Look, these aren’t the first three music talents to die too early from drug abuse, and sadly, they won’t be the last.
But, this isn’t just about drugs. This isn’t your tired old rant about legalizing drugs; although I am strong proponent of that.
Clearly, in almost all of these cases, the culprit was prescription pharmaceuticals, but almost just as clearly, the damage had been done long before.
The point is this: legalizing drugs is just one step in solving this problem. Accepting the truth about drug use is really the goal we should be setting. We must accept that drugs are part of culture, drug use is part of what we do. I’ll spare you the coffee, cigarettes and alcohol argument here and lets also put aside advil, nyquil etc. I mean illicit drugs for recreation.
People, lots of them, have done and currently use cocaine. Yep, they do. More people, lots of them, have smoked and continue to use Marijuana / Cannabis- nearly a 1/4 of the U.S. Adult population admit to it (so the number’s probably higher). Still there are plenty who use meth on the weekends or drop some E, or plan a camping trip with some ‘shrooms.
If you drill down into the industries, you’ll find drug use “hotspotted” in creative industries. But also realize that if you are in a bar (the kinds with shots and pretty people), pretty much every single person working there has done coke at least once and most drink the equivalent of what would be considered alcoholic proportions of alcohol weekly.
Drill down to the music industry and the numbers become nearly all encompassing for use at some time. And that’s ok. Seriously, it is. Whether you want to believe it or not, much of your entertainment (Music, Comedy, Movies, Books, Advertising Spots, Television) is fueled by drug use, especially the really good stuff. I know, it’s not popular to say it, but it is absolutely true. This is not to say there are burnouts barely turning out work that is only driven by drug use. No. I’m saying that most of the people who create this entertainment use some sort of drug. Not all, certainly. And the drugs are not the primarily driver, but rather just part of the process. It’s part of a lifestyle that allows a human to drive themselves beyond what you can do.
Think about that. Whether it’s a touring musician, a Movie set, a crazy writer or a traveling comic) Working 16 hr days with physical, emotional and ego all clashing to bare a soul of performance so that you can enjoy it, is difficult. No one asked them to do it, but there is a point in creative pursuits when you understand just how all those who came before you did it. You hear that the Beatles put their 10,000 hrs in by playing 6-8 hrs a night in Berlin, but then you realize that they did by using Benzedrine and uppers. Oh! That’s how they became the biggest band in the world. But, that’s not part of the official story is it?
This would be a good time to dispel the myth of Drug genius- that’s not the point here. I’m saying geniuses who do drugs. And there are just as many talents whose work is genius who do not do drugs. the two are not mutually exclusive. But, it is undeniable how many “greats” have used drugs.
We don’t have to go down the list of greats – Mozart, Ella, Janis, James Brown, Charlie Parker, Cole Porter, Dylan, Stones, Michael, Winehouse, Houston. on and on and on.
What does that tell us? That drug use has some merit in art. In fact, it always has – it’s just been whitewashed form the historical record. Keep in mind, for most of human history, save the last 100 yrs or so, all drugs were “legal” and society accepted its use as, well, useful. No need for that lecture here.
Now, not everyone is the same and we should separate out the genetic pre-disposition to addiction in many of these cases. There’s depression and bi-polar disorder, as well as family history at work here. But the dirty truth is that most people (the vast majority) that do drugs, do not get addicted. They do not die. They do not lost their home. They are fine parents. They hold great jobs. This is true in music as well. Most who do drugs reach a point where they may smoke some weed, but really fall off the hard stuff; things to do, kids to raise etc. But they did do them and you do love their work and yet, if they get busted with drugs they are suddenly seen as damaged. Or if they die, we think, “well, they just couldn’t beat the demons.”
We like to separate talent from the tragedy of drug overdose. We like to think our music heroes are fine, if they could only quit the junk. But the grander point here is acceptance. If drugs were legal and we all agreed that a certain unknown percentage of people will fall to addiction for many many reasons, we could also agree that healthcare and counseling for that person would be a welcome relief and perfectly acceptable medical way to handle a medical problem. Not a last chance, not a court-ordered mandate under the threat of jail. Not criminal, but caring.
See, the message now is: “Get sober, by our means and definition for at least for a couple of months, prove it, and we won’t lock you up with other criminals like you. ” ANd oh yeah, it’s gonna cost you big time.
This too often results in an “illicit” drug user substituting another “legal and acceptable” drug – methadone, propofol, oxycontin, anti-depressants etc. I’m not saying some counter-drugs aren’t useful, but too often they seem to be the eventual cause of death because they are “accepted.” Freely dispensed in a system where you can attain multiple prescriptions and buy it legally from a guy in a white coat. Why on earth is it more acceptable to give Amy Winehouse methadone than heroin and a bottle of vodka?
The message should be: “Get help and here’s where. Try everything. Treat the underlying problem and deal with the addiction long-term. We’ll try as long as it takes, because a life is worth it.”
People find sobriety in different ways. For some, it is psychological therapy coupled with physical addition, for some it is really just a matter pain and stimuli. Yet, our system now is setup where if you find you need help with an addiction, you must sneak into a rehab facility and you better have tons of cash. Sure you can join AA, NA and others and might find good support there. But that road is a long and bumpy one. If you happen to be busted with drugs, you are court ordered to receive the state’s version of addiction therapy, whether you’re addicted or not. This is a tragic waste of time and money, and it impedes on true addicts getting help in an shared-experience environment. The fact is that most of our “Drug criminals” are not addicts at all. They may not even be users.
So, lets pull this back to focus. Too many people die from drug abuse, on that we can all agree. And if you are adamantly against drug use and the like, understand how prevalent and pervasive it has been and continues to be – EVEN WHILE HIGHLY ILLEGAL. The point is our system is not working when people of unlimited means, talent, care, support groups and worldwide adoration die before our eyes. We are complicit here. We knew, Belushi had a problem, we knew Kurt had a problem, we knew Layne had a problem. We knew, they knew, everyone knew. It wasn’t money or access, or friends that prevented these people from getting help. It was the help itself, what it represents in our society. A weakness, a “couldn’t make it” judgement. It is tantamount to losing. It should be celebrated. Thank goodness our medical minds and psychologists have the tools and expertise now to beat a drug problem. That was not always the case. As a community we should celebrate when they walk out of addiction centers, not peer when they are trying to sneak in.
Never mind that this is 100x harder for a regular person. If Joe at your job goes into rehab, he will probably lose his job, his healthcare, your “previously never challenged” respect, and coincidentally he will be given some sort of a glass ceiling of trust that is nearly impossible to break through and massively succeed.
You see, legalization won’t fix this, but it will help us accept reality. We as a society have to be okay that our student’s teacher might have gotten a bit too drunk last night – just like we did. We might have to accept that our favorite rock star snorts coke off a stripper’s belly once in a while, cause the guy that just served you drinks at the bar did the same thing in the bathroom stall. We gotta be ok with a director who takes addys to get through an epic 36 hour editing session so that you can see that next blockbuster film. In most cases, drugs do not keep us from being good teachers, workers, talents or friends or parents. Sorry. I know you want a black and white world, where drug use is bad and sober people are all good. It’s just not the case.
Until we, as a society, accept the reality that drug use happens (often and all around us), and that people get way too drunk on many nights of the week and slip a pill in at the end to make it through this life, we will see many more tragic deaths.
Accepting that not all drug use leads to abuse or death will allow us to be open to accepting to help for who struggle with abuse, ensuring they stay alive long enough to beat it.