Be it as an mind opening gateway to creativity, for spiritual and meditative purposes, or to simply enhance the enjoyment of music, psychoactive substances have always been present in the background of the music scene. However, subtly, (yet often explicitly and to much criticism), drugs have persistently played a part in the foreground music. The controversy lies in the discussion of whether the romanticism of drug taking should be allowed in the content of music since the promotion of illegal substances must be marked as wrong, or at least made inaccessible to children.
Should action be taken to hide the infamous drug culture of music?
Prolifically, the 1920s jazz scene was rife with heroin use as artists often used it as a coping mechanism for tour fatigue due to busy schedules. Despite this, it was mostly taken to escape the internal conflict of performing to primarily white crowds when outside the venue others were being persecuted for their skin colour. The sound of this struggle is therefore echoed in the music of the time. Hip-hop music has developed out of and against racial oppression, bringing with it the lifestyle and vocalisation of gang culture. Rap has frequently come under fire for appearing to promote the use and dealing of illegal drugs in its lyrics, but shouldn’t artists have the freedom to speak on a topic that is merely a fact of life regardless of its danger? Timepiece’s saviour Snoop Dogg has even managed to successfully market himself on marijuana, with his only excuse to the police being that he makes music. That is quite telling: music allows for the bending of rules.
Artists may use drugs as a way to ease nerves when performing, but the irony lies in that members of the crowd, audience, club, or living room, are also mostly intoxicated. Drugs such as marijuana, MDMA and cocaine have all fuelled listeners for the purposes of music appreciation and enjoyment. They have been used to stimulate artists, whilst also stimulating new ways of responding to sounds when writing and listening which then snowballs into the birthing of new genres and experimentations tailored by and for the use of certain drugs. With electronic music of all kinds being gurned out of cocaine and MDMA in particular, Johnny Cash’s ‘Cocaine Blues’ has spread like bong smoke from the open studio window. However, looking no further than The 1975, Rihanna, and Lil Wayne, younger listeners are being exposed to music romanticising drugs. Should action be taken to hide the infamous drug culture of music, and of life?
“The musicians that have made that great music that has enhanced your lives throughout the years… were real fucking high on drugs”
Despite Pink Floyd’s celebration of a drug induced state in their epic ‘Comfortably Numb’, reports from their 1968 London show state that Syd Barrett played only one chord the entire performance because he was so teleported on acid. But, without Bob Dylan introducing The Beatles to his ‘Mr Tambourine Man’, they would have been without their suppler of weed and LSD, (which at the time of their first try was still legal), needed to produce ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ and ‘Day Tripper’. Similarly, Oasis’ ‘Champagne Supernova’ and The Stranglers’ ‘Golden Brown’ would be denied airplay if talking overtly and even covertly about drugs is censored. Why should the single word ‘drugs’ be bleeped out of Nickleback’s ‘Rockstar’ on the radio when misogynistic and violent language is allowed?
Conversely, the dangers of drugs lurk in the corners of music. If narcotics are a part of the realities of your life and environment, then speaking of them should not always be considered glamorisation. American hip-hop frequently warns of drug use, as in Kool Moe Dee’s ‘Monster Crack’, so should not be so heavily targeted for supporting drug use. The dark truths are learnt by musicians, just take a look at Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain who all lost their talented lives to overdosing. But, isn’t that the risk that comes with sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll?
Ultimately, perhaps we should heed the words of the late Bill Hicks: “Drugs have done good things for us. If you don’t believe they have, do me a favour – take all your albums, tapes, and CDs and burn them, ‘cause you know what? The musicians that have made that great music that has enhanced your lives throughout the years… were real fucking high on drugs.”