Friday, October 21, 2005

I always flirt with death


"they've ALL got the drugs out..."
I am looking through the latest NME. Who is on the cover? Babyshambles, of course! Everybody’s (Kate Moss, Vanity Fair, etc. etc) Favorite Heroin Addict, Pete Doherty has been consistently in the music (and more) news for at least the past year. Somehow the media has “made cute” the fact that he’s a dopey dope fiend and Doherty either doesn’t give a shit, or he eats it up (probably the later). In a weird way, he’s the 00’s version of Mr. Vicious [Also nestled in the lower left corner of NME: "Sex Pistols Shocker!" Inside, an anniversary story of sorts about the October 12, 1978 murder of Nancy Spungen.] Of course, he’s no fashion icon, and in no way will leave the “legacy” that Sid did. (for as fucked up and questionable as the Sid Vicious Legacy of junkiedom, murder and less-than-competent bass-playing even is…whatever.) The main reason they are not equal mascots lies in the fact that The Libertines (and especially Babyshambes) are no fucking Pistols, and that is quite obvious.

Why am I even mentioning Doherty and Vicious in the same breath? Because of the way the media has run with this Junkie Rockstar thing once again, people who don’t know who the fuck the Libertines even are (my grandmother, for one, folks) they know who Doherty is. A huge part of this, of course is due to the fact that he dated Moss.

I just think it’s fascinating how *fascinating* we ALL think junkies are.

The thing that got me really analyzing it all is Ike Reilly’s (probably my favorite new album, “Junkie Faithful." (I must add what Walsh wrote: “takes its title from the heroin addicts and born-again Christians Reilly has known and loved.”) When I saw that there was a track called “Heroin” on the record, I immediately assumed it was the Velvet Underground song. When I first met Ike for an interview about five (holy shit) years ago, he told me how he literally locked his high school girlfriend—soon to be his wife, his love of his life and the mother of his many, wild Irish children—in a car and “made her listen to ‘Heroin.’”
But, it isn’t Lou Reed, it’s pure Ike. The chorus goes like this:

“Jesus craves it/ the devil plays it/The road to death’s not paved with pavement, but littered with souls of strung-out men who all claimed Christ as heroin.”

The way he lets the words all tumble out, is very Dylan, very Liz Phair, but again—only he can do it the way he does it. I’ve never talked to him about junkies or addiction, but we have talked about Shane McGowan. The sad, sad Irish addict and great song writer that has been barely hanging on to life for some time now. Take one look at his bloated face, his ravaged teeth and you see what drinking and dope does to the body and the mind/spirit/soul/whatever you believe in.

The way Ike sings about the hard stuff, the dope, it’s not pretty. He does sing about drinking heartily ALL THE TIME and is totally one of his signature themes in his songs. But the dope, it seems, is a symbol of the devil, which is yet another frequent character in the life of Reilly’s world.

When you listen to songs by The Only Ones, with lyrics by junkie extraordinaire—Peter Parrett he makes junk sound like loads of fun! In the most well-known (maybe the best) song of the short-lived, brilliant band, “Another Girl, Another Planet,” is essentially a love letter to the drug.
“You get under my skin/ I don't find it irritating/ You always play to win/ I don't need rehabilitating…Space travels in my blood/ I look ill, but I don’t care about it.” The other girl he’s leaving the real one for? Heroin!

There’s that quote, from “High Fidelity,” in the movie it’s in Rob’s first lines: “People worry about kids playing with guns and watching violent videos, we're scared that some sort of culture of violence is taking them over...But nobody worries about kids listening to thousands – literally thousands -- of songs about broken hearts and rejection and pain and misery and loss.”

My question then and my question to you, now: what about the bloody drugs, man?! I think pop songs are part of the reason that kids, or at least kids that I know and think are at least smart, decent human beings, do some drugs and how do you blame them? Or, at least (why I brought the H.F. quote in, here) it must affect listeners—of all ages—somehow. How could it not?

Since I was very young I knew that the most culturally, musically influential popular rock band of all time—The Beatles—smoked pot for the first time with one of their idols—Bob Dylan. After that they started making albums like “Revolver,” “Rubber Soul,” oh, and the one about the lonely heart’s club something or other (there were other drugs all over that one). The Beatles are the most beloved band since rock and roll began. And these Liverpudlian boys did there fair share of substances and it sure seemed to affect them in, I gotta say it, positive ways artistically.

Johnny Cash, Elvis and Dylan all took amphetamines at some point in their young lives. Presley got hooked in the Army, fer chissakes! The drug seemed to “help” Johnny for a while, at least… And, it made Dylan skinny and look a little more “serious.” The Who had Rodger Daltrey “do an impression” of a speed addict on their most iconic song, “My Generation.” It’s all over Pete Townshend’s rock opera, “Quadrophenia,” (“out of my brain on the 5:15”) and plenty of other tracks as well.

Overall, musicians just seem to become “cooler” and more legitimate somehow once they’ve done some substance. I must add, as obvious as it hopefully sounds, this is ONLY true when the musician is actually *talented* in the first place. Duh. Nothing that wrong with taking some drugs, if you ask me. Sure, destruction of the body and mind, overdosing [I am choosing not to write about Joplin, Hendrix, Cobain, et al for a reason—it’s all been said]. All of these points are unavoidable. This is when you’re a freaking addict. But who’s to say that people that get to that point are totally self-destructive?
I think there’s some truth in the point that the people that want do certain drugs to “feel more” actually do want more out of life, they want to be open to different ways of looking at the world. It’s totally unavoidable to not point out that loads of people do drugs (and get lost in it) due to depression and simply out-of-control addiction.

Sid Vicious is the epitome, the cartoon character of crashing and burning and having nothing left of him once he finally did o.d. Ray Charles comes out on the other end. He was a functional heroin junkie and musical genius simultaneously for 20 plus years. He died an old man with a legacy of music that will live on for many years to come.

There is no definitive answer here, or even a clear theory, I know. I truly believe that some musicians have somehow, achieved more depth and (possibly) more creativity because of their habits. I have a feeling that the world would be a little less musically rich if it didn’t exist.

Course, that doesn't mean you've gotta do the white lines every day, now, Noel.......

1 comment:

Phil said...

I caught you knockin'
at my cellar door
I love you, baby,
can I have some more
Ooh, ooh, the damage done.

I hit the city and
I lost my band
I watched the needle
take another man
Gone, gone, the damage done.

I sing the song
because I love the man
I know that some
of you don't understand
Milk-blood
to keep from running out.

I've seen the needle
and the damage done
A little part of it in everyone
But every junkie's
like a settin' sun.