Let me be honest with you, I’m not a scientist. I have no statistics or graphs which will fight my corner, I have no mathematical equation with which to prove my point. What I do have is my own inference, tabloid hearsay and media gossip which as we all know is much more reliable than science anyway. I’m no stranger to the danger of drink and drugs as previously related in this post but I do feel that politically the ramifications and logistics are dealt with poorly focusing more on tax and criminality rather than personal risk. So today we’re going to look at the place of recreational and hard drugs in the creative world, I want to see if they’re a catalyst for influential art or a necessity. So roll a big one, grab a spoon or pour a glass as we delve into the precarious world of getting smashed!

Drugs & Rock 'n' Roll ( Flickr / LordKhan )

Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll ( Flickr / LordKhan )

I grew up on music, from an early age I was turned on to such delights as Beach Boys, Pink Floyd, Van Morrison and Bob Marley by my parents. I soaked up the wonderful songs with their magical harmonies and sounds of cash registers clinking, it was as they say, all about the music. In 2011, I made a point to a friend that everyone we listen to has been under the influence of something and this grew to a challenge for everyone in the pub around us to try and name an influential and talented artist who hasn’t been stoned, drunk or cooked like a stuck pig on skag. After much posturing nobody could name a single musician and so we opened the challenge up to the world of art and literature and it began to dawn on us that the theory worked across pretty much every creative discipline. Try it yourself and remember we stated ‘influential and talented’ so no X-Factor contestants or manufactured pop vacuums. Got anyone yet? No didn’t think so.

This is nothing new, we all know the arts have existed on the edge of our imaginations and derive their beauty from everywhere in the universe so there would always be some link with mind expansion. We know that dreamlike states and higher planes of consciousness are the playing grounds for those who create theories, stories and interesting works of art, drugs or booze are just a way of getting them there. Do we need these drugs as artists or at least try them to expand our minds or can a sober, tea totalling prude who’s never seen the inside of a seedy Camden venue really yield beauty with the rest of them? Dali once remarked;

“Everybody should eat hashish, but only once”

Maybe this is true, maybe we just need to have a link to the left side of our brain which then stays open. It could be that the path to creativity is through a longing for a different realm of thought and so anything which takes us out of our everyday processes encourages invention. Who knows and who cares right…. can you pass the Jaffa cakes please?

Frankenstein: A Modern Prometheus is a work of fiction created whilst shut away from the rain in the middle of rural France, very very high on opium. The Mae West Sofa was crafted in Spain after Dali advocated eating hashish. Thomas Jefferson founded a country whilst farming and smoking dope. 60′s counterculture was conceived using nudity and LSD so we got Bob Dylan, The Beatles & Jimi Hendrix all rolled into that groovy bargain. Radiohead were stoners, New Order took everything and The Arctic Monkeys probably do whatever drugs The Who did. What I’m trying to say is that drugs shape our culture whether we like to admit it or not. I recently spoke with someone at work about this and their first answer to my question about influential artists who haven’t used drugs was ‘The Beatles’. I had to shatter her idyll and explain their crazy years but it got me thinking how society gets to a point where we hate certain artists for being ‘Druggies’ but others are given accolades beyond their wildest dreams. Do we even comprehend the nefarious deeds of certain artists before worshipping them and sometimes is it part of the reason we do?

Rock Pins ( Image from Wade Rockett on Flickr)

Rock Pins ( Image from Wade Rockett on Flickr)

The Beatles are Britain’s biggest and most loved musical export and are seen as cheeky chappies but the busker who plays in Ship Street is seen as a stoner bum? The heroin addicts currently shunned by our society are on the same trip as Byron, Shelly and Oscar winner Trent Reznor. Is it fair to promote drug use through our adoration of famous artists and belittle and segregate drug users who aren’t well known? At what point did Pete Doherty stop being a “dirty skag-head” and become a loveable rogue of the British tabloids, I’d put money on it being around the time the NME started idolising him. It’s shallow and uninformed to allow our society to be shaped by drugs and alcohol but keep up a pretence that they’re evil and harmful. I’m not advocating their use but I am highlighting their importance and continuing affect on our culture and arts. I also find it abhorrent the way we as a society vilify drug users and alcoholics; covering our children’s eyes as “Crusties” stagger down the street or tutting as “Junkies” shuffle around our local supermarkets before going home  and singing along to Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds!

Where do you stand on this? Do you feel that recreational drug use or at least an exposure to drugs or alcohol at some point in your life is an integral part of being an artist? Is it necessary or is it just a middle class perception of the process of inspiration? I know I don’t believe that drugs or alcohol are necessary to create or be inspired, they are closer to a useful tool to forgetting the day to day and focusing on different aspects of the psyche. I also feel that they can lubricate otherwise shy and retiring people’s social interactivity and desire to converse and so can permit those who otherwise may not have allowed themselves to be creative or part of something to do so. I don’t believe we should just open the doors for drugs to be sold and used all the time but I do feel as a society and as artists we need to understand their place within our lives. Prime Minister’s should stop telling us they adore drug addled bands and drug inspired art whilst also saying that none of the rest of us should be allowed to do them. We should also focus on better methods of helping drug users whose lives are being damaged to quit or providing better understanding and services to those who are unable to help themselves and are currently being demonised throughout our society!

Should we go Miaow Miaow over drug users or should we be blunt and treat them all as dopes? It’s up to you but my closing argument is would you prefer a world with Cliff Richard & Peter Mayhew or one with Jimi Hendrix, Louis Armstrong, Pope Leo XIII, Nina Simone, Mary Shelley, Aphex Twin, Alan Moore, Van Gogh and Amy Winehouse?

(Originally published on Creative Boom website w/ modifications added June 2013)

Cliff Richard Scribble ( Flickr / Ian Hampton )

Cliff Richard Scribble ( Flickr / Ian Hampton )


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