know any of these songs.” Buzz told him.

“Well you best get t’ practicin’ then.” demanded the club owner.

Now, I need to mention here that this wasn’t the kind of resort that you’d think of staying at on vacation. It was a bar with 10 rooms above it in a town of 250, about 20 minutes drive from the Tree Line, as in “no more trees, only snow”.

So we all went up to the one room that they’d assigned us and began picking each others brains as to how these new songs might possibly go. We eventually figured out that these weren’t even song tittles, merely phrases from the songs that the owner imagined were the tittles. We figured out a couple and new a couple more. But that was it. We were cooked, so we though.

This is the point in the story where the band breaks open the cooler, cracks some beers and sandwiches and gets completely baked on the bag of weed the bass player brought.

9 o’clock that night we get up on the stage and commence to playin’ some good old country classics like Crystal Chandelier, but with beer bottle slide solos.

The first set was uneventful. On the break Buzz, as was his style, gots right friendly with the waitress who, unbeknownst to him, was the owners daughter. She was a nice looking gal, about 18 or so and seemed quite pleasant.

Second set time arrives and now the band is fully tuned up, by which I mean has had several beers and weed and starts the set with some ZZ Top, you know, to test the waters.

Well, if that wasn’t just the spark at the gas pump.

Apparently the only thing worse than uncompliant musicians and white folk was rock music.

A skinny, clearly irritated, fella that looked oddly like a drunk, Indian version of Jim Varney rushed the stage. Brad, our bass player, out of nowhere, swung the body of his black, Fender P-Bass and caught this guy under the chin sending him flying backwards into a table full of disgruntled locals, trashing the table and spilling lots of beer on everyone.

That’s when the wheels came off the cart. The whole room erupted in a chaos the likes of which are usually assigned to movies and legend.

We grabbed our instruments and managed to escape out the stage-side door. They seemed to be having their own kind of fun inside and didn’t even miss us.

About a half hour later the owner came up to our room, where we were hiding out like fugitives, and told us that we were not going to get paid and handed Buzz one of those little yellow and white diner guest checks with some stuff scrawled on it. Seems he was lookin’ to squeeze a few hundred bucks out of us for “damages”.

Buzz, a shrewd business guy, told him to hang on until morning and they would slip on over to the local bank and he’d take care of the damages. Buzz was unusually charming when he wanted to be. The bar owner agreed a left quietly.

This is where the band breaks open the cooler and cracks a few more beers, sandwiches and weed.

The room only had two beds and a cot. Buzz took a bed, Brad, the bass player and Dave, the drummer, were spoonin’ on a bed and I got the cot. Lucky me, really. Could have been spoonin’ with Buzz.

So, now it’s about 2 in the morning and there comes a little knock at the door. Buzz grumps out, “I’ll get it” while the rest of us try to remain unphased and keep sleeping.

Ya, well, donchaknow, it’s that cute, young waitress from the first set break. She and Buzz exchange some quiet words and then the door quietly closes and Buzz proceeds to bang the sweet-jeziz-liv’n-hell out of her while the rest of us pretend to try and sleep.


And I say it was awkward not because we were the unwitting audience to a live-action performance art show that was taking place in front of us, albeit in the dark, but still…geez…no, it was that this meat solo went on for almost 2 freakin’ hours.

It was at this moment I came to understand why Buzz had so many women in his life.

And they weren’t being very discreet about it either. All I could think was “I hope that bar owner, who’s daughter this is, lives down the road, ‘cuz if he lives here in the ‘resort’ I’m pretty sure he can hear all of this”.

And I was right. Just as the young lady was fixin’ to leave there came a knock at the door. It was a gruff, tired sounding older woman’s voice. The girl opened the door and she and her ma commenced to yellin at each other in whispered tones. So much heat with so little sound. I intuited that this couldn’t end well.

Brad and Dave are now standing in a shadowed corner, fully dressed and looking at me with that familiar, “come on, Knight, you’re the smart one of this bunch, what do we do next?” look in their eyes. I looked over at the window, second story, over looking our van in the parking lot and made a “go that-a-way?” gesture with my thumb. They both shook their heads ‘no’ in fear. I was about to shrug and point the thumb towards the door where the women were still hissing at each other when Buzz, ever the action hero, commanded in an “all hands on deck” voice, “come-on, Knight, we’re gettin’ the hell outta here.” whereupon we grabbed all our stuff and ran, literally, ran to the van.

As we bolted down the hall and out the fire escape door at the end I could hear and plainly see that the man shouting the foulest of obscenities and chasing us down the hall was also carrying a shotgun.

Fortunately for our sorry asses the van was pretty much right by the bottom of the rickety metal fire escape stairs. We piled into it with the efficiency and precision of a military unit and as Buzz proceeded to floor it outta there we could hear the report of shotgun fire and the ting-ting of pellets hitting the now speeding away van.

After a few minutes of white-knuckling it down the road, we all exhaled and laughed. The kind of cathartic laugh usually reserved for psych patients.

Then we cracked open the cooler, but this time we skipped the sandwiches.

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