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My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies

August 8, 2009
Mr. Richards would like to point out that he is British

Mr. Richards would like to point out that he is British

Someone once said “Rock stars ain’t what they used to be.” His name is Alan and he said it much more eloquently and verbosely.

What’s even more pathetic is that these geritol fueled geezers still rock harder than today’s delicate and sensitive prefab pop stars. The cry of the musician is no longer “1, 2, 3, 4” but “Dear Diary.” They’re so busy eating tofu, saving rain forests and hanging with politicians that they’ve forgotten the number one rock star rule. You are a god, so act like one! And make sure the god you model yourself after is cruel and vain. You know, like Zeus, or the Buddha…

It’s true. The demystifying of rock and roll continues, especially in the mainstream. There are no dangerous rock stars out there. Everything is too clean and media-friendly. Your average rock star these days is no more threatening than a Hot Topic employee. When the best story we have is Amy Winehouse stumbling around the stage or Scott Stapp drunkenly harassing other celebrities, it’s time for a true revolution.

As anyone should know by now, being a rock star was never supposed to be about lifetime employment. You were supposed to live fast and hard because your career was on the burnout tipping point perpetually.

Tastes would change. You could chart with a couple of singles. Your band members would OD, quit, get married, get divorces, get back with the band, get hospitalized, go to rehab, throw shit out of hotel windows, etc.

Now it’s the RIAA and ASCAP trying to secure perpetual residuals and copyright extensions. It’s instant legacy acts and music safe enough for your parents to appreciate. It’s reality show appearances and career retrospectives. It’s vegan menus and bottled water on the tour riders.

I remember when a band coming to town meant locking up your daughters and medicine cabinets. When shows ended with fistfights in the mosh pit or riots in the parking lot.

Fall Out Boy: Suitable for ages 3 and up

Fall Out Boy: Suitable for ages 3 and up

What do we have now? Holy fuck, Fallout Boy is coming to town! Better lock up… the front door, I guess. Make sure the stove is off as well. We’ll probably be gone a good three hours. Family trip to the arena! I may cut loose and have a Heineken or two while waiting for the kids to exit.

In the worlds of Frank Booth: “Fuck that shit.”

My heroes used drugs. They fucked with the establishment. They turned the world on its ear, at least temporarily. They set fires and snorted blow of groupies’ asses. They did it up right.

Smack has been the drug of choice for fine musicians everywhere, dating back to the early days of jazz. It wouldn’t seem to be a very creative drug, what with all the passing out and vomiting, but you can’t argue with the results.

The Velvet Underground
Influenced every band that has ever came after them. If not directly, then they influenced the band that influenced this band. Hell, they even wrote a track named Heroin, which may have been a restrained 7 minutes on the album, but became an epic in concert.

Skinny Puppy
Canada’s industrial pride and joy. They used enough smack that each member spent some time in rehab. Dwayne R. Goettel’s OD was a key part of their 1993 breakup. Evidently such an inseparable aspect of their music that fans openly speculated as to the amount of “suck” a sober Nivek Ogre would bring to their next album. Skinny Puppy was an ugly band, and their drug of choice brought that out, resulting in some of the most nihilistic and apocalyptic industrial music of the last 20 years.

Pigface
It goes without saying that any supergroup containing members of Ministry, Skinny Puppy, KMFDM, the Jesus Lizard and Front 242 would be heavily influenced by their substance abuse. Their collective music was dubbed “heroin rock,” a brutal spin on the psychedelia of “acid rock.” Experimental, nasty and confrontational, Pigface gloried in their crowdsourced noise machine, releasing the beautifully artless live album, Welcome to Mexico, Asshole recorded in Tijuana.

Happy Mondays
For the most part a cheerful “baggy” dance-rock group, whose club-friendly beats and twisted lyrics epitomized the ’90s Madchester scene, Shaun Ryder and his cohorts trafficked in nearly every drug imaginable. Particularly partial to heroin (“Kentucky Fried Chicken” in the band’s internal parlance), the band made no effort to hide its nasty habit(s), with Shaun Ryder lazily threatening to “lie down beside you/fill you full of junk” in Hallelujah.

The band soon took a sizable chunk of their label’s money to record an album in Jamaica, where they discovered crack. The advance was blown through quickly and Shaun Ryder returned to the label offices, holding his own demo tapes hostage. Another injection of cash freed the master tapes and the band was back in business. Before wrapping up the sessions, Ryder stepped out for some “KFC” and never returned.

Nothing subtle about this...

Nothing subtle about this...

Spiritualized
Jason Pierce’s combination of drone, space rock and gospel is one of the cultural touchstones of British music. After the acrimonious split of Spacemen 3 (slogan: Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To), Pierce took his ideas and addictions and set about crafting some on the finest paeans to drug use ever recorded (and distributed as mini-disc pop-out “pills” in the case of Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space).

The heroin references are everywhere. From Cop Shoot Cop (there’s a hole in my arm where the money goes) to I Think I’m In Love (warm as the junk running down my spine), the references are everywhere. Pierce likes to play ambiguous in interviews, leaving the lyrics open to “translation.” But he named his daughter “Poppy” for chrissakes.

This is by no means a comprehensive list. There are others, some of which are less notable, in my opinion.

Red Hot Chili Peppers
Under the Bridge finally made Kiedis’ shirtless torso and “heavy feelings” relevant. Flea got shot in the foot during a bit part in Point Break. They had their moment and are shifting into legacy mode. I think they lack the last bit of push they’ll need to be remembered any more fondly than their contemporaries (RuPaul, Right Said Fred) 30 years down the road.

Smashing Pumpkins
Touring keyboardist Jonathon Melvoin and drug buddy Jimmy Chamberlin both OD in a hotel room. Chamberlin lives but leaves the band. Somehow I get the mental image of Billy Corgan attending to Melvoin funeral just to make sure everybody knew how much he disapproved of the drug use.

That’s the drugs. The bad behavior is gone as well. What we get now is faux “rock star” moments at the MTV VMAs and red carpet posturing. With the exception of the thug life intertwined in hip hop, everyone is out there pretending to live like a badass but most likely spends nights at home writing in their diary, updating their LiveJournal and smoking cloves with the windows open.

It used to be the shit to be a rock star. Ego on, brain off. Strut, fuck, get paid. Look ridiculously good while 10% sober and 90% hungover.

Early days of the Black Crowes:
Chris Robinson is in a convenience store. A fan recognized him and says something like, “OMG! Chris Robinson from the Black Crowes!” Her friend says, “Who?” Chris Robinson says, “Maybe if you’d stop stuffing twinkies into your face you might learn a little something.” Apocryphal? Maybe. Reported as fact in a Spin interview. If it’s not true, it should be.

Jane’s Addiction:
Perry Farrell says he got head from some guy just to “see what it felt like.” Perry figures since it’s a guy it should be good. After all, men should know. But the guy went at it “like eating corn of the cob.” Rock star living? A solid yes. Let’s hear Chris Carrabba tell a story like that.

Pulp:
Jarvis Cocker interrupts Michael Jackson’s Christ-like posing and child wrangling during a performance at the Brit Awards. Cocker waves his bottom in Jackson’s general direction. Assault charges are filed and dropped. Melody Maker suggests instant knighthood. Always standing up for what you believe in, no matter how inappropriate? Hell. Yes.

Rolling Stones:
The ultimate legacy act, now entertaining millions of parents and grandparents every year, used to have the swagger. They used to frighten people. Ed Sullivan makes them change their lyrics. For the love of god, their haircuts used to be more upsetting. How about this choice lyric (from Stray Cat Blues): “I can see that you’re fifteen years old/But I don’t want your ID.” Statutory rape, ladies and gentleman. That’s how the Stones Roll.

Voted most misleading title of 1984

Voted most misleading title of 1984

The Cure:
A legacy act in their own right. Robert Smith earns the derisive nicknames of “Mad Bob” and “Fat Bob” during the Pornography recording. Loaded to the gills with every drug imaginable, the Cure (mainly Smith as usual) release a nightmarish album awash in suicidal lyrics and tape manipulations. Smith also briefly splits the band and cites label pressure, although I doubt they indicated that he should do more drugs and be more weird. “It doesn’t matter if we all die,” indeed.

Case two: Shiver and Shake, from 1987’s Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me. Robert Smith invites the object of his hatred (band member Lol Tolhurst) into the studio for a private rendition of this song. Smith makes him stand front and center while he belts out the pointed lyrics:

You’re a waste of time
You’re a babbling face
You’re three sick holes that run like sores
You’re a fucking waste…

Rock star 1, former rock star 0.

So what happened? Who can we pin the blame on? Can “society” take one more for the team? Is it the homogenization of radio that began at the tail end of grunge? Is it just something cyclical?

It used to be when a band like Metallica went on tour, they left behind a wake of destroyed venues, massive bar tabs and paternity suits. Now they travel with a full orchestra and a sweater-clad therapist. I would assume they stay up late into the night, talking things out and carefully itemizing their tax deductions.

I can only assume that music has “matured,” pop fluffery notwithstanding. We’ve got adolescence on life support. Rock and roll operating under a living will. Take it back. Support those who know it’s just for today. Rock and roll is dead. Let’s make the wake a blast.

-CLT

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13 comments

  1. “You’re a waste of time
    You’re a babbling face
    You’re three sick holes that run like sores
    You’re a fucking waste…”

    I always wanted that to be my wedding song, until I stumbled across U2’s “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For…”


    • Hahahahaha!!!

      Fucking brilliant! I may steal that line. It’s that good.

      Thanks for visiting, bschooled.


  2. As usual CLT, dead on. I am amazed that whenever I hear Money by Pink Floyd on the radio, they still bleep out the phrase “bull shit”. What kind of candy ass, soft underbelly, non-risk taking society have we become? Thank God we still have Lou Dobbs!

    (A little shout out to the Pretenders and the late James Honeyman Scott and Pete Farndon. I always try to give them props when I can).


    • Thanks for the props, TL and I’ll pass on the remaining props to Chrissie Hynde, JH Scott and Farndon as specified.

      Good lord. Imagine the anarchy if the children heard an unalduturated “bullshit” come flying out of a mouth other than theirs. As if they’d be listening to the classic rock station to begin with.

      Lou Dobbs will straighten them all out. All we have to do is inform Dobbs that the offending parties came from Mexico or parts beyond.

      Great to see you, TL. Verbally abuse Don Mills for me.


  3. I blame MTV. Bands no longer have to build a rock star image by headline worthy hedonistic feats. They can build the same image through videos and arty magazine covers. AIDS probably had something to do with it too.

    I also think you are on to something with assigning some blame to grunge and its successors. I remember an article from the mid-1990s that juxtaposed Kiss lyrics with Pearl Jam’s sexless, humorless, way too self-absorbed in a teenager-kind-of-way, lyrics. For the record, Kiss does suck (now more than ever), but at least they knew how to have fun.

    There are still plenty of drug users (e.g. Kurt Cobain). The difference is the rock stars used drugs to party harder and longer or as convenient meal replacements. Mr. Cobain et al. used drugs to escape the pain of success, fans that didn’t understand them, daily schedules, etc.

    Fuck ‘em. We don’t need them.

    Great post, CLT. You’re “cooler than Freddie Jackson sippin’ a milkshake in a snowstorm.”


    • Many thanks for the great comment and compliment, Overconfident. Take that Freddie Jackson and surviving relatives!

      I do feel that music took a turn for the worse in the post-grunge era, as millions of dollars were spent chasing anything with a tuneless blare. Everybody went po’ faced and introspective and forgot that being a rock star was about being a fucking ROCK STAR!

      They all went around bemoaning their millions of dollars and useless existence until we all decided it was time to celebrate misogyny and date rape via the haunting strains of Korn and Limp Bizkit.

      Fuck ’em.

      Oh. If you haven’t seen this yet, here’s a more in-depth look at the destruction of alternative/college rock thru the mainstreaming of grunge:

      https://capitalistliontamer.wordpress.com/2009/04/19/1991-nirvana-kills-alternative-rock/


  4. “It used to be the shit to be a rock star. Ego on, brain off. Strut, fuck, get paid. Look ridiculously good while 10% sober and 90% hungover.”

    I love that part. So, musical genius also know as CLT, is this the end of an era? Has the hard side of rock and roll gone by the wayside to make more family friendly rock stars?


    • I think it has, CC. The labels are afraid to lose money on anything with an edge to it, and are probably even more afraid of losing their investment to an overdose or lengthy stay in a federal prison.

      Maybe the familification (it is so a word!) of Las Vegas didn’t help. The edginess we have nowadays is more like pathetic, head-shaving cries for attention and fluctuating weight patterns.


  5. That could be a key ingredient. The natural push for intensity being replaced by a chemical rush instead. I can see it happening. Six months of playing the same goddamn hit(s) over and over.

    For all that the Smashing Pumpkins have done, I’m still very partial to Blue, Rhinocerous, Cherub Rock and Silverfuck.

    Must be the feedback-loving shoegazer in me.


  6. Are you holding? I don;t know if you’ve been to Hot Topic, but them kids is crazy, fuckin’, scary! Especially if you’re high on brown horse. “Yes I’m looking for an Optimus Prime t-shir… holy christ what’s that sticking through your lip?!”


    • “Oh, that. I had a mishap today while trying to install some new aftermarket parts onto my Civic. That is the last 3 inches of my new exhaust system. If you look around this part of the hole, where the blood is failing to coagulate, you can almost see the first letters of the manufacturer’s name. Trust me, it wasn’t cheap. But it was worth it.

      Anyway, the shirt you want-”

      *collapses in pool of own mouth blood*

      Thanks for shopping at Hot Topic, RR.


  7. By Civic you mean ’89 Neon, right?


    • I must have. I don’t know how I missed your rejoinder amongst the hustle and bustle of 10-12 comments per post.

      A little alarming, because you know how much I hate to let someone have the last word…



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