Coda, Autumn 2018
Every junkie’s like a setting sun
One would think that the deaths of thousands of artists who have died due to drug usage (be it suicide or overdoses) would be enough to educate people of the dangers of such, whether street drugs or modern pharmaceuticals. Such icons as Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Frida Kahlo, Kurt Cobain, Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Heath Ledger and Prince, to name just a handful, have all left us much too soon. But yet drug abuse is still a worldwide problem, and it is apparently a growing problem.
I read with interest a press release from the Boomtown festival entitled, ‘Boomtown drugs versus safety.’ The festival should be applauded for the harm reduction, education and awareness measures they have implemented as regards drug taking at the festival. This includes pre-event education and awareness, onsite drug safety testing, roaming campsite welfare teams, fully equipped 24 hour onsite medical facilities and welfare and counselling services. The aim is that if someone does take drugs into the festival, they can find information about what they are taking, have their drugs tested anonymously to ensure the drug is ‘pure’ and get advice as needed. It is a very worthwhile effort and it would seem logical to implement such a strategy at all such large festivals.
There was one thing however that concerned me. And that is an attitude that the ‘War on Drugs’ has failed and so such measures as mentioned above are about all one can do about it. The concept that people will take drugs, it being simply a lifestyle choice, seems to be the prevailing zeitgeist, a sort of agreed-upon idea that generates a somewhat apathetic outlook towards real reform of the problem. But kudos to Boomtown for at least attempting to solve one aspect of the problem.
But street drugs are one thing. Then there is the problem of pharmaceuticals. In a recent report, by 2020 an estimated 4.5 trillion doses of prescription drugs will be used by patients and global spending on medicines is forecast to reach $1.4 trillion, increases of between 29 percent and 32 percent from 2015.
All drugs have side effects and even apparently ‘harmless’ drugs can cause a problem. For example, there is a popular sleeping tablet in the USA called Ambien, known more widely as Zolpidem, and again, it seems to be popular with artists and has affected some iconic people quite badly. Elon Musk apparently told the NY Times, “It is often a choice of no sleep or Ambien.” He sent an ‘unusual’ tweet about his company (Tesla) and the stock fell sharply.
Roseanne Barr targeted her use of Ambien for some racist tweets which led to her sitcom being cancelled. Charlie Sheen said Ambien was responsible for him allegedly trashing a New York City hotel room in 2010. He called it “the devil’s aspirin!” and in 2017 Sean Penn blamed Ambien for any potentially disruptive behaviour on his part. Paul Schrader, the screenwriter behind Taxi Driver and Raging Bull told he Hollywood Reporter, “A couple of Cabernets and half an Ambien, and God knows what you’ll post on Facebook” and Alicia Keys mentions the drugs ecstasy and Ambien in the lyrics of the song ‘Empire State of Mind’ – “MDMA got you feelin’ like a champion, the city never sleeps, better slip you an Ambien.”
It’s also reported that St Vincent (singer/song-writer Annie Clark) says she gets many of her best ideas for songs while she’s trying to fall asleep. The lyrics of ‘Huey Newton’ off her new album apparently came to her during an Ambien-induced hallucination.
There are probably many reasons for the fantastic uptrend in street and prescription drug usage. Perhaps life is getting more stressful across the planet, economic ups and downs causing more worry and so on. Or, on a somewhat more cynical note, one might assume that darker forces are at work. There is definitely an operation afoot to convince us all we need drugs which, of course, brings home the bacon for ‘Big Pharma’.
The Psychiatric zeal in regularly inventing new ‘mental illnesses’ also really worries me. A recent example is Stendhal Syndrome, which is apparently the phenomenon of being shocked by beauty. It’s quite common amongst tourists I’m told, being triggered by viewing famous works of art in major galleries. Gosh!! I think I might have suffered that once or twice myself!! And much to my chagrin, hoarding has now been classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a mental illness. I’ve always thought my wife was just amusingly eccentric with her various collections, but I’m now told I’m apparently married to a potentially mad woman. I may yet end up taking drugs myself – to alleviate my newfound concern for her!
All joking aside, this excessive scale of drug taking, be it street drugs or prescribed drugs, does not bode well for the human race. Fundamentally it is at best making the general populace less and less aware and at worst killing the minds and bodies of artists and potential geniuses. To quote Stravinsky, one of the most important and influential composers of the 20th century; “Countless unsuccessful experiments with behaviour modification drugs have had a deleterious effect on me.”
Here are two further quotes that sum up all this for me, both from famous heroin addicts: Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain is quoted as saying “Drugs are a waste of time. They destroy your memory and your self-respect and everything that goes along with your self-esteem.” And William S. Burroughs, the postmodernist author and icon of the 1960s counter culture has said, “A paranoid is someone who knows a little of what’s going on.”
We are stardust
On the subject of music festivals, 2019 sees the 50th anniversary of the legendary Woodstock festival. I’m sure I’ll be writing a hopefully interesting (and perhaps slightly amusing) piece about the festival in the next issue or two; I feel obliged. Although I wasn’t actually there, I was one of the (probably) millions around the world who felt they were there in spirit. I was a fully paid up Hippie for a couple of years back then, occasionally pausing to hear the grass grow and/ or see rainbows in the evening.
Despite the drug usage and the arguably naïve mindset of the ‘Woodstock Generation’, I think it’s an established fact that the festival began a sea change in Western culture. Hippiedom became mainstream, the various ideas of the counter-culture seeping into society relatively quickly. When I saw psychedelic adverts for Cadbury’s Crunchies appearing on TV and newsreaders growing their hair over their ears and jacket collars, not to mention the more significant social changes that were occurring, I knew it was the beginning of the end for the old guard and a new era would follow. And so it did. Look out for more on Woodstock and its ramifications in 2019, there will be much to tell!
A Capitol idea
On our travels with the magazine during the summer we came across “Beauty in the Mundane”, a debut photography exhibition by local photographer Samantha Catchpole at The Capitol Theatre in Horsham. Samantha’s exhibition aimed to encourage people to enter a world full of hidden pictures, a world full of repeating patterns and overlooked details; pictures found amongst the railings outside a building, in the patterns of the bars on a window or the beautiful dereliction of forgotten industry.
On reflection, this wasn’t the first time we’d seen an exhibition on the first floor there and it dawned on us what a marvellous idea it is to have art within the theatre building. All theatres should perhaps do this, it really gives an extra dimension to the building, an extra ambience that gives more ‘life’ to otherwise vacant spaces. Kudos to the Capitol Theatre for this innovation, other theatres with spare space please take note! Visit catchpolecreative.com to learn more about Samantha’s work.
Congratulations to the Green Tree Gallery at Borde Hill Garden, just north of Haywards Heath, who have been celebrating their 10th anniversary this year. We went along to join in the fun at their anniversary party; it’s an inspiring place and seeing all the varied creativity on offer, not for the first time, I just had to buy gifts. There is a wonderful selection of all sorts to choose from: paintings, sculpture, glass art, ceramics, jewellery – even quirky aprons! Well worth a visit! Learn more at www.greentreegallery.co.uk.