Why have drugs become so pharmaceutical? The ownership of the word that is the pills, juice, herb, liquid, has transitioned from something that passes over boundaries of insistence, towards legality, away from being cool, away from an expanded mind. Drugs are nowadays into something else. They ain’t so much into music or writing or fear. They seem more concerned with being hidden like the old people who once used them to such powerful and awful effect. They reside in stranger corners, less a temptation and choice, as some reversed signifier for a kind of personality or psychological damage. They are something not to be ashamed of, or worked up towards, with courage, or flouted, or inspired through. Do you remember E. The letter E. Beyond George Perec. I remember getting into a fight with a child at school because he insisted E didn’t stand for a drug, but for something else, that adults knew, that we weren’t allowed to know. This offended me so much, that we would be barred from understanding this lettered code, and that he was so naïve to think adults wouldn’t celebrate something we all knew to be bad, in popular culture even, that I fought him. It mattered. I’ve heard stories too of fools in the 90s getting into heroin because it was nonchalant and cool. For real? Jesus people were stupid back then. Xanax and pregabalin, well that’s something else.
Drugs are now onto something so firmly owned it might as well be postered in train stations and supermarkets. I mean there are drugs in supermarket, there are Tesco value aspirins, which also completely mess up your body if you take them too much and too often, but the other drugs, they have become closer to us. They creep in as every year goes by. They are less and less a fashion accessory, a descent into hell and madness and horror and melt, and a cloud of nullifying smoke that renders you lesser. Unlike you like mumble rap. And yet, obviously, that’s not true, not in the meat of it, not in the consciousnesses of the ‘users’, not in the actual world consequences. Just in the discussion. Just in the minds of the poor, vulnerable children. They don’t seem scared of drugs. They don’t seem too worried. They seem to be able to leave.
Maybe drugs are Colombian? Maybe drugs are Mexican? Netflix suggests so.
O, maybe it’s the way the doctors ( I can speak only of here in England ) that have changed our minds? Maybe they have taken drugs from the TV, taken it from the fear in the parents’ hearts. Taken it from the word WAR. Taken it from the underground economy. Taken it from the watertowers in stupid offices all over. Taken it from the sweaty palms of the visible. No one asks, what will we do? anymore. How strange. How invisible. Can drugs morph themselves? Can they change their own signs and meanings just because they get older?
Maybe it’s them giving fragile teenagers brain altering anti-depressants. But hey "Antidepressants are highly effective and should be prescribed to millions more people with mental health problems, researchers declared last night," reports the Mail Online. Researchers conducted the largest-ever review of trials of antidepressants, finding that all 21 studied worked better than a placebo (dummy) drug.(from the NHS website) Which is fair enough, let’s save lives with a splatter paint effect and get people through the day. However, that does not mean they are "highly effective" – it means people are more likely to see their symptoms improve if they take an antidepressant than if they take a placebo. The researchers said the effects of the drugs were "mostly modest".
Who are the drug writers now? God it got old. God loves drug inspiration. God when you start in on reading how much the drugs make it better, as long as you ain’t on them.
Here’s to Freud loving cocaine. And Stephen King. Bad drug, makes dickheads of minkheads.
Here’s the Huxley loving mescaline. And Michaux doing it better. Good drug (hey have you taken an ayahuasca package trip deal to the amazon? It will totally expand your mind. If you need that.)
Here’s to Kerouac’s Benzedrine. O Ayn Rand loved it too. O and Norman Mailer, with his tranqs. (What is Benzo? Who is Benzo? What gender is Benzo?)
Here’s to Quincey and Keats chasing the dragon up their own sleeves. (I do not know where opium went, I think, with bleeding blooding, cannons and general suspicion, it became another drug)
Here’s to Burroughs not being in existence now, he couldn’t be even if he was. But thank god, because jeez, does this stuff age well? Ah that’s where drugs have gone? Into time.
Bill Hick’s argument for the profound cultural legacy of recreational drugs has become so subsumed into the lexicon of faux rebellion and generalised, capitalised counter culture that its merits as an actual argument for the possibilities of their usage, against their obvious and horrific risks, is not well considered now. It’s not on the table.
Hicks simply says if you think drugs have done nothing for you then burn all your favourite albums, because all the musicians who seemed to define the mysterious musical backcloth of your life were high as kites. I suppose this argument, made in the context of comedy but important enough to be considered on its own worth, depends on how significant the music of the sixties, seventies and eighties really is to you now. Not very, I bet.
It would seem quite obvious how dated Hicks himself is, not only because his reference points in terms of music are old for young people but also because he evokes the second to last era of drug use in music that seems integral to the wider cultural zeitgeist.
What interests me, rather than this unnecessary dualism in the argument for and against drugs which is perhaps inevitable, due to the illegalisation of most narcotics, even as they disappear from their well-earned awe-inspiring status, is the significance of whom was taking those drugs. Who takes drugs now? Everyone? No one? I can’t fucking tell. No one talks to me about their illegal drug use. I’m in a fat drugless bubble. I hear about prescription meds though, every day.
What are the intersections of this Hicksian argument alongside the circumstance so many of the musicians he is talking about came of age within and where did that go? The same place as the writer’s drugs? Their kind has long dissipated from the forefront of popular, progressive musical culture. Has an attitude towards “creative” drug use receded? It seems so, replaced with something different, something less easy to understand.
Why did England produce so many of the later 20th century's most iconoclastic musicians? Probably because working class people were allowed to create things for the first time. Few of them were well to do. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, The Who. All really really really constant drug users. They loved drugs so much. The surge of energy that was once channelled and driven into labour or Empiric dirty work was now with creative undertakings, and fuelled by the onset of drugs as a cultural tidal wide. Where did that go? Sounds fun. I didn’t even cross over the rave scene.
Ah yes so that’s where it is. Douchebags going to nightclubs. Do they write novels and songs? Could be. On Cocaine?
I was a doorman for quite some time when I was younger. I should’ve remembered. I once saw a massive, sweating, raving man take a full clammy palmful of nondescript pills and chew them and stomp his feet and go about dancing, scaring people until he was so blotted out that everyone just learned to stay out of range from his tree trunk butterarms that helicoptered around him. Eventually I had to eject him when he accidentally knocked into a hen party. He didn’t fight. He didn’t know he was being removed. He was still dancing when I led him into the street and said goodnight, with everyone laughing at him.
I’ve been offered cocaine twice at poetry readings and I laughed both times, as the people on the street laughed at that big fellow, blasted out on pills. To take cocaine at a poetry reading just ramps up that feeling that drugs have found tiny gaps in the rock of our lives to get to new levels of conspicuous, hollowed out posturing and murk. I politely declined on both occasions. How generous though.