Drugs, Sex and Rock’n’Roll. Is that still the state of the music Industry today? The on and offstage antics of RockStars is well documented through music History. Spending months in the recording studio working on an album while getting as high as possible use to be the norm. Are musicians still turning to controlled substances for inspiration? Can you get to the feeling of complete abandon and creativity without the use of drugs or alcohol? It’s anybody guess and we may never know for sure.

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The list of casualties from drug overdoses is stunning. So many amazingly talented artists cut down in their prime by the addictions they just couldn’t get a handle on. Where would music be today if we still had Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Keith Moon, Jim Morrison, Gram Parsons, Elvis Presley, Nick Drake, David Ruffin, Hillel Slovak, Billie Holiday, Mike Bloomfield, Whitney Houston, and on and on…Boggles the Mind. The question is, could these superhuman artists have gotten to such jaw dropping music, stone cold sober? Can artists do it today?

There is still a veil of secrecy around the drug and alcohol habits of Rockstars. Some outwardly seem to be healthy, workout, and say they eat right.

If that’s true, what changed? Why can artists today write, record and perform sober instead of doing a line of coke or shooting up before a gig? Maybe they can’t, we don’t really know. The magical mystery tour that Lennon/McCartney were on for many years is well documented. Could they have written such masterpieces without the drugs? Mind altering substances take away inhibitions and a skilled writer without inhibitions is a force to be reckoned with, no doubt. Mozart was eight years old when he wrote his first symphony and at twelve he wrote his first opera. In Mozart’s biography, Joe Meerdter writes, “Wolfgang grew up to be “a boy wonder” and a prodigy child. At the age of three years old, Wolfy (nickname) had memorized several minuets for the clavichord. At the age of six, Mozart had already begun to compose music and was dubbed as a harpsichord virtuoso.

mozart1Little Wolfgang did not receive very much schooling as a youngster, but what he lacked in knowledge was certainly made up in a wealth of culture. “

“During most of Mozart’s time for the courts, he wrote psalms, and gave keyboard and violin lessons. Mozart felt more like a servant than a source of talent. He had gained so much attention and recognition as a child that he grew to have an amazing ego, and he expected to be the biggest and best no matter where he went. In 1777, Mozart put out several requests to leave the court to perform in other cities. After many denials, the Archbishop finally gave in and released Mozart. In Mannheim (one of the locations in the tour) Mozart fell in love with two things: The clarinet, and soprano Aloysia Weber. After his return from his tour, Mozart’s mother took sick and died. When Mozart wrote to his father telling him the news, Leopold advised him to stay in Salzburg. Mozart returned to Salzburg only to find that he had no money, and that he could not get a suitable job composing. So, he took a job as a court organist and began to become very depressed. On top of all of this, Aloysia married another man. Mozart stuck around for a couple more years composing and working off commissions until he felt that he had to request another release. The archbishop denied this request and it is said that Mozart was so vulgar during the interview that he was literally kicked out from his position. Mozart then moved to Vienna, the city where musicians played at every street corner. In Vienna, Mozart’s career flourished (as compared to the Salzburg years). Mozart made a decent living as a composer and pianist.”

Mozart’s heavy drinking was well documented along with his mounting debt, and he died while writing a Requiem Mass. There is still much mystery around his death. That holds true of many artists that we have lost too soon. We will never know the real story behind the death of Michael Jackson or Elvis Presley. What we do know is that they changed the face of music forever. That cannot be denied.

So, is it a new trend that many artists are workout fanatics and health food nuts, or has it always been that some can stay away from substance abuse while others fall prey to addiction; because they are longing to find that creative spark during a time of exhaustion, depression, constant touring, recording…?

VH1’s Behind The Music gives us endless examples of musicians who were at the brink of death, lived to tell about it and turned over a new leaf. Anthony Kiedis is the poster child for addict turned heath nut. In his autobiography he wrote: “”I spent most of my life looking for the quick fix and the deep kick. I shot drugs under freeway off-ramps with Mexican gang-bangers and in thousand-dollar-a-day hotel suites. Now I sip vitamin-infused water and seek out wild, as opposed to farm-raised, salmon.” In 2012 Fitness magazine ranked him high up in the list of “best Rockstar abs.”

Mick Jagger who admittedly spent decades indulging in everything he could get his hands on, now runs 10 miles a day, swims, and lifts weights. Stevie Nicks came back from her horrible pain-killer addiction and now does Pilates and walks every day. Jay-Z talks about being a drug dealer at 13 years of age. In his neighborhood, drug dealers were the role models. He lived through being shot at three times, and as he says, moved from “grams to Grammys.” Stories of spending years in a drug hazed stupor and then turning it all around are endless. Steve Perry of Aerosmith became an exercise addict for a while after kicking drugs. He couldn’t stop working out and realized he had replaced one addiction for another. Now he leads a more balanced life, hitting the gym three days a week and spending more down time with family.

Many artists today are addicted it seems, to exercise. Ellie Golding is a marathon runner who recently ran The Nike Women’s half marathon. Patty Griffin also starts her day with a run. Young talented Pop-Rock Stars are always in the gym. Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez and Pink are buffed out, as are many country stars like Tim McGraw and Dirks Bentley. But does that mean that they don’t indulge in drugs and alcohol? Are artists just better at keeping up the public image of “health” in 2013? Maybe it use to be cooler to be high than it is now? Or maybe the drugs have become more designer and it’s easier to hide…for a while.

Some would argue that the music was more inspired during the 60’s and 70’s. They say that “Stairway To Heaven” could never have been written if it weren’t for an altered state of mind. Musicians want to find something new, inspired, ground breaking and maybe it can’t be done without broadening the mind artificially. How many times have you heard, “Man, her music was great until she got sober…”? Or, “now that he’s been saved and doesn’t do drugs, his writing sucks.” It’s debated among musicians and music lovers every day. What does it take to write a masterpiece or give an inspired performance; where you are totally lost in the music and not over thinking? Can you reach that level of complete abandon without any artificial stimuli?

It’s a controversial topic that drug use in the Electronic/Dance Music world is widespread. Madonna drew cheers at The Ultra music Festival when she asked, “”How many people in this crowd have seen molly?”

Molly is a slang term for MDMA, the active chemical in ecstasy, a drug often associated with electronic dance music (EDM) concerts. The crowd erupted in cheers after Madge asked the question, but not everyone in the EDM community was happy. According to The Huffington Post, “Deadmau5, one of the leading producers of progressive house music, took to Twitter and Facebook to rail against the pop star for what he called grossly irresponsible behavior.

“Very classy there Madonna. “HUR DUR HAS ANYONE SEEN MOLLY???” such a great message for the young music lovers at ultra,” he posted on Facebook early Monday morning. ” quite the f’n philanthropist. but hey, at least yer HIP AND TRENDY!”

“To Deadmau5 (whose real name is Joel Zimmerman), Madonna was trading on a negative association to appear relevant. By casually referencing MDMA usage at an event attended by 150,000 concertgoers and streamed online to tens of thousands more, the pop star helped cement an association that Zimmerman and other performers have fought to disprove.” Many in the EDM community disagree and say that drug use is the norm.

Spending your life as an artist can be depressing, demoralizing, demeaning and painfully lonely. It stands to reason that finding an outlet for all of that angst is a survival tool, and perhaps, just part of the road to stardom. I think it’s important to ask yourself if there are other ways to get to that high level of art. Can you go for a run, lift weights, take a walk down a gorgeous mountain trail and find that moment of brilliance? Maybe it’s time for artists to find a healthy way to find that special state of mind that leads them to genius. God knows we have lost too many, and we don’t need more casualties. Maybe art is just too demanding, difficult and all-consuming to be able to create over a lifetime without a crutch. Or, maybe some artists are addictive personalities, driven to the edge of madness searching for their “Stairway To Heaven.”

One of the best books written about artists and addiction is Witness To The Fire:Creativity and the Veil of Addiction.

In Witness to the Fire, Linda Schierse Leonard, Ph.D., explores the dark and fiery journey of transformation from the bondage of addiction to the freedom of recovery through creativity. A Jungian analyst, Leonard studies the relationship of creativity and addiction in the lives of writers such as Fyodor Dostoevsky, Eugene O’Neill, Jean Rhys, and Jack London, as well as the experiences of ordinary men and women. Leonard holds out the hope that anyone bound by addiction can reclaim the power that fuels dependency for a life of joy and creativity.”

So what do YOU think? This blog is full of unanswered questions. Where does YOUR inspiration come from?

“When I have a creative insight, there is a high. I think back in the day, I made music as much as I did because it made me feel so good. I think you could argue that there is a creative addiction – but, you know, the healthy kind.” – Lauryn Hill

8 Responses to Too High

  1. Dennis says:

    I think some great singers and musicians were so good they could perform well in spite of the drugs, but not for long. I believe it is more likely that if more musicians and creators would be sober and thinking straight, more wonderful music would be heard by the masses, but so many musicians have bought into the drug and alcohol culture that they are no damn good for anything. Drugs don’t make people more creative, they just get in the way of making the right decisions that will take the creative person to the next level. It takes discipline and focus to make it in the music, or any other, business. Just to be clear, I like to have a few drinks and get loose, but not when I am working.

    • Ghezzi says:

      Agreed on the discipline and focus, without a doubt. It is interesting to take note however of Hendrix, Joplin, Billie Holiday, Jim Morrison, just to name a few who “expanded” their minds. Something to think about that is interesting for sure…

  2. Hi Ghezzi and the Fame Wizard community,

    Thanks for this article.

    I wonder how many artists have felt the “high” of performing music to perfection – solo or ensemble. When I performed Rachmaninoff, Liszt, Beethoven, Bach, or Chopin, there is no way I could have been in an altered state. Whether I’m performing solo, duo/trio, with my original band, or with my Progressive Rock Tribute Band, I cannot and do not ever consume mind or body altering substances. I find that while singing, my pitch suffers terribly. Being a keyboard player, I certainly can’t focus and play like Rick Wakeman or Keith Emerson, or even Myself, when I’m not 100% “ON”. Would a surgeon go into the O.R. like that? (Hopefully not.) I don’t understand how performers can perform while under the influence of any substances.

    Writing and creating, on the other hand, is a different story. I have felt the “space” that substances can open up, and have “channeled” music while doing so. However, I wholeheartedly agree with Ghezzi that the world has lost too many artists to the ABUSE, not USE, of drugs. What I really prefer to do is to get into that “state” without them. Have you tried meditation? Qi Gong? Tai Chi? What about sitting down and writing after a really great massage or acupuncture appointment? Different times of the day? 5 a.m. has a very different “energy” creatively than midnight.

    Robert Fripp has never done drugs, and he is arguably one of the greatest composers/performers in the history of rock. John Coltrane produced absolutely amazing music AFTER he kicked his alcohol and heroin addiction. Pat Metheny has had one of the greatest careers as a modern musician, having won 20 Grammy awards. David Foster has won 16 Grammy awards, and he is in the studio every day making hits – not doing drugs.

    I think that EVERYONE can do it without drugs. It just takes some discipline and practice.

    Andrew Colyer
    New York

    P.S. I’m looking forward to being a Fame Wizard client.

  3. Nikki says:

    This is something interesting! I definitely think musicians and artists have gotten to certain levels in their music because of drugs. Without them, some of the music would have not been as creative as it was/is. Frank Zappa however was extremely weird and creative. He never did drugs in his life. He was definitely “out-there” but made some very creative music. The issue is, that, if the artists chooses to do drugs, can they find that balance of recreational use and avoid addiction? In today’s music world I am sure the biggest thing to hide is being a “user”. Most celebrities are using prescriptions in ways they aren’t supposed to, and hiding it very well. Lauren Hill was addicted to prescription drugs but she found her way out. Most artists start young because that is what they do, experiment, but of course the question is, can they get out in time? My inspiration comes from the thrill seeker in me. I love to go against the grain and show up with the secrets of how and why I got where I am. Its that fire in me that has and will never go away. Drugs have nothing to do with what I personally am doing, its probably just my ADHD!!

  4. Gaby Gold says:

    Thanks, Ghezzi and those who responded. These entries gave me much to ponder. I’ll definitely check out that book. Another book that has wonderful exercises in it is The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. She suggests having a weekly “Artist’s Date” with oneself and writing daily “Morning Pages”. The book is slightly geared towards those in recovery but is also a super tool for anyone in the ongoing process of recovering their true creative self.

  5. Hot Rock says:

    Interesting read, Ghezzi. Thanks for posting it.
    Why do I get the feeling this article was written just for me?

  6. Ashley Whitaker says:

    Long time no hear Ghezzi. Substances do not add anything they take away the barriers to the natural creative born talents I argue most if not all are born with.That is a huge misperception of drugs. From birth people lose their divinity and are contaminated with social norms and environmental toxins and God knows all else. People lose their ability to feel and create because everything around them from the paved roads to the banker’s smile is artificial. I do not ask the big questions I live the big questions trying to find my stairway to heaven. I am a health nut but not obcessive over it. I know my body limits and I pay attention to it. I also study alchemy and a wide variety of subjects. Good writing CAN come without killing yourself. Having a good relationship with yourself and your higher power is the golden ticket I believe. It is not easy because most do not want to face their inner demons head on but to be a world class sober artist you must. A virtuous does not play music or write, they are a channel for their higher power to work through them. But what do I know. Think Madonna, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Tool, the ones at the top … they know what is up. Timeless music must come from something that is timeless, right?

  7. Unfortunately, the music of today, in my personal opinion, is nowhere near as well-written and creative as it was in the sixties and seventies. If that is because today’s songwriters are sober, then that is quite a difficult pill to swallow ( pun intended.) I hope we can stay alive and do a better job writing new, creative, better songs in the future.

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