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Miscellaneous - Drugs

  by Jon Rogers

published: 21 / 2 / 2011

Miscellaneous - Drugs


In 'Hitting the Right Note' Jon Rogers asks whether drug participation provides musicians with a creative spark or whether that creativity simply has to be there in the first place

"If you don’t think drugs have had some positive effects, take all your records and burn ‘em.”- Bill Hicks Drugs – and let’s face it, we’re talking about the illegal sort here – may not be big or clever but they have certainly had a marked, and I would argue, positive effect on music. Like the great American comedian Bill Hicks stated you might as well go and trash most of the ‘classic’ canon of modern rock ‘n’ roll albums. To quote Hicks once again, the Beatles were so high they even let Ringo sing. No doubt ‘Purple Haze’ would never have been written if Jimi Hendrix hadn’t popped a few pills now and again. It is perhaps no coincidence that ‘Exile on Main Street’ was written by the Rolling Stones in a blurry haze of drug consumption in the south of France. Where would Nick Drake have been if he hadn’t altered his state of consciousness without puffing on a few ‘Mary Jane’s? Do you think those early Stooges concerts and albums like their eponymous debut and ‘Funhouse’ were written on a diet of lentils and fruit juice? And if you still don’t think that drugs have had a positive effect on the creative mind then just compare Eric Clapton before and after his drug use. Whilst he was high as a kite it was all John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and the astonishing creativity of Cream. Nowadays it’s dull, lifeless blues-by-numbers, where all the fire and passion has been sucked out. Clearly he’s still an accomplished guitarist but now, after cleaning himself up, the spark has been extinguished. It’s not just the rock bands that may have indulged in narcotics. Drugs were far more prevalent in the jazz and blues world... Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Gil Evans, Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday all (over) indulged. Even in the Country music scene, perhaps not always known for its musicians to get high, perhaps two of the most revered artists nowadays – Hank Williams and Gram Parsons – both liberally indulged. In fact drugs have had an impact on all sorts of music, from the likes of heavy metal from Black Sabbath (‘Sweet Leaf’ and ‘Snowblind’) to the troubled singer-songwriters like Tim Hardin (‘Red Balloon’) to the likes of endless House and rave beats played in some field in the Home Counties. In effect the list goes on and on. This isn’t to say that drugs, themselves, necessarily gave these artists their creative edge and were the driving force in helping them to write some astonishing music. Possibly it was those ‘demons’ inside themselves that were the creative spark and that urge to express themselves, rather than the drugs alone. It’s difficult to actually tell but the drug use simply could have been a result of that inner turmoil, a way of numbing the pain. Drugs can, however, open the “doors of perception” as writer Aldous Huxley stated in his own experiment with drugs. To his mind, psychedelic drugs altered consciousness and allowed people to open their minds and to view the world in new ways, opening up the doors to new ways of expression. This was later picked up on by the likes of Timothy Leary and his own research on LSD which would later be distilled down into his hippy mantra of “Turn On, Tune In and Drop Out”. And different musical styles have been influenced by the musicians’s drug of choice of the day. All that 60s peace and love vibe was fuelled by LSD. Punk, got its vibrant energy, in part, from cheap speed. The New Romantics gained its hedonism and struck a pose from snorting up the nose candy. But just because you’ve taken some drugs doesn’t make you a musical genius. Just how many artists have indulged, thought at the time they were creating something of unrivalled genius only to later to come out of their stupor to realise that actually it was just a whole load of self-indulgent, dribbling banality. I’ve heard some early Pink Floyd bootlegs where the band are so high all they can do is, effectively, run their hands up and down the fretboard – over and over again. Basically just because you’ve taken drugs doesn’t mean you’re the next Jimi Hendrix or Jim Morrison. More likely that drooling wreck in the corner who has pissed their pants. Not really something to recommend. So kids, drugs can aid the creative process – if you have that creative spark in the first place – but can also turn you into a pathetic mess too. And doesn’t always ensure creative genius: for every ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ there’s a ‘Glass Onion’. Obviously as drugs are illegal and addictive Pennyblackmusic and this writer don’t condone the use of narcotics in any way shape or form.

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