Hi, it’s me again.
Here is the first of two pieces that I intended to append to previous chapters, but I kept putting it off. I could never find the right place to put them. I re-worked and re-worked, and then hesitated some more because the topics - this one is about drugs and the next will be about funk music - are loaded and I felt like I was naive and/or white mansplaining things. Maybe I still am, but here goes.
Drugs are a fundamental part of my generation’s zeitgeist. Psychedelic rock music. Woodstock and the brown acid. Timothy Leary. Keith Richards. Lou Reed. The romance of the tortured, dissolute rock star ODing on a cocktail of drugs. As Ian Dury put it, “sex and drugs and rock and roll are all my brain and body need.” My friends and I had fun together when we did drugs. One of my fondest memories of Jim Landry from Acrylix involves cocaine. He had a sardonic sense of humor. We were at a big party at a recording studio and people were lining up at the bathroom to “powder their noses.” Jim, who loved cocaine, went into the bathroom first and I stood in line to wait my turn, to actually pee. He reemerged about 30 seconds later, cracked the door open and looked at me, and with a deadpan look on his face said loudly: “Ken, can you help me with my colostomy bag?”
Taking all 16 chapters of my blog/memoir together, I count 2 mentions of cocaine, 3 of marijuana, one of hashish, one of a hallucinogen and 3 generically of “drugs.” I am aware of the casual way I mention them. Each drug has a supply chain and people who are exploited and hurt along the way. In fact, my friend Marcus had a gun stuck in his mouth by an irate customer, which steered him away from dealing cocaine. But he always had it around nonetheless, along with good marijuana. What did we care? We were going to live forever.
By “drugs” I really mean cocaine, heroin and marijuana. Hallucinogens or “entheogens” are considered to be non-addictive, and “mind-expanding” rather than numbing. We were insulated from the dangerous aspects of illegal drugs due to our social class, gender and race. None of my white acquaintances were sent to jail for selling marijuana. While in college, I remember a big, stoned party (probably 99% white) at some house that was busted by the police, where they discovered some 20 neatly rolled joints laid out on the dining room table. I can still remember the cop counting “one, two, three…..etc” as he flipped each one onto the floor, finishing with a matter of fact “OK, party’s over.” That was it. No arrests. We all just went home.
Drugs have been around a while. I’m not going to give an exhaustive history, but suffice it to say that soldiers returning home from the Crusades in the 11th to 13th century brought opium with them. Drugs numb our senses and heighten our senses, and can also lead to dependency or addiction. The cost of dependency may be higher for a poor person, or a poor person of color. Cocaine has the bonus of being expensive; as Richard Pryor said, it is God’s way of saying you make too much money. I was fortunate that most of the time someone else paid for it. I blithely waltzed through it all, and can offer only a tepid defense that talking about drugs simply sets the scene of the times. “Hopheads” (First recorded in 1910–15, the word is derived from hop (in the sense “a narcotic drug”) + head (in the sense “habitual user of a drug”) have been around in every generation. Some of these people are/were incredibly creative, some constructive with something of value to contribute to society, some self-destructive, some dissolute, some just plain destructive, some all of the above. Jazz is littered with drug casualties. Duke Ellington once said “Jazz was born on whiskey, raised on marijuana, and will die on heroin.”
In the US, the War on Drugs began in June 1971 when President Richard Nixon declared drug abuse to be “public enemy number one” and increased federal funding for drug-control agencies and drug-treatment efforts. It was the dumbest thing, like Prohibition. It was, of course, a failure. It only led to a massive increase the number of people, largely people of color, being put in jail for nonviolent drug offenses. To boot, it did not reduce the availability of illicit drugs or the power of criminal organizations. Nancy Reagan, the wife of President Ronald Reagan and who could have been a poster child for the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (founded way back in 1874), had a “Just Say No” program. Self-explanatory. As if, right up there with sexual orientation, sexual activity, and depression, you can simply pray or will your way to control or change. To be fair, Lou Reed, Mr. Drug himself, even joined in the Rock Against Drugs campaign of the time.
I never wanted to be one of the aging hippies chortling “Heh heh, this isn’t my first rodeo you know.” Although I availed myself of drugs when they were around and part of a social scene, I didn’t use a lot. Really. It’s one of the reasons I was attracted to Punks, who went to one extreme with the no-alcohol, no-drugs straight edge movement, but I have seen the apathy that drugs can produce. Not sure how I feel about marijuana legalization and dispensaries; it’s good to get everything out in the open, but there’s still the socio-economic class difference and now it’s a big capitalist enterprise too. And if you thought people were bad drivers before…
Whatever it takes to get your head straight, no judgement here. In a your-body-is-a-temple sense, preferably this can be done with meditation or other spiritual practices. But if alcohol or weed help you get to a level place so you can cope day-to-day, so be it and I feel you. Hopefully you can come back down to join us here on earth periodically. Get in there, mix it up for a constructive cause, and fight the good fight. We need you.