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Thread: Musicians & Drugs

  1. #1
    CamTheCat
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    Arrow Musicians & Drugs

    Musicians and drugs. Everybody knows the stereotype: too cool for their own good, ultra night owl, always with a drink in their hand, and always looking for the next party. Not every musician is an irresponsible delinquent, but some are. I used to be. A few years ago I cleaned up my act and quit drinking and drugging. I didn't stop having fun though. I used to wonder why anyone would want to live life without getting loaded all the time. I played all my gigs so out of my mind that by the end I was often left worshiping the porcelain god. Now I play a mean sax, and I got away with that for a few years, but the reputation and the lifestyle catches up and eventually people come to see a party animal as unreliable. That's where the stereotype comes in again.

    So like I said, I cleaned up my act just over four years ago, and I gotta tell you that for this musician life is way better this way. I'm not suggesting that everyone out there should quit drinking and whatnot (I don't care if you like to get high... it's none of my bussiness) but if you have had problems in the past and are thinking about cleaning up your act, it might be a good idea. I didn't think it could be done; play gigs, go to after parties and keep my nose clean? I really didn't think that someone could do it. Clifford Brown did it. Today I know a few cats that don't drink and life didn't end for them either. In fact, for some people out there, learning to be a musician 'sans dope' is the best thing we could have done for ourselves. I've played with bands where everyone gets high before the show, during the show, and after the show. I just go for a walk when they go for a 'band conference' in the van. My band mates know not to offer me a beer and it's no big deal. But the rewards are huge. I've saved a whack of cash staying clean and sober. I'm known as a reliable sideman and hard worker. I get to shows early, stay on my game all night, and leave with cash in my pocket.

    So yeah, the whole reason that I chose to stop drinking and getting high was because it was blowing my whole life. I pretended for a few years that it was no big deal, but everyone knew that I was getting worse and worse. By writing this post I'm hoping that maybe someone who wants to quit will find the inspiration to do so. Also, I'm not too proud to share a little bit of my sordid past for the sake of entertainment. Dance monkey dance...

    One time I was playing a show with a ska band and we were in a club with a stage 3 feet off the floor. By the time the second set finished I had so much to drink that I couldn't see straight. Well, I went to walk out into the crowd, with my sax hanging off of my neck, and stepped straight off the stage without knowing I was up on it. Fortunately my foot was directly under me and my knee was locked so I didn't fall over after I walked off the stage. I was embarrassed and I don't know how many people noticed this, but it's not like it was a big secret that I was drinking like a fish that night.

    Now that's not the dumbest thing I've ever done, but it's a good example of how I operated. We can glamorize the lifestyle that big artists are portrayed to be living, but at the top those cats have their stuff together. In Miles' autobiography he talked about how the drugs didn't do anything except screw up his life. Bird died young from living hard, and we all know it was the obsessive woodsheding that made him an amazing musician – not living on the streets, skipping out on gigs, pawning his saxophone or going through withdrawls in the studio. Trane fought long and hard to quit using junk after hank Mobley got him hooked at a fateful recording session. When he did quit, he became a heavy drinker and later experimented with hallucinogens and psychedelic drugs. He died of liver failure too. Jimi Hendrix, Janice Joplin, Stan Getz, and on and on – they confused a lot of people regarding the role drugs played in their music. All of them went on record to say that the drugs did nothing for their music. Period.

    To get to the top it would do one well to sort out ones' priorities. If you skip out on band practices because it gets in the way of your high, or if you are more concerned about the free drinks at shows than the pay, or how to find the potheads but not how to get the crowd dancing, then I have some tough truths for you.

    1. You're gonna go on in your life to be a great party animal – not a great musician.
    2. There's room at the top for hard workers who a better than average players, but no room for amazing musicians that let their drugs get in the way.
    3. Believe it or not, the great musicians who are really working and bringing in some cash are almost universally kind, patient and hard working artists that keep their noses clean and stay focussed on their music.

    Well I guess it's time to get off of my soapbox and let y'all just work it out for yourselves. If you like to get loaded once in a while and it really doesn't get in the way of the rest of your life then go ahead and do your thing. If you are sick of 'coming too' in the morning instead of waking up like the rest of the world then know that you can get your life back on track if you want to.

    Cameron
    “I’ve found you’ve got to look back at the old things and see them in a new light.”
    - John Coltrane

  2. #2
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    Angry

    "I've done cocaine all my life and I never got hooked"

    Redd Foxx

  3. #3
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    Cameron:

    Congratulations on cleaning up your life and work hard to keep it that way.
    Too many talented folks die prematurely from the damage done by drugs...need I say more than Bill Evans?

  4. #4
    Woodhugger
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    I always have to think of Bird when I hear stuff like that. Has been a heroin-addict for nearly his whole life and in the end, what killed him? Alcohol.

    I don't smoke, only sometimes drink and I'm keeping it low with parties. My addiction is creativity (which, as scientists have proved, has the same effect as alcohol or marihouana has - it sets free dopamine, making us happy).

  5. #5
    Crazy Eccentric Some Hipster's Avatar
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    I totally agree with what your saying, and I'm guilty of smoking tea. Now I'm not going to condone drugs, but I say if you keep it in perspective, keep it under control, and stay away from the really addictive drugs, (ie coke, meth, heroin and the rest) there is nothing wrong with smoking some tea with friends or getting drunk, even though I really was never a fan of getting wasted and puking on my friends.

    I've done LSD and Magic Mushrooms and i've experienced some crazy things, man. But the thing is I only do them occasionally, once every 2 months or so, and it has had no adverse affects on me.

  6. #6
    www.jakehanlon.com Jakeweiser's Avatar
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    everything in moderation I guess is a good term to use.

    There was a similar discussion on the Musican to Musican board about drugs and music.

    For me, i'm a drug free person in terms of hard drugs, or what would be considered illegal. To say i've never smoked a blunt would be inaccurate. I tried it to see what the guys I was playing with were experiencing. To play from where they were playing and perhaps discover their vibe.

    To be honest it sucked. I don't play drunk, I'll have a few beers and that's all well and good. The music is to important to me to sacrifice it for a high. I've done my drinking in my days (put in my work there) and that's from attending one of the heaviest drinking Universities in North America (per capita). I also used to be a heavy smoker at over a pack a day, but now can't go anywhere near the stuff (gross!)

    Everytime I play I am sober. I'm not on my 5th coffee of the afternoon either. It's because for me I want to enjoy every musical experience coming from the same nondrugged phrase of reference. I don't want to be stoned out of my mind and not remember the gig, lose my place in the music, zone out. Music is far more stimulating then any drug (to me).

    People who do drugs in my book are fools. I don't mean to judge. But those who rely on a drug for recreation are missing out on a lot of things that a non-chemically aided evening/afternoon of fun can be like. Having a few beers and getting hammered is all well and good. But those who drink to much risk losing a lot more then just a night of debotchory with the boys. I knew a guy in school who used heron in it was not a pretty sight when he locked him in his dorm room for 3 days and he tried to climb out the 5th floor window to get a fix. It goes to show that people who abuse hard drugs are insane!

    Drugs I think are on a different level. They're illegal in Canada because they are bad for you. They lead to more problems then most users would care to know about. The only positive thing about Pot is it's uses for those who have cronic pain (ie cancer patients) and that's fine. But if you are healthy then don't smoke weed every day.

    I have a friend who is a super talented Drummer. We played loads and loads all the last 2 years but I got sick of the pot. The bassist in the same group was on the same branch as the drummer. Every rehersal they got stoned. Set breaks, got high. I couldn't handle it. I like those guys as friends, and as musicians are talented. But It was frustrating for me to play with them, that regardless of if they knew it or not it hurt the music. As far as I know the Drummer has cut his useage down signifcantly but I don't know if the bassist ever will. They're good guys and I don't judge them (I try not to) but for me, I don't want to play with people who're not sober and I don't want to put that shit into my body.

    People who want to go smoke a J or drink a few beers time to time is fine. Hey go for it and damn well enjoy what it gives you. But abuse and recreation is a thin line that a lot of people tred.

    But everywhere you go there will be drugs. Parties with lines of coke on the table with the straw being passed around. It's just the way of our hedonistic society that we as musicians live in. It takes inner strength and the ability to know to say No thanks instead of... hmm maybe if I try that line of Coke i'll get to see some cool shit... next thing you know you're high and loving it, the next line is only a person passing you the plate away and your live is about to be flushed down the toliet.

    So congrats for getting off the crap Cam. quitting an addiction is one of the hardest things someone can do in their life.
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  7. #7
    Crazy Eccentric Some Hipster's Avatar
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    Yeah well, I see marijuana and some drugs as a much more than just recreation, but they enhance the music somewhat. Someone could turn around and tell me that if I need to get stoned to listen to the music then there is no point, but it's not like that. I get stoned to experience the music on a different level, or something.

    Also, I believe that marijuana helps your creativity somewhat.

  8. #8
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    In its earliest days jazz was often being played by impressionable teen agers playing in speak easys and bordellos run by gangsters with their hands in other illicit activities including drugs.

    That's about the shortest explanation I could give as to why alcoholism and drug usage became so prevalent among jazz musicians, especially up until the end of World War II. I mention World War II because, although Prohibition was long over, as many of the older musicians were in the service, it was a period, like the 20s, when many teenagers became professional musicians quite early.

    There are other factors. Drugs in poor communites are, or at least start out to be, essentially cheap vacations. Also, many of the most famous and gifted jazz pioneers were probably certifiably psychotic. (Buddy Bolden, Prez, Bird, Bud Powell, quite possibly Bix and Monk). Having worked in human services it was my experience that psychotics often become drug addicts and alcoholics in a self medicating effort to mask their symptoms.

    I think drug addiction among jazz musicians from the late 40s to the mid 50s had a lot to do with Bird. While it was a generally incoherent film, I think the movie Bird captured this spirit well with the Red Rodney character idolizing Bird so much that he wanted to do everything he did, not only play like him, but take drugs. The attitude was: if Bird takes drugs and plays like that, then maybe taking drugs will help us too. Of course, faulty logic, but quite comon to adolescent and post adolescent thinking.

    There's pretty strong evidence that a glass of wine or two a day helps relax one and may help to prevent heart disease but more undoubtedly has the opposite affect. Likewise of course there is medical evidence that marijuana can help to alleviate some of the discomforts of cancer and cancer treatment,
    but there is also fairly compelling evidence that even small quantitites of alcohol or drugs can impair motor skills to the point affecting driving and the operation of machines. If that is the case I don't see how it could possibly help people play better.

    As for listening, I think that marijuana probably does make one more sensitive to light and sound. As to whether that helps to appreciate music more, that's another matter. In my personal experience, I've found the only way I can tolerate avant guard music is when I'm high, which I don't think is any advertisement for either drugs or avant guard music.

    Finally, I was once a bar tender in an establishment which prohibited the help from drinking. This was a facinating experience, being in an environment stone cold sober where everyone else was not necessarily drunk, but drinking. My experience, in that environment, with watered down drinks, was that everybody who was drinking alcohol, and only those who were drinking alcohol, changed their behavior markedly, not after a drink or two, but after only a couple of hearty sips.
    Bebop is the music of the future.--Dexter Gordon
    You know how to whistle, don't you? Just put your lips together and blow. -- Lauren Bacall

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Some Hipster
    Also, I believe that marijuana helps your creativity somewhat.

    It may enhance listening but I don't believe it aids creativity at all.

    It just makes you "feel" what you're doing is better than when you're sober.

    It might loosen the inhibitions of very uptight people.. that's different.

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by burning dog
    It may enhance listening but I don't believe it aids creativity at all.

    It just makes you "feel" what you're doing is better than when you're sober.

    It might loosen the inhibitions of very uptight people.. that's different.
    Yes, and it's also hell on your lungs - much worse for them than smoking tobacco. The price you might have to pay for that isn't something you'd want to go through, believe me.

    As far as I can tell, people who've got substance abuse problems and are able to play well are doing it in spite of the problem and not because of it. (This is coming from someone who's been there and done a fair amount of that...)

  11. #11
    Future Primitive Noj's Avatar
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    It's always good to keep in mind that being drunk or being stoned is effectively being mildly poisoned. There may be a euphoria associated with it, but it's caused by something which is by no means good for you. Other highs are much better (sex, creativity, success). Not that I don't enjoy a bit of poison myself...

    Moderation is the next best policy to not doing drugs at all.

    Incidentally, I started drinking at around 4pm today. Six Negra Modelos and a Newcastle. So much for moderation. Happy 4th!

  12. #12
    www.jakehanlon.com Jakeweiser's Avatar
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    i personally don't feel it enhances anything other then your ability to laugh and compulsive eating.

    I just want to say that I don't think of people any less because they decide to partake in a little weed. But I do think that it's a shame that they feel that with it music is better, creativity is better. It's precieved to be better because your High!!

    Maybe i'll never understand it, and then so be it. People who feel the need to smoke up before they play might want to re-evaluate their musical self. I hate to sound like a jerk but that's just the way it is from my point of view... and that's what the internet is all about, expressive points of view about other people's chosen lifestyle DRUGS ARE BAD M'KAY.

    That being said, I like to say that I don't think people who smoke weed or anything like that are bad people. If I did then I wouldn't probably be a jazz musician/musician period. It's part of the culture, and I accept it as part of the culture. I just don't want it as apart of my personal lifestyle. If I have the option of playing with someone who plays High and someone who plays sober I will pick the sober musician 9 times out of 10 even if the drugged player was totally a killin' player.
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  13. #13
    Crazy Eccentric Some Hipster's Avatar
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    Yes, and with that said, I'm going out now to smoke the real deal and then I'll probably be groovin all night.

  14. #14
    Guitarist and keyboard player lone_wolf's Avatar
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    As Bessie Smith once sang, "Ain't nobody's business but my own."

    As none of you drug-free folks have yet produced anything artistic anywhere near as significant as Bird, you have no basis for saying drugs do not enhance creativity. Bird might have lived longer without drugs, but he may also have been an insignificant hack without the inspiration he got from them. If he needed the drugs to do what he did, then I'm glad he took them. That's like Tom Cruise saying Brooke Shields shouldn't have used drugs for her postpartum depression. Drugs are a quick fix, can easily be abused, and in a perfect world, no one would need them. However, we're never going to live in a perfect world. If you think otherwise, you're definitely whacked out on something!

    There are other ways to open the creative doorways, no doubt. Drugs are often abused and become a distraction. However, drugs reduce anxiety levels for many people, allowing them to be more artistically focused. Tom Harrell is functioning much better now that he's on Seroquel, a new drug for bipolar disorder. Drugs can be good, m'kay?

  15. #15
    www.jakehanlon.com Jakeweiser's Avatar
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    Tom Harrell is on anti psychotic drugs. He's a serious ill person. You cannot compare someone taking perscribed medication to shooting up on heroin.

    For every example of a drug user who found creativity in the drugs there are more that have found creativity without it. Bird would have been a monster player smack or no smack. His drug addiction overshadowed a lot of what he was because a lot of people like to sensationalize his problems. Everyone likes to compare drugs to Bird but the fact that anyone tries to compare anyone else to Bird is not going to get anywhere. Bird was Bird. You cannot ignore the fact he was an abuser, but you can't compare him to anyone else.

    The example of SRV was a monster musician who revatalized a genre of music was a raging alcoholic and Coke head until he finally cleaned up and his best work was done when he was sober. he felt his most creative when he was not high on coke or loaded on whiskey. His death was not brought on by drugs although even if he didn't get on that chopter his light no doubt was shortened.

    Joe Pass wasn't creative when he stopped using?
    Coltrane?
    Scofield?
    the list goes on and on about people who were drug abusers who stopped using and their creativity surged instead of died down. So the arguement that Creativity is not Drug dependent. The people who had to use Drugs to be creative were people who had it in them regardless but didn't know how to break it out of themselves!

    At least that's my opinion. hate me if you want.
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