Drugs Are Bad, m’kay?

But how much poorer would the music scene be without them?

From Louis Armstrong to Tom Petty, Charlie Parker to Keith Richards, Syd Barrett to Lemmy, Lowell George to Fleetwood Mac, a vast amount of great music has been created by those under the influence of marijuana, heroin, LSD, cocaine and other substances that society has declared illegal. Not all of it, by any means, has been great but would Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, Sgt. Pepper, Sister Ray, Dark Star and any number of jazz classics have been created by people sipping a glass of sweet sherry or a cup of tea? Frank Zappa famously abhorred them but was he right to keep his band away from them?

All the Grateful Dead music I’ve posted from Casey was produced under the influence of marijuana, LSD and cocaine in various permutations and, for the most part, that does not seem to have affected the performances detrimentally. But in Amsterdam Garcia, for one, got a little greedy and you can hear the effect in his playing in the first set. Most of the licks that he always plays, because they’re part of the song, are bungled or omitted. Yet when he gets past the opening verses of Playin’ In The Band, the music becomes quite sublime (and the Other One performance in the second set is astonishing). So, what do you think? Just say ‘no’?

This is Playin’ In The Band from Amsterdam.

Personally, I draw the line at anything that ends up using you: heroin, cocaine, meth and the like.

45 thoughts on “Drugs Are Bad, m’kay?

      • Well…it’s a loaded question, isn’t it? Because JUST SAY NO is Nancy Reagan, and it’s a stupid approach to the whole problem. But I say problem, because I believe it is a problem. I don’t think drugs or alcohol probably made anything better ever. I say this as somebody who has not done drugs, but who drinks lots of wine every night. So I’m not being judgmental – from the outside at least. I think maybe drugs have been tied into creativity because many creative people take drugs – through convention or because the society they move around in say that it’s okay, or more than okay.

        I don’t think drugs have ever made anything better, but I do think they have made many many many things worse. And ruined many peoples’ lives. And caused many people to ruin other peoples’ lives.

        I don’t understand the fascination with drugs, in movies or music. I think it’s LAME to put it lamely. Anybody can do drugs, it doesn’t make you cool. It’s not that interesting, and it shouldn’t be. Which isn’t to say that I disapprove, I just think it’s very adolescent to be all “oooh, I do drugs, aren’t I cool, don’t you want to hear about it?” Do what you want to do that doesn’t keep you up all night. It’s your life, you have to find some balance in it.

        Sorry if this sounded judgmental. MOstly it’s just mental.

        This is Steenbeck, by the way!

      • Yeah, I’m not sure the ‘cool’ argument works either. Doesn’t the alcohol industry spend gazillions of dollars trying to persuade us that their products are cool (as cigarette ads used to)? And they succeed: how many wine drinkers do you know who think their knowledge of different vintages etc makes them cool?
        Legal drug purveyors never plug the actual effect of their wares (well, you know that list), whereas I think people take illegal drugs because of what others say the effect is. I’m pretty sure having my first (illegal) drink made me feel sophisticated and grown-up and the drink itself made me feel quite good. I later tried pot and LSD because I was told by a friend I’d like the experience and, by and large, I did. It definitely was ‘that interesting’, certainly more interesting than alcohol. I continued using pot because I liked its effect (and still do); I didn’t continue with LSD because it took too much dedication and was potentially terrifying.
        Cocaine use may be driven by the cool imperative, certainly amongst rich banker-types, but I doubt very much that Miles and Bird (and Dylan) became heroin addicts because they thought it was cool. I don’t understand it but I believe its effects are good enough to convince a lot of people to do it again. No junkie thinks the pain and addiction is cool; they simply enjoy the ‘upside’.
        I really can’t agree that drugs have never made anything better. Without them, twentieth-century music and art would be noticeably more bland and uninteresting (imagine if Coldplay was all the music we had!). Whether or not the artists who took the drugs consider they were made better is something they’d have to answer.

        (I think we all know you’re Claire on here now, steen, and you’re steen over on RR, Claire.)

      • I never shot up but i smoked opium and loved it. I never even considered shooting up because a) I don’t like needles and b) i knew i would love it and had a pretty good idea that i wouldn’t be able to manage an addiction.

      • I don’t think I said that people do drugs because they think it’s cool. There are a million reasons to do drugs, I would never try to simplify it like that.

        I was talking about people making “art” about doing drugs, which I rarely find interesting. How many millions of bands playing coffee houses in college towns have the word “weed” or “high” in their name and think they’re being clever and sneaky? Blah blah blah.

        And I suppose it’s impossible to go back and know what kind of music people would make if they weren’t taking drugs, so that’s a difficult conversation to have, too. I just think that if you’re creative you shouldn’t need drugs to come up with something different or edgy or even fantastical.

  1. “I draw the line at anything that ends up using you”

    You’ll be pleased then to hear that TP gave up cocaine after smashing his left hand against a wall while under its influence during the Southern Accents sessions. He was unable to play the guitar for 9 months, so that was rather detrimental to music.


  2. Trouble is, the talent has to be there before the artist starts using drugs. Taking anything, legal or illegal isn’t going to transform a talentless dullard into a genius, they may think it does, but more often than not, they’re wrong.

    With proper preparation and appropriately gifted artists, drugs can work as shortcuts to amazing places and lead to mind blowing creativity, so I can’t say no.

    However, sometimes people make better music when they’re mentally in a very poor place, is it fair to want them stay there for the sake of the music? Should we encourage them to risk their sanity and health so we get a better album for our listening pleasure?

    Psychedelics are in a different category to other drugs, in my mind, but I don’t know, depends on the drug perhaps?

    • Well, the Stones started to go slowly downhill quite a bit as they cleaned themselves up. But i wouldn’t necessarily put that down to cleaning up. Mick Taylor left after Exile, and they were just kind of getting older and married, having kids then too. Maybe they were left with not all that much interesting to write about.

      • Interesting bits about the Stones and family / kids in Keith’s book though. Apparently he wrote Angie for his daughter or right after her birth, and that is indeed her name. I think people assumed it was about Mick and Angela Bowie, but Mick said it was one of Keith’s and he didn’t know who Angie was.

        More amusing though was the Stones “Little T & A”, crap song. Keith said that he wrote it before his daughters from Patti were born, and their first initials are T and A. Keith said, yep, that’s them, my little T & A. Nice!!

        Most people assumed that the lovely All About You was about Anita, but Keith said no, it was actually about Mick.

      • do you rate Satanic Majesties as highly as the others in your list? I’ve never got on with it as an album although I do love “She’s A Rainbow” and the sublime “2000 Light Years from Home” of course.

        I found the tidbits about the songs in Keith’s book the most interesting bits too.

      • Me – honestly, no. But i do love it. But for some people – Pairubu and Shiv for two I think – Satanic Majesties is their favorite.

      • Do you not like We Love You? 2000 Man, Sing this All Together? I actually love those, in addition to Rainbow and 2000 Light Years.

      • we love you, yes, love it. I just don’t find I want to listen to the whole thing as an entity, but you know that’s just me, I’m a Sticky Fingers girl 🙂

    • I broadly agree, beth. The Dead’s music certainly went downhill after Garcia took to heroin, whereas LSD inspired them. I never understood how they managed to play under its influence, however.

      I’m curious to hear from any jazzers about heroin’s influence on the music produced by Bird & co.

      • I have to say on the subject of heroin, I think Nick Cave’s work was more essential when he was off his face on it, but I’m glad he cleaned up or I suspect he’d be dead.

        Goths tend to like speed, but apart from Lemmy favouring it, I have no idea what it does for musicians apart from giving them energy.

        Anyone have a drug hierarchy for musicality?

  3. PITB sounded pretty good to me, but then as a non-musician, my ear isn’t as attuned to the musical nuances as yours is.

    The beginning where they introduced Donna, and then hearing her in the song cracked me up though. A few nights ago i was talking with a guy about the Dead, and he started ranting – too much Donna! can’t stand all of that wailing!

    • I think it is a pretty fine PITB but Garcia misses most of the intro/outro notes.

      Mention of Donna is guaranteed to cause a row in deadhead circles. They got her in to wail like that but she definitely added something to things like Sing Me Back Home (see my last Casey post) and, later, the revived St. Stephen.
      Bobby introduced her as a ‘fine Christian lady’ at Bickershaw.

      • Donna is a bit of a sometimes-it-works figure though.

        I’ve always assumed that she was only really there to keep Keith reasonably together.

      • From what I’ve read, Carole, Donna seemed to spend quite a lot of time beating the shit out of Keith. And vice-versa, no doubt.

  4. The sleeve notes to one of the Pebbles compilations ( supposedly written, if my memory serves me well by The Reverend and Mrs Tommy Parasite) claimed that the main drug of choice for the 60s “punks” featured was Romilar cough syrup.

    I have a suspicion , too, that marijuana was the “drug” responsible for the rather chilled out nature of much 1970s Reggae music.

  5. It’s a difficult one, isn’t it – not least because of the ‘who is without sin?’ argument; I suspect that anyone reading these exchanges is not entirely without a certain set of experiences, if one might put it like that.

    In the dock, you have drugs and the musicians that took/take them.

    The case against: the awful carnage of some fine, some average, some poor musicians and more importantly human beings. Anyone who’s picked up on any of my very occasional contributions will know that, like Chris, the Dead are very close to my heart and many’s the time I’ve wished that Garcia was still here amongst us.

    The case for: the many fine albums and pieces of music mentioned above.

    But it’s not that simple, is it?

    Did drugs/substance abuse kill Garcia, Hendrix, Morrrison, Brian Jones, Richard Manuel, Rick Danko, Lester Young (and many, many other equally well-known and/or talented musicians, and those less so) or the insanity of life on the road, of the constant pressure/exhaustion/highs and lows of being a performer at that point in history? Garcia didn’t turn to smack out of curiosity, I suspect; I’m sure that Dennis McNally (the Dead’s historian/chronicler) says in A Long Strange Trip that it was the life of constant performing plus the pressure he put himself under when making the Dead Movie that led him into heroin’s beguiling embrace.

    Equally did acid give us Dark Star? Well, yes, but not by itself. There was the innate genius of the Dead (particularly Garcia and Lesh) at that point in their evolution but, perhaps more importantly, they were working within a culture, a zeitgeist if you like, that probably had as much to do with their music as anything chemical. There’s an entertaining interview from ’81 between Tom Snyder (one of the Chicago Seven, turned politician and TV chat show host) and Garcia and Ken Kesey. (It’s there on You Tube but also I understand purchasable as a DVD.) Kesey and Garcia both make the point that the drugs were only a part of what was going on; ’60s San Francisco was about much more than getting high. Drugs don’t turn poor musicians into great ones (the proof: Pete Doherty, but can reduce great ones into much reduced ones: e.g. Garcia’s (or Lester Young’s and many others’) fumbling years,

    A few other random thoughts:

    1) there’s a cultural disposition to our reactions to drugs: I always reckoned that grass was innately a peacable high, while alcohol was more likely to lead you into a street-fighting frame of mind. A friend of mine came back from Guatemala where he’d been working prior to going to university in the early 70s, and told me that the exact opposite was the case there. Grass was what you took when you wanted to get outrageous; the booze mellowed you.

    2) I think Chris’ point about Garcia at the Amsterdam gig reinforces my belief that the influence of drugs best transmits itself into music not at the point of intensity but afterwards – perhaps in the recollection of the experience. Was the what Robety Hunter meant by ‘Such a long long time to be gone and a short time to be there’?

    3) (and finally you’ll be relieved to read) I side with Chris in the debate about what substances to draw the line at … but the ones on the wrong side of the line have also contributed to some damn fine music; we’d all be immensely the poorer if we didn’t have Dylan’s ‘thin, wild mercury sound’ in his great mid/late ’60s albums. Life would be unimaginable without it. And yet who knows what he would have come up with without vast amounts of amphetamines, and, one understands, occasional heroin, coursing through his veins?

  6. Drugs and musicians, well, I am not sure.

    As a musical child of the 60s, I’ve always associated music with mind expansion and I find it hard to unpick the two things. Having a pretty druggy past doesn’t really help me see the subject clearly either.

    There are so many pieces of music that just scream out DRUGS to me.
    Pre-Summer Of Love Byrds songs just have a lovely edgy amphetamine-tinged acid wobbliness about them that it just makes the whole acid scene seem like an inevitability and bands like Quicksilver, Jefferson Airplane and of course The Dead are the prophets of LSD.

    As for the hard stuff, well, I am in two minds. I am sure that heroin does fuck you up, but it also seems to have been such a part of the jazz and rock worlds that the users must be getting something from it. I wouldn’t know, not ever having been a user.

    Cocaine can be a blast, I suppose, but for musicians it is a disaster. It just feeds the egos and, let’s face it, most bands have too much ego already.

  7. interesting…

    drugs, like being in a band, or creating art… is an escape from the reality of the real world or the reality of your own mind…. escapism is good.

    it sometimes works, and is fucking great…..and other people can look or listen to what you have produced…. but the person isn’t going to give two shits about what you think, because they’ll be doing the next thing, constantly trying to keep the interfearence out of their heads.. they will listen when you tell them it’s great – because they need to be great – for 3 minutes a year* they’ll believe what they have achieved is great too and the world will be a better place for them .. and then they’ll know it’s futile and worthless and the mind will need to be destroyed again, with whatever it takes – an outpouring of music, an artwork or a vast amount of drugs… whatever works.

    it sometimes works really well and you end up dead – meaning you never have to cope, ever again.


    ….always quit when it becomes part of an industry.


    ……that brilliant track that exuded from your pores cannot be recreated to order for businessmen.

    .. that art that vomited from your mind (saving you from your own treacherous thoughts).. will haunt you each you are made to pastiche it for a rich gallery owner.

    … those beautiful, pure, fun, enjoyable, drugs they made you so close to nature will now be so tainted that 213 people are getting a slice and adding an impurity, before you even get to look at the end result, and wallow in your own ego induced self pity.

    Nothing will ever be as good again – EVER.

    (happy Thursday)

    * except Bono.

    • Er, yes, I mean, no, er, thanks. I think. There are definitely things in there I agree with. And some things I may need to be ‘on drugs’ to actually understand. I definitely agree there’s a potentially endless cycle of pain/creation/escape in art and that production/profit-making machines screw that up.

  8. Think there will always be close ties between music & drugs. Whether drugs have helped create more good music or caused more good music to be lost, is an interesting question. Don’t know the answer, but think it would be a close call.

    • I’m late to this party, but that’s OK, because I wouldn’t ever be looking for anyone to cut me a line anyway. As someone who only uses alcohol (though the jury’s out on my prodigious caffeine intake!!), I have almost no experience upon which to draw. I’ve never smoked [cigarettes], so pot/weed/hash use has only been VERY occasional. Didn’t see the point of amyl nitrate, though I had a very good weekend with it 😉 ; never tried LSD, as my one ingestation of mushrooms merely discombobulated me; wouldn’t go near anything Class A with a ten foot pole, mostly ’cause I’m a wuss. And whilst I’m a very generous host with the bottles, come into my house under the influence of anything else and we’re going to fall out quickly and permanently! You can call me a hypocrite if you like, but – to use an Americanism – I’m not in the slightest bit ‘conflicted’ by my position.

      I did, however, need to say that I get really irritated by the “look at Coldplay” argument you used above, Chris. I think Shoey‘s hit the nail on the head here. How many talented-but-now-very-dead people could have given us DECADES more of their art if they hadn’t taken too much just once too often?

      I’m not against drug use at all, it’s excess consumption I hate (which applies to everything from drugs to food to … I dunno, bling HumVees even). I agree that there is so much I listen to that wouldn’t be there without the artists having taken all those drugs, but I abhor any attempt to JUSTIFY them with spurious comparisons.

      Here’s the most eloquent man I’ve ever heard on this subject:

      • Sorry, DsD, Coldplay was a cheap shot (but they really are dull and unimaginative). At least the talented-but-now-very-dead people gave us some great art before they went and, as it’s generally only Class A drugs that kill you, many of those drug-using talented people stick around.

      • Thanks for not taking the hump, Chris. When I read my comment back after posting, even I thought it sounded over-aggressive; sorry about that. What I had thought, but failed to type earlier, was that your example skews the truth in that there have been untold numbers of failed artists we’ve never heard of, because their talent was lost to drugs, rather than enhanced by it. For every Chris Martin, there are who-knows-how-many A.N.OtherCorpse s we never got to hear, but by definition, I couldn’t name one of ’em!
        (And of course, there’s no guarantee that Coldplay-on-crack would be any more appealing a proposition either! 8) )

  9. A difficult one, drugs have undoubtedly added a great deal to 20th Century art and music, but i’m not sure it would have been that different.

    I’ve mentioned before that drugs are (and have been) pretty much non-existent in Japan and are not part of the cultural landscape in any way at all. Honourable exceptions are a few underground sixties and seventies longhairs like Speed, Glue and Shinki that I posted recently.

    But, as Sakura’s fascinating posts show and as my Japanese music collection attests, there is no paucity of creativity or far-outedness. There are plenty of Japanese psych and prog bands and thousands of punk and pop bands that make mind-blowing, innovative, experimental, upbeat, downbeat, mellow, aggressive music, all without the aid of a single narcotic.

    You could argue however that without the music made by Western artists off their boxes on pot, LSD, coke and speed to influence them, a lot of the Japanese music would never have been made…..

  10. A few further brief points:

    1) it’s important to separate out music about the drugs experience (the Velvet’s Heroin for example) from music which appears to have been made under the influence of the drugs in question (quite a bit of the Dead stuff would fall into this category; different drugs at different points. (Though it’s more than possible that Heroin would also fall into this category.)).

    2) Even when apparently playing under the influence and creating magic (or rambling nonsense depending on where you stand on the Dead – I know where I am!), they were also in the same shows performing relatively ‘straight’ songs written by other artists, and it would be hard to say ‘ah, there’s music made for/with drugs’.

    3) Ultimately we have no idea what they or any musician might have done without the drugs; there is no Dark Star created in drug-free conditions by the same musicians but who had never touched acid. And Panthersan’s point about Japan is relevant (and echoes Garcia’s point about the drugs only being a part of it); the influence comes from all sorts of sources and creativity need not be any the less weird/magical/far-out without drugs .. who knows? maybe they’d have created Dark Star anyway!

    I guess you have in the end to separate out the music from the performer …. for me there’ll always be Dark Star, whatever kind of wreck Garcia ended up as …….

  11. By the way – and this has nothing to do with this topic – can anyone tell me how to add emphasis (bold/italics), smileys, audio/video etc. in a comment? I can see how to do it in a new post but I’m foxed how to do it in a comment … it’s probably incredibly obvious but not to me!

    • If you look right at the top of the page, you’ll see a Spill tab for Manual. On that page click on the PIX VIDS AND JAZZY COMMENTS link, and open or save the pdf doc therein. It has all the instructions you could need.

      Don’t thank me, thank Maki; he wrote ’em up, I believe.

      • Thanks, DsD (I assume that I can follow Chris’ convention in abbreviating your moniker!) …. I told you that I suspected that it was obvious!

    • Way back in 1975 my mate and I got arrested for smoking a joint on a Sheffield street (we bumped into a plod who had ambitions of joining the Drug Squad!). The police weren’t too unpleasant but when we got to court the magistrate told us we were a threat to society, wasting our lives, etc, etc, and we were fined £10 each (which was a lot of money back then). As the cop had noticed my friend passing me the joint, they engineered a second count of supplying, and he got a second £10 fine.
      The previous case was one of assault at pub closing time. The magistrate made no comment and gave the chap a conditional discharge.

      Things haven’t changed a lot in 36 years.

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