The Link Between Music and Drugs?

Over the years there has been a strong suggestion on how influential music may be in terms of behaviour and thinking. Whilst a lot of songs tackle a lot of gritty issues, are they really holding up a mirror to how life really is? Or do musicians who focus on darker issues and reckless behavior promote a lifestyle that is dangerous and unmanageable?

There are some very raunchy tunes and indeed very good tunes that focus heavily on drug use, although some of these tracks, like Black Sabbath’s Hand of Doom track (from the album Paranoid), the song clearly states the dangers of messing with you mind and the tradegy of the Vietnam war, one can’t help but see some form of morbid curiosity in taking up such an extreme roller coaster of emotions of drugs.

Butler, of Black Sabbath expressed his frustration at how fans misinterpreted the band’s lyrics, stating that “for instance, on ‘Hand of Doom’ they’ll pick up one sentence out of that and blow it up into this big thing, like as if we’re telling everyone to go and shoot smack. The whole song is against drugs.

Songs About Drugs are Nothing New

Although a lot of focus is given to the latter part of 20th century, from The Rolling Stones, Beatles, Black Sabbath, Motley Crue, the explosion of the rave scene..etc. Drugs have played a big part in music for almost as long as we’ve had music.

Some of the earliest examples of this I can find is in the 1300’s AD, when the Benedictine Monks (who are now the makers of Buckfast) lived by the motto “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” They held a high reverence for, well, to be frank, getting fucked up. Despite being a religious Christian sect,and the Bible making several references to the potential harms of alcohol and being drunk. They preferred to see booze, especially wine in the same positive light as Jesus saw it.

Their love of alcohol was later adopted in song for Carmina Burana in 1935, as seen below:

Recent History of Drinking and Drug Songs

There are countless songs from Ireland also that state about drunkenness, some are done with good humor, however personally I find the humor a bit tragic. I believe a lot of the Irish drinking culture comes from oppression and inter-generational trauma.

In the 1920’s in the USA there were songs about having the cocaine blues. Very few of these songs are now referenced as being a direct cultural influence now, even though they would have been around the time of our great-grandparents.

Personal Exposure to Drugs Through Music

It was widely known when I was a kid that the Beatles were into drugs, I remember Paul McCartney had been busted for possession of weed when I was kid which really overtly showed off his drug use.

As a kid I was really fascinated by the Beatles and especially their psychedelic phase, two of my favorite albums were Magical Mystery Tour (allbeit an EP on it’s first release) and Sgt.Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Sgt.Pepper

Sgt.Pepper was wonderfully weird album for me, it was incredibly surreal and witty. The sound and whole set up of the album was just wonderfully enchanting for a kid to get into. My dad had the original mono gatefold sleeve which came with wonderfully wacky additions like stickers, a fake mustache and a badge. The lyrics were quite nonsensical and hard to follow. There weren’t any real overt lyrics about drugs, but it was heavily rumored that the Beatles were taking LSD and that the song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds was about an LSD trip.

I was a young boy of the early 90’s and this music still had a lot of appeal, at the same time there was a new scene emerging that was transforming the whole of the UK. The rave scene.

Rave Music

In the late 80’s rave music was beginning to emerge with a newer more powerful overt and slightly hidden messages about taking drugs for fun.

Shamen Ebenezer Good

Now in the 90’s there were groups appearing on TV’s Top of the Pop’s saying “E’s are good, E’s are good, Ebenezer Good“, also this new wave of dance music was calling itself the second summer of love, a throwback to the 1960’s “summer of love”.
There was even a rather poor act called “Candyflip” who did a cover-version of Strawberry Fields Forever, The Beatles song. Candy flipping is a term used to describe mixing LSD with MDMA/ecstasy. So these references were quite overt in many ways. The strawberry also became a big icon to be printed on sheets of LSD that would often contain humorous cartoons or iconography. LSD blotter image
All this was quite alluring as a kid, it seemed that doing something like ecstasy or LSD would be quite fun and rewarding. Raves looked really fun, it played in to that childish rebellion and a yearning to escape from conformity. Rave music became quite a big part of my life, but I was much too young to run away and join the circus back then.

I was quite convinced from an early age that I’d very much like to try psychedelic drugs, the people who I admired had all done them and I felt like they could probably offer an experience that could be life enhancing. Even the more morbid aspects of drug taking seemed interesting to explore.

Nirvana

In April 1994 Kurt Cobain took his own life after years of depression and addiction. As I was still pretty young at this stage I didn’t really fully understand the extent of Kurt Cobain’s addiction issues and how depressed he was. More news poured out by the weeks following and Kurt’s tragedy. It came more to light that Kurt Cobain had been abusing heroin very heavily along with his wife of the time Courtney Love – This is just what I heard in the papers of the time, I have no knowledge of any of the personal events.
Heroin to me seemed like a very tragic drug, I remember it being referenced in Guns and Roses songs, it didn’t seem like there were many winners with heroin use. As a adolescent I couldn’t really see the point in taking something like that, but the allure of ecstasy and other drugs were still there.

Messing With the Mind

I was around 14 years when I first tried magic mushrooms, I had tried cannabis earlier before but I really hated it when I first smoked it. I think I only ever actually smoked it to fit in with my peers around me. I went to a very rough comprehensive school and kids were exposed to drugs from a very early age. A fair few of my friends at school came from families that openly smoked cannabis and binge drank alcohol.
Some of my friends had older brothers and sisters who were already into harder drugs, who had experiences of LSD, ecstasy amphetamines, cocaine and even heroin. Drugs like cocaine and heroin I couldn’t even conceive of taking, they seemed completely deadly to me, no matter how much I’d heard Motely Crue or Guns’n’Roses make reference to them.

I was interested in Magic Mushrooms because they were said to be non-toxic and much less risky than other substances, friends of the time assured me if it went wrong I could just hold it together for 6 hours and then the feeling would past. So I took a risk.
I do not like to make too many references to drug use, a) sometimes I’m worried what people will think of me still and b) I don’t want to glamorize drugs. This quick story might seem like a was cool kid listening to hip sounds, the music was still cool but I was desperate to fit in too and I always was looking for things to escape.

My experience on mushrooms was a rewarding and interesting experience, I felt like it opened my eyes up quite a bit to this shared psychedelic experience that so many others had pointed to in the past. I certainly didn’t listen to any music on mushrooms, although giddy and pleasant, I was completely disorientated and spent about 6 hours walking around a park.

Does Music Promote Drug Use?

It’s hard for me to give a direct and accurate answer on this, maybe there are some individuals who feel spurred on or triggered by certain songs. But if we were to consider one simply fact, such as the amount of times a song has been played to how it’s influenced the public. I believe at the the time of writing this the song Dr. Feelgood by Motely Crew has been played over 14,000,000 times over Spotify since it was uploaded. The song is about drug dealing, namely heroin and cocaine. Has heroin and cocaine use gone up over the time it has been played?

No.

There will no doubt be some people who might feel that songs or music deeply reflects their own personal life or aspire to keep as closely to the attitude of the music they follow.

A person choosing to use drugs comes from a variety of influences and music is probably one of the least biggest influences in those drives. Rave music and dance culture does expose younger people to have more easy to access drugs where people take ecstasy and speed to dance all night, however, most concert halls will expose you to alcohol and cannabis.

Whether a person takes drugs or not is usually determined by their own-wellbeing, peers and environmental factors and access to drugs. Any other piecing together of information is merely circumstantial.

Heavy Metal Suicides

In the USA during the 1980’s the band Judas Priest were put on trial for having to contributed to suicide of one individual and serious manning of another. These two teenagers apparently decided to turn a shotgun on themselves after listening Judas Priest. The band’s dark image and darker lyrical content were turned on them to make themselves culpable for crimes they were totally unconnected with.
The incident is incredibly bizarre and it actually beggars belief to imagine it ever actually happened. I have watched the documentary on the matter, unfortunately for the two who decided to took their own life they seemed to channel some major depressive disorder into their obsession for heavy metal music. When an obsessive mind becomes focused in on such morbid thoughts of ending their own life it must be hard to shake. It seems that on their way out they decided to name drop Judas Priest. (Only one of the gentlemen involved killed himself with a shotgun blast to the head, the other on later died from an overdose of drugs) https://ditchingsuburbia.com/blog/heavy-metal-suicide .

The incident is also referenced in the Billy Joel song We Didn’t Start The Fire, where he sings the line “Heavy Metal Suicides”.

They weren’t the only band to be linked to suicides, in the 70s UK band Black Sabbath’s album Paranoid was reported to have driven a female nurse to suicide. The accusations were outlandish and unfounded, no further action was taken.

Morbid

There may be a case that certain songs can trigger off emotional states in people, but it is down to a person to take their own personal responsibility for this and not indulge themselves they might not feel they are able to handle. For instance, you would not watch a horror film late at night if you are looking for a peaceful sleep. If you’re feeling morbid, avoid things too distressing

Some styles of music and specific songs can potentially Give a person in recovery euphoric recall over times they may have enjoyed taking drugs to certain music’s or at certain events. A person could potential he filter out all the negative harms caused by the use and only think of the good times. This is actually a common trigger amongst people refraining to be drink and drug free. However with a robust aftercare plan this should not make a person relapse, if it does then maybe a combination of things are going on.

So, if you’re recovering from drugs and alcohol it can be a good idea to shelve those tunes for awhile until you have a few more brighter days ahead, then you can breakout all the Shamen, Velvet Underground, Rave, Motely Crew, Oynx, Necro, Nine Inch Nails and Judas Priest you fancy.

– Written By Dylan Kerr 2019

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