Chapter Plus One. Miscellany and Odds and Ends: Drugs.
Chapter Plus One. Miscellany and Odds and Ends: Drugs.

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.


6 thoughts on “Chapter Plus One. Miscellany and Odds and Ends: Drugs.

  1. Ken,
    I share the ambivalence you refer to at the close of the second to last paragraph. It seems that whether drugs are or aren’t legal, people will get them if they want to. The only differences would appear to be whether or not the society appears to sanction the practice, and along with that, whether treatment would be freely offered for hard drug users, without stigma as it has been in Portugal and elsewhere.
    Odd again, to feel that as a parent who has used some drugs, we could easily understand if our children used some, but likely would never have recommended it.
    R.I.P. Jim Landry.

    1. Well, said. I looked up the definition of sanction and interesting that it can mean penalize or approve. Some enlightened approach is needed, much the same way that it appears society is finally understanding that for some irrational behavior, mental health professionals should be our first line of defense not hyper-caffeinated police with guns. Hmmm, wasn’t aware of Portugal – “the consumer is now regarded as a patient and not as a criminal.” It’s our Puritan nature to judge harshly I guess. Personal failing you must be punished for. Then you mix in the racial element and voila, crowded jails and high recidivism rates. In San Francisco in mid to late 1800s, opium dens were popular, prompting anti-drug and anti-vice laws, but, surprise, opium-eradication campaigns simply drove opium smoking underground. Nothing gets the temperance folks excited like having to admit people are enjoying themselves. But, yeah, I’m ambivalent – drug use is not a victimless crime.

  2. Well, . . . as an EPA-er in the new chemicals branch- it must have been a requirement of the job.

    RIP Jim indeed

    1. heh heh, chemicals, I get it. I like Of Montreal’s song Chemicals, lyrics: Come on mood shift, shift back to good again

      Yes, RIP Jim. Damn. Well, he’s finally at peace; it has been a long ten years. Nicki and Miles were there for him through it all.

  3. Print this or not. respond publicly or not:
    I see a big difference between recreational-fun-giggly-paaarttyy drug use, creativity-inducing drug use, mind-expanding drug use, therapeutic drug use(chronic pain relief), and help-me-I’m-sad-and-drowning drug use. The last group needs therapy, and the sooner the better. The second to the last group needs to not get addicted. Luckily, you have never been addicted, with its terrible mental, social, and financial cost. Funny story on creativity, the head of Ampex in the late 60’s thought it would be a good idea to get his best engineers to drop Acid and come up with some realllly cool products. Board of Directors said NO, but he did it anyway. It ended up with a bunch of middle aged white guys having a fun time and getting no results whatsoever. I hear you about musicians and artists being creative, and about The Beatles and Jefferson Airplane expanding their minds to incredible heights because SOMEONE has to explore the unknown, and go where no man has gone before. But what irks me most were two things: 1) my coworker whose response to seemingly mind-numbing computer programming was to be constantly stoned out of his gourd. I guess he was productive to a point. Glad he did not have to work with heavy machinery or drive his car to and from the office (oh, wait, yes he did). And, 2) seeing members of my own community using drugs as a way to cope with a seemingly harsh, unpredictable, and unforgiving thing we call life, and getting only momentary relief followed by a hard crash each morning. Then rinse and repeat. Alcohol doesn’t get a free ride either, causing a coworker after his retirement party to crash his car and die. I really want to know more about zeitgeist, the scene, the creative milieu, the vibe, each person lending a hand in raising everyone to new heights never before attained. And, how much of that experience lasts beyond a brief moment in time. It sounds like some of those events have lasted in our memory and perhaps defined us for a lifetime.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts. Interesting story about Ampex. I’m not advocating indiscriminate drug use, but I believe there are other examples in Silicon Valley where use of psychedlics has indeed yielded breakthroughs. I recommend reading Michael Pollan’s book How to Change your Mind for a sober analysis of “mind-expanding’ drugs. A couple things stand out in what you say: “The second to the last group needs to not get addicted.” and “….using drugs as a way to cope with a seemingly harsh, unpredictable, and unforgiving thing we call life.” These leave me cold and come across as insensitive and judgmental. As in “I don’t want to hear it!” and “Suck it up!” and “Stop Whining!” Until you walk a mile in someone’s shoes…… By zeitgeist I mean it was part of the culture of the times, like bathtub gin in the 1920’s. Just like your Ampex story or your experience in college with your friends. Re: alcohol, that’s the most dangerous drug of all.

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