Too High 

Making Music to Take Drugs To

PSYCHEDELIC MUSIC has been tagged as "druggie" music ever since our bright-eyed parents were told not to eat the brown acid during the Summer of Love, but that's hardly a fair assessment of the genre. Certainly there are bands that make trippy psychedelia without the aid of narcotics, and conversely there are plenty of musicians who were wired out of their skulls while crafting tight, well-organized pop music. I'll go with Ray Charles for my poster boy on this one. I had no idea he ever did heroin until I saw Jamie Foxx goin' null and void in Ray.

Psychedelic bands may openly embrace drugs more than others, but musicians and drugs have a long, lusty history, going all the way back to the ancient shamanistic rituals that guys like Jim Morrison tried to resurrect in the '60s. And it begs the question: Does taking drugs allow a musician to craft better/crazier/more interesting songs than he or she otherwise might?

It's a painfully subjective question, and all I offer is my own experiences, but if you can keep that bong out of your mouth long enough, we may stumble upon insight.

I decided early on that mixing drug use with playing music was not the best idea. Well, actually, I decided that mixing crystal meth with playing music wasn't good. At that time, a roommate of mine had developed an unfortunate taste for the stuff, and he would burst in at five every morning, grab my guitar, crank up the amp, and proceed to play the fastest, fiercest, and most terrifying rendition of "House of the Rising Sun" that I've ever heard. In hindsight I wish I'd recorded at least one of these impromptu sessions, but at the time the greatness was lost on me. It just sounded annoying and pathetic.

Since I was making the big identity transition from punker to indie/experimental/other, I passed on the speed and instead dove straight into bulging handfuls of downers. I was living in California during this period, and thanks to that city's proximity to Tijuana's farmacias San Diego's streets were awash in prescription medications. This was before Rush Limbaugh crashed everyone's party; if you brought up OxyContin most people thought you were offering them acne medication.

As the days wore on I learned the names of all the opiate-derived medications in the Nurse's Handbook and wrote a total of ZERO good songs. Mostly I just remember endlessly jamming to the Smashing Pumpkins song "Soma" with my roommates, listening to Pavement's Wowee Zowee during nod-out time, and scratching the tip of my nose a lot.

Over the years, I thought I would learn exactly what worked and what didn't, which substances to embrace and which ones to join the alarmist chorus against, but to be honest, the only thing I've learned is that there's no constant. Drugs, like great albums, affect you in different ways over time, depending on where you're at in your life. Indulge in a line of coke at the wrong time, and you turn yourself into a Derek & The Dominoes-worshipping monstrosity. Treat yourself to one while keeping up a hectic schedule of late-night rehearsals and frenetic recording sessions, and it might save you—for a moment at least.

There are a few consistencies: I don't think I'll ever write a keeper while I'm stoned, though it's fun to try when my band-mates and I close out a productive practice. On the other hand, I've sworn an undying loyalty to booze. I've found it almost always makes a good song better and a bad one occasionally great.

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