Thursday, July 3, 2008

Drugs + pain = amazing creativity?

To set the tone, listen to Jimi Hendrix ‘Little Wing’, a top five favourite song of mine. Hear how the guitar notes drip in the solo at the end.

I just finished reading ‘The Heroin Diaries’, an autobiography by Nikki Sixx that chronicles a year he spent addicted to drugs while touring as bassist with Motley Crue. Great read, and very introspective into the personal trauma and crisis that was unfolding inside this guy’s head. He’d get wasted on coke and alcohol and end up turning to junk to restore some normalcy in his life. Tommy Lee and Slash didn’t seem to be much help.

I really like drug reads. It’s voyeuristic to me, being able to safely experience an obscene lifestyle without actually experiencing the consequences of that lifestyle. But it got me thinking about how all the great artists, musicians, and writers I know had some crippling addiction and private pain, causing them to turn to drugs:


  1. Jackson Pollack. Alcohol.
  2. Van Gogh. Alcohol (specifically absinthe which, it has been suggested, altered his vision to produce the distinctive yellow tint in his later work)
  3. Jean-Michel Basquiat. Heroin.

  1. Jimi Hendrix. Heroin.
  2. Aerosmith. Everything.
  3. Miley Cyrus. Methylenedioxymethamphetamine.
  4. 90s grunge. Notably, Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins. Heroin and pills.
  5. Janis Joplin. Everything. (This video isn’t her, but Janis Joplin’s ‘Piece of my Heart’ is a beautiful song and this was a fantastic performance, especially considering that Melissa Etheridge had just beat cancer and gets a full standing ovation at the end. Watch it.)

  1. Kerouac. Alcohol.
  2. Hemmingway. Alcohol.
  3. Ginsberg. LSD, cannabis.
"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night, who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz"
- excerpt from Allen Ginsberg's "HOWL"

For some artists, drugs + pain = amazing creativity. It’s hard for me to speculate why exactly this equation makes sense for talented artists and fails miserably for the writhing masses who are just addicts without any artistic outlet. Maybe it’s the need and intense cravings drug addiction produces. Maybe it’s the heightened and inverted emotions that can give perspectives on life that normal society rarely considers. Maybe it’s the intense love for their art that powers them to use drugs in the first place. I’m not really sure.

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