“I’m in a rather ambiguous position, an ex-rock musician who did a lot of drugs,” claimed legendary rock journalist, sci-fi author and U.K. scenester Mick Farren in one of his later-life interviews (on Vimeo) on the subject of his must-read book Speed-Speed-Speedfreak: A Fast History of Methamphetamine. Any fan of Sons of Anarchy‘s stark televised portrayal of biker life ought to get a load of the sordid history of meth culture or how hopped up on drugs both JFK and Hitler both were while cranking out (pun intended) massive world-changing high-stakes policies and decisions.
As an ex-junkie and now two years off the sauce as well, I have a less ambiguous but nonetheless tricky relationship with drugs and that side of culture. I believe in medical marijuana as medicine 100 percent, as it is a plant and different strains affect people completely differently (unless you are severely schizophrenic, in which case it is probably just a bad idea). As Hunter S. Thompson once famously wrote, “Buy the ticket, take the ride.” Sure, that’s an essential part of rock ’n’ roll, but as a punk rock-inclined kid growing up in the Woodstock area my whole life and listening to socially relevant Public Enemy or Minor Threat records instead of the Grateful Dead, I saw a lot of burned out and drugged out hippies who weren’t achieving much social change. Instead of Dylan’s “Masters of War,” I was moved to book Youth Center shows in Woodstock by seeing Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video and how grungettes L7 were down with Rock for Choice. I had to go before the Woodstock Town Board as a teenager to debate being allowed to but on a pro-choice benefit concert on town property (The Woodstock Community Center) and eventually I was shot down and had to call it something else to be allowed to do the benefit, even though the cash from the door was going to support Rock For Choice. But depression, if not apathy, was “in.” Nirvana and Alice in Chains were really uplifting for such downer rock bands in other thematic or lifestyle/mental health aspects. I am not blaming those bands but I definitely was into heroin chic as a teenager.
There is a bad problem again in the area. It’s funny how what some view as liberal excess leads to kids in what is generally considered a yuppie town or area often being bored and doing cocaine and heroin. While the demographic of “white trash” or “ghetto African-Americans” are often targeted as responsible for the drug epidemic, we know the CIA had a hand in it. While the government was simultaneously waging the unwinnable War on Drugs, the truth is that addiction, poverty and drugs as an outlet for stress or a maladaptive solution to deeper problems is a sickness shared by people of all backgrounds and ethnicities. It was in the shame and sorrow of Native Americans chasing memories of the Great Raven and the Turtle carrying the early world on its back … deep down into the shadows of a bottle of whiskey. It was in the broken heart of a disaffected veteran who got hooked on misdiagnosed anti-depressants and painkillers. It was in the sigh of an alcoholic or pill-addled hippie who had their spirit broken by the Monsantos or Koch Brothers of the world. It’s even in the almost-desperate braggadocio (if he wasn’t such a sick-ass rapper) of rapper Necro’s brutally honest LL Cool J-parodying underground hit “I Need Drugs.” It came out years ago and even then talked about how meth was invented by Nazis and today’s heroin is so stepped on with horrible bullshit it makes a deadly thing even more like playing Russian Roulette…while the rhymes still talk about fiending for drugs and needing them while knowing this anyway. (Incidentally, speed is even Captain America’s original “super soldier serum” we celebrate today without knowing it.How do you *think*soldiers were motivated for an extra hit of bravery and patriotism in the bad old days of World War II?
Remember to love one another and support discussion. This was just Memorial Day weekend. It is also 15 years since my first drummer passed away from a drug overdose. I’ve forgiven him for that but not ever forgiven myself for being a troubled kid that did heroin in front of him way before he had a habit. But I’ll always believe in the beauty of psychedelic, bluegrass-influenced instrumental folk like William Tyler who just played BSP. Or the “can’t break us” spirit in Harlem classic jazz and Charlie Parker despite his epic heroin problems. Let’s not demonize one another anymore and instead learn and heal one another on deeper levels. Amen.
On a less somber note, my friend Dave Brooks of New York City hard rockers Honor Among Thieves is a maniacal ex-military pilot, a tall and mowhawked African American drummer known for doing sound at Best Buy/Nokia, Trash Bar and for a lot of other adventures. His band just opened for Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue and DJ Ashba of Guns ’N’ Roses trio with producer/pop metal vocal king James Michael’s band Sixx A.M. The Honor Among Thieves boys are sharing the stage June 20 at The Anchor with my alternative rock/punk/metal band Get Out and surf goth band Galanos.
Dave Brooks’ Memorial Day weekend Facebook status was touching: “I’m fully stocked with tequila, cigarettes and condoms. I don’t have to be anywhere, anytime soon and I got enough money to wind up on wanted posters in multiple states! Who’s in?”