The Culture of Music and Drug Use
by Chelsy Ranard
They tried to make me go to rehab, I said no, no, no. – Amy Winehouse
In 2011, Amy Winehouse, a visionary singer, died of alcohol poisoning. She had been known to have issues with drug and alcohol abuse and her issues with these substances eventually led to her death. The world mourned the loss of a talent taken too young, but it’s a tragedy the music industry has experienced so many times before. Winehouse wasn’t the first young musician taken before her talent could reach its potential and she won’t be the last. There seems to be a trend between musicians and drug use that has been a toxic relationship for many talented people. If there is a link, what draws music and drug use together?
Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll has always been the creed associated with music culture. The culture of the music scene has always gone hand in hand with party culture. Even before fame strikes for musicians, they tend to play in bars and clubs, taking part in the nightlife. The culture around them is alcohol soaked and drug filled, so staying away from substances so normal for their peers can be a difficult task. There are expectations for musicians to be over the top partiers with an amazing stage presence. With the substances being used having such addictive properties, it’s no wonder so many musicians fall victim to them.
Music festivals, concerts, touring, and bars are all situations that warrant the party lifestyle. It’s a place to be carefree, go crazy, and let go. For many musicians, the party doesn’t end after the concert, it’s a lifestyle. The party starts again the next day, for the next show they need to be just as crazy and energetic, and the culture around them doesn’t go home and recuperate at work for the next week. The party culture doesn’t stop – and the music culture is connected to it.
The Creative Mind
There are many factors that go into substance abuse, including genetics and environment, but there also seems to be a link between creative types and substance abuse. Musicians are extremely creative, and they keep their experiences, thoughts, and feelings on the surface to utilize while creating music. Not only that, but many artists have been known to utilize substances to enhance their creativity while under the influence. Bob Dylan, The Beatles, and Pink Floyd were all known to utilize drugs as a way to enhance their creativity in playing and songwriting. The way that these substances are viewed at your job is not the way it’s viewed at their job, and that plays an important role in how substances are used by musicians. It’s used for escape, to enhance creativity, to party, to mask the feelings they keep on the surface to write music, etc.
Creative people battling substance abuse is not specific to musicians, writers, artists, actors, and comedians are all creative types that battle through the same issues for similar reasons. Heath Ledger, Robin Williams, Ernest Hemingway, and Vincent van Gogh are all artists in other mediums that have battled through issues with substance abuse. Addiction is not an issue specific to creative minds, but there definitely seems to be a connection between the two.
The 27 Club
The 27 club is a group of musicians who have died at the age of 27. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse are a few musicians that are in the club – all of their deaths have been linked to substance abuse in some way. Many of these musicians we succumbed by the culture surrounding their young fame. Despite many of them battling substance abuse before their rise in popularity, the rise in fame creates more pressure, more drugs, and more acceptance of substance abuse. The way that music culture and drug culture blends into each other is harmful to the musicians falling victim to it and it’s clear how volatile drug abuse can be. The musicians taking their spot in the 27 club are an example of how dangerous this culture can be.
For Whitney Houston, Scott Weiland, Prince, Rick James, Keith Moon, Sid Vicious, Elvis, among others, they’ve also experienced the culture associated with music and drug use and died as a result. Michael Jackson left behind a legacy of awards, records sold, and fans across the world but lost his life in connection to his reliance on a powerful sedative in order to sleep. The culture of death surrounding the culture of music and drug use has taken far too many talented musicians with it and the attitude about drug abuse in Hollywood needs to stop in order to keep our musicians around longer.
The culture of drug use with musicians isn’t anything that musicians are flashing proudly and without shame. Addiction in itself is mostly a secretive and lonely disease. The culture of drug use in the music scene is its commonality, its acceptance, and its availability. The changing perspective involves the availability of rehabilitation centers for celebrities, the heightened expectations to be able to perform, and the support from peers and fans for musicians to reach sobriety. According to Dae Medman, the Employee Assistance Director of the Actor’s Fund, the issue with drug use in Hollywood is an example of drug use everywhere else.
“There’s a major addiction problem throughout the country. Hollywood is a microcosm of that macrocosm, but the backbone of the industry has always been the creatives. The personality types of such people seem to have a propensity to abuse substances. The pressure to succeed, an underlying need for money and a diet of constant rejection exacerbates the problem.”
The industry’s attitude towards drug abuse is less about turning a blind eye and more about high expectations to perform. There are more conversations about the issue, more options to get help, and an understanding about why addiction becomes an issue with so many musicians.
Musicians having a personality type conducive for drug abuse, working in an environment where it’s common, and living with the pressures of fame are in a dangerous spot if they have any tendency towards substance abuse. The many talented musicians that have lost their life in connection to their drug abuse prove that there does seem to be a link between the two. Why there is a link can only be speculated, but the conversations and awareness about the issue is making progress in the industry. Hopefully, the next time a young star struggling with substance abuse needs to go to rehab she will go, go, go – and we won’t lose another amazing talent at the hands of drug use.
Chelsy is a writer from Montana who is now living in Boise, Idaho. She graduated with her journalism degree from the University of Montana in 2012. She can be found throwing a Frisbee for her dog, enjoys drinking wine in the shade, and loves out of date rock music. Follow her blog Chelsy Scribbles!