Fresh from our Morning After Issue, a piece Randa wrote on the talent-altering effects going cold turkey can have on some of our favourite acts…
Musical creativity and drug addiction are dark but inevitable bedfellows, but the skewed stimulation of getting fucked-up long-term tends to end in either death or dry out. So what happens to twisted talents when they try to go straight?
Writer Randa Wazen, Illustrations Bruce Tsai, Video research Maren Spriewald
Intoxication; my inspiration
Alongside love and death, drugs have inspired some of modern music’s greatest moments. The Velvet Underground’s I’m Waiting for my Man depicts a situation anyone who’s ever dealt with a punctuality challenged dealer is well familiar with, and the subject of Heroin speaks for itself. Lou Reed, who penned both tracks, is now clean and writes albums about morality whilst former bandmate John Cale admits that cocaine and alcohol disrupted his work and he lost his sense of humour. Nowadays, the sixty-seven year old has kicked drugs and booze completely and works out in the gym. Some of the 1960s most iconic anthems pay tribute to psychedelic substances, from Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit, through the Beatles’ Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds to Jimmy’ Hendrix’s timeless guitar classic Purple Haze. Syd Barrett paid tribute to Albert Hofmann, who was the first to synthesize LSD in Pink Floyd’s Bike – a reference to the chemist’s ride back home after having ingested the substance for the first time as he was tripping without knowing it. Spiritualized’s frontman Jason Pierce never made his drug habit a secret; a disc by his former band Spacemen 3 was titled Taking Drugs to Make Music to Take Drugs To, and a special edition of Spiritualized’s 1997 album Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space was packaged to resemble a prescription pills box, complete with dosage indications.
The Velvet Underground’s I’m Waiting for my Man:
The Velvet Underground’s Heroin:
Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit:
The Beatles’ Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds:
Jimmy’ Hendrix’s Purple Haze:
Pink Floyd’s Bike:
Get clean, get rich
Sobering up has helped some bands make the leap from cult cool to stadium rock star status. Indie darlings Kings of Leon had been around for a decade before finding a massive mainstream following a few years ago. The Followill tribe, composed of brothers Caleb, Nathan, Jared and cousin Matthew, confessed to a heavy cocaine addiction – to the point where some of them wore lipstick in an attempt to cover it up. They kicked their habit, then recorded their third album Because of the Times with a new polished sound that had mass appeal. The following record Only by the Night was a worldwide hit (their tunes were on such heavy rotation last year that if we hear Sex on Fire one more time, our heads might explode).
Under The Bridge, The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ most famous single, was an account of Anthony Kiedis’ drug days that started when he was barely 12. Kiedis cleaned up just in time for the album Californication, which also saw the return of John Frusciante – finally free from a lengthy heroin addiction that had him inches away from his deathbed. The album marked a clear shift in the band’s musical style and was their most commercially successful to date. Courtney Love’s tabloid fame almost eclipsed the three critically acclaimed albums she released with her band Hole. Her first solo album came out while she was still undergoing rehab and was a major flop. Back in 2005, during 3 months in a lock down rehabilitation clinic, she wrote 8 songs later christened ‘The Rehab Tapes’. Re-recorded with various celebrity friends the album, now titled Nobody’s Daughter, has been mooted for release since 2007 but due to various technical problems looks likely only to appear this year. Several autobiographical tracks like How Dirty Girls Get Clean and The Depths of My Despair were leaked to considerable enthusiasm, and it still looks like this could be Love’s best shot at reclaiming her reputation.
Kings of Leon’s Sex on Fire:
The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Under The Bridge:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LG2DGDndKmgCourtney Love’s Doll Parts:
Eighties synthpop duo Soft Cell came back in 2002 after an 18-year hiatus with the album Cruelty without Beauty. Marc Almond and David Ball’s earlier albums seemed directly influenced by the drugs they were taking at the time. Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret was their MDMA album, The Art of Falling Apart was drenched in an acid vibe and This Last Night in Sodom can qualify as their amphetamine masterpiece. When asked what his drug of choice for the fourth opus was, Almond simply replied “Evian water and macrobiotic food”. Initially terrified of losing his creativity without being under the influence, the singer considers his sober years to be the most fruitful period of his life. After a lifetime spent exploring the limits of his own sanity (including phases of such darkness that he burnt down his own recoding studio) the godfather of dub, Lee “Scratch” Perry, recently quit weed at the age of 70. He explained in an interview that he wanted to find out if “it was the smoke making the music or Lee Perry making the music. I found out it was me and that I don’t need to smoke.”
Trent Reznor suffered from serious writer’s block while battling a drug and alcohol addiction following his second album, ominously titled The Downward Spiral. Trent went to rehab, felt super, and shared it with the whole world on With Teeth. Mind altering substances were always a major no-no for Fugazi frontman Ian MacKaye. He famously sang “I’ve got better things to do than sit around and fuck my head, hang out with the living dead” in Minor Threat’s 1981 song Straight Edge. The song spawned the movement of the same name whose enthusiasts believe in a life of abstinence and sobriety.
Minor Threat’s Straight Edge:
Minor Threat’s Ian MacKaye on documentary American Hardcore:
All creativity aside, drugs can seriously mess up another key factor: technique. Slash of Guns n Roses confessed that he’s one hell of a better guitar player since he’s been sober. Some assets on the other hand can never be retrieved. Take Whitney Houston, whose addiction to cocaine and marijuana saw her fade away from the spotlight and caused irreversible damage to her vocal cords. Houston’s long awaited comeback album I Look to You just didn’t have that old Whitney sound.
Clean and a little too serene
While certain accounts of drug days and rehab can be very deep and moving, others just fall into cliché, such as ex-Suede frontman Brett Anderson’s eponymous post-rehab solo album. Iggy Pop, once famous for his onstage antics and lyrics about beating his brain with liquor and drugs, has now become a health freak, doing tai chi every morning and releasing soft-spoken jazz records. Mick Jagger, who gave up drinking, drugs and partying in the early 00’s, released his fourth solo effort Goddess in the Doorway in 2001. Despite critical praise, the audience did not seem too receptive; neither was fellow Rolling Stone Keith Richards, who dubbed it “Dogshit in the Doorway”.
Much has changed in the studio environment too. While some epic recording sessions in the sixties turned into drug and alcohol fuelled fests of chaos, these days they’re more likely to be dealt with in a fast, sterile, and business-like fashion. If the new modus operandi hasn’t affected the actual quality of the music, it sure has killed most of the juicy stories and legendary myths surrounding it. The rehab tendency has also affected the romanticized image of the tormented artist. For where there is addiction, there usually is pain and suffering – which when creatively expressed, has been the source for much art – something the audiences feed off voraciously. As Jagger wisely put it, “who wants to listen to a load of songs about `I’m rich and happy’”? But then again, who wants to see their idols die choking on their own vomit?