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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Jun 202013

The commercial music market is awash with mediocrity. Low-effort music that challenges neither the writer, performer nor listener. It’s a sea of sameness as broad as the Earth and as deep as the need for immediate gratification that inspired it. Incomplete people writing incomplete music.

“It may be crap, but there’s plenty of it.” is a growing concern to those who are looking for more than McHits on which on feast their ears.

I attribute this to the growing narcissism of the marketplace. The hollow feel-good notions that permeate cyberspace and are reflected back to us in music and lyrics. Chord patterns scientifically designed to tug at our heart strings. Slogan based lyrics that are indistinguishable from ad copy.

But if you ask any of the authors of such works they will, invariable, parrot the slogan of our current psychological recession: “I’m following my passion”.

Following one’s passion is a slogan for narcissists and others who seek to define themselves as excellent without the commensurate effort. The history of exceptional achievement, whether in art, sports, intellectualism or commerce shows that it is better to quietly become so good at something that your skills, on their own merit, cannot be ignored. To become expert at something is far more useful to yourself and to others than to be passionately mediocre.

Gaining skill in your favourite area, whether music, science, business takes years of dedicated study and practice. Most of all it takes the ability to critically analyze your own efforts, not in a self-recriminating or harshly judgemental way so as to undermine your confidence, but to dispassionately determine where more study and effort are needed to advance your progress in your chosen endeavour. It has been my observation that it is this very area where the “passionate” ones fail.

Passion can sometimes be a word people use to announce to others what is, in essence, self-flattery. Growth requires the courage of self-sacrifice; an actual sacrificing of one’s haltering beliefs and their resulting unproductive habits on the alter of self-understanding, shedding those personal characteristics that stand in the way of mastery. It has been said that to master any skill one must master one’s self first. Many that I’ve known who are “passionate” prematurely consider themselves to have achieved mastery, false modesty notwithstanding, their deficits being hidden from them by their “passion”.

I find it tiresome to be in the company of those seeking the dull leaching of attention so often accompanying this crowd and of the equally distasteful people who supply them with it.

This observation of human nature is nowhere more pertinent than in music circles. Semi-talented players who display airs of all-that-and-more fill the beer halls and community dance nights from coast to coast. This distasteful social condiment has been exacerbated by a growing hoard of ageing boomers, now retired, who bloat the ranks of the weekend warriors. When asked, many will tell you they are just “following their passion”, a passion that failed to take root in their prime.

But those handful of guitar lessons in the 9th grade now combine with a retirement income that allows for them to be seen wearing instruments of conspicuous consumption. Their passion is as obvious as the price tags of which they so eagerly brag. Tubes! are their battle sound; Analog! their rallying call that enjoins the neo-Luddites to partake in peering down their snouts at all things digital and modern. And God forbid that their imaginings, passing for knowledge, not be given unquestioned deference. No sir! No lowly MP3 shall ever reach the sonic purity of their iTunes downloads! Or so I’m told.

Regardless of the passionate folk, it is skill that will make your art and craft stand out from the din of those who seek to be the next guy that sounds like the last guy.

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