Throughout the years, drugs and music have been as synonymous as America and baseball. Especially within the past 50 years, this nation has experienced the birth, and death, of many genres of music due to rampant drug use. Sure, we all know that drugs are bad for you and that if you abuse them, they will eventually lead to your death, but these substances have created music that has inspired millions around the world, and who is to say that is a bad thing? We have all benefited in one way or another from a musicians use of mind altering chemicals or in some cases, plants, and this is an undeniable fact.
Drugs have had an overall positive impact on the music industry. They have inspired, enlightened, expanded, and even destroyed the minds of some of Americas best musicians. However, no matter what happens to the musician, the drug fueled music that they have made lives on forever to inspire later generations of youth to join the revolution and create something worthwhile. Whether it be jazz, rap, rock, electronic, or even modern day pop, as long as people are out there creating music, there will be a new type of drug to fuel the fire.
The history of drug use started with jazz musicians and their use of heroin, and led to the counterculture movement and their avocation of psychedelic drugs and marijuana. This in turn brought about the punk movement, who took drug use to an extreme that was not seen before. Although this drug use positively effects the musical aspect, it does destroy the lives of those who choose to take the risk. Many musicians have lost their lives to drug use which shows the fine line between just drug use, and drug abuse. Despite all the negatives, drugs have had a positive impact on the American music industry over the past 100 years.
The whole thing started with a little thing called jazz. Down south and in the streets of Harlem, many famous jazz musicians were known to be hard drug users whose drug of choice was heroin. This drug could keep you up for days upon end with little to no food, allowing for hours and hours of practice and time to write beautiful works of art. (Winick) Famous musicians such as Ray Charles, Miles Davis, and Hank Mobley all were using this “hip” drug and their influence led to not only just other musicians using it to increase their playing abilities but also to the everyday listener. This caused a problem in the jazz community as more and more people were falling victim to this drug for all the wrong reasons.
People were becoming hooked on this new jazz sensation. “In those days, people did not know the overwhelming addictive powers of heroin. The mistake they made was trying it just once. After they tried it, they were hooked, and the creativity part of it was no longer. It simply became an addiction.” (Winick) Once the creativity aspect left the equation, it just became another drug to be abused. However, almost all popular music to this day have heavy roots and jazz, which just goes to show that although it destroyed lives, the music created was greatly influential.
Next came the infamous counterculture, the hippie movement of the 1960’s. This generation of peace and love highly advocated the use of marijuana and psychedelics such as LSD, mushrooms, mescaline, peyote, and MDMA. These drugs definitely showed up in the music of the decade. Bands such as the Beatles, Pink Floyd, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and many others all took these psychedelics and entered a sort of trance that increased their composing and lyrical abilities. (Gillespie) Some people say that even in order to fully understand this music, one must be under the influence of some sort of drug. Since a lot, but not all, of the drugs that were done during this time period were not addictive, everyone seemed to be enjoying this movement without any inference. Much of the music created during this time period is still popular today and has a big impact on the youth, showing the positive effects of these drugs on the music industry at this time.
The use of drugs in the music scene was at its most extreme during the Hardcore Punk movement of the 1980’s. This scene was entirely different from any that was experienced before. “Drug use also held initial significance in the movement; the inherent connection between recreational drug use and the production of rock music applied to the Hardcore movement just as it appeared in the music of the ’60’s.” (Cashbaugh)
The punks took any drug that was available to them that was cheap and hit fast and hard. Inevitably, their drug of choice became speed because, “It was cheap, it was around, and you could play fast music on it. It also curtailed your appetite. In San Francisco, the Negative Trend guys literally lived on potatoes.” (Marzuk) This revolutionary drug let musicians play for days upon end with no sleep and little need for basic necessities. It may have taken a toll on their bodies, however the pure, raw energy it created was something never seen before.
Drug use, however, does not increase your creativity. There is no scientific evidence that shows a direct correlation between drug and alcohol use and the creative parts of your brains. To the contrary, studies have shown that I actually limits the amount your brain functions. (summary, Cengage) However, the mainstream media portrays such a direct link between the two that when people take drugs, they convince themselves that they have these effects. The drugs almost act as a placebo for a person’s creativity. If you truly believe that taking drugs will help you write any type of music, then it most likely will, and vice versa. It all has to do with the perspective of the user and their outlook they have on drugs.
Although drug use has positively influenced the quality of music over the years, it has also taken the lives of many fantastic musicians who crossed the line from use, to abuse. Musicians such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis, Joplin, Amy Winehouse, and countless others have all died due to some sort of drug or alcohol addiction. (Blindsider) Jimi Hendrix allegedly overdosed on sleeping pills. Janis Joplin overdoes on heroin. Amy Winehouse died due to alcohol intoxication. These were all supremely talented musicians who let the drugs get the better of them. At first the drugs were used for the rush and a creative boost, but they eventually turned into a habit that couldn’t be quit. Their music also glorified addiction and the use of the drugs that were killing them. This shows the fine line between just the simple use of drugs and the powerful force of addiction that can overtake you if you are not careful.
It seems as if today’s music really romanticizes the use of drugs and alcohol, and in some cases, even advocates addiction. Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith even said, ” he probably wouldn’t have come up with that great bass line from ‘Sweet Emotion’ had he not been high” (Bohlinger) This does not exactly promote a sober living, and no rock stars truly do, but it goes on to prove that drugs do in fact have a positive effect on musicians writing and playing abilities. However, this could become a bad thing for today’s youth. Seeing as many teens look up to musicians and pop stars who live a wild lifestyle, it may influences them to make stupid decisions that they otherwise wouldn’t have made. Drugs must be used with a purpose in mind, whether it be gaining an experience, making art, or writing music. Too many teens will destroy their lives just trying something for the thrill of the high or to just look cool.
Over the past 20 years, “straight-edge” movements have been gaining in popularity. These groups make music and pledge to not take drugs or alcohol. It seems as if more and more teens are getting into these sober movements because they offer something different from the norm. It has become normal for musicians to be drunks and addicts and these teens are just looking for a change. These groups make one wonder whether or not the link between drugs and music is finally breaking down, or if this is just a small blip in the radar of music.
Although the majority of evidence is against it, drugs still have made a positive effect on the music industry. They have paved the road for countless great bands, albums, and songs and have opened the doors of creativity to many musicians. This is very prevalent within the music of the Beatles. If it weren’t for marijuana and LSD, their success and experimentation would have been very limited. Albums such as Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band would have never been created and rock music as we know it would not have been the same. You can also see this within the music of many other old school rock and roll bands such as Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, and many others. Their music has made a significant impact on all music today and if it were not for the drugs pumping through their bodies, these bands would not be half as famous as they are today.
Blindsider. “Rock Musicians Who Have Died From Drugs.” Listology. N.p., 29 Apr. 2009. Web. 31 May 2012. <http://www.listology.com/blindsider/story/rock-musicians-who-have-died-drugs>. Bohlinger, John. “Romanticizing the Drug Musician Mythos.” Premier Guitar. N.p., Nov. 2008. Web. 4 June 2012. <http://www.premierguitar.com/Magazine/Issue/2008/Nov/Romanticizing_the_Drug_Musician_Mythos.aspx>. Cashbaugh, Sean. “Hardcore Using in the Scene.” web.wm. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 May 2012. <http://web.wm.edu/americanstudies/370/2007/sp5/HC_drugs1.html>. Cengage, Gale. “Creativity and Drugs.” eNotes. N.p., 2001. Web. 31 May 2012. <http://www.enotes.com/creativity-drugs-reference/creativity-drugs>. Gillespie, Nick. “Everbody Must Get Stoned: Rock Stars on Drugs.” Reason. N.p., 13 May 2009. Web. 24 Apr. 2012. <http://reason.com/archives/2009/05/13/everybody-must-get-stoned-rock>. Marzuk, Jenny. “Mainstream Drug Use in America.” American Studies. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 May 2012. <http://web.wm.edu/americanstudies/370/2007/sp5/Main_Drugs_Home.html>. Winick, Charles. Social Problems. N.p.: University of California Press, 1959. JSTOR. Web. 31 May 2012. <http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/799451?uid=3739560&uid=2129&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=21100828876731>.
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