A lot of people have this romantic image of something I call “the tormented artist.” This could be someone who engages in any kind of artistic expression (writer, musician, actor, etc.) and is addicted to something. It could be alcohol or drugs. The general population believes this addiction is what fuels the person’s creativity.
I am here to say: that is bull shit, and it is a VERY dangerous myth to hold on to.
I’m sure some folks reading this have gotten drunk before. You are uncoordinated and lethargic. You may FEEL more lively because your inhibitions are lowered when you get drunk, but alcohol is indeed classified as a depressant.
The same holds true of heroin, a drug that claimed the lives of many musicians that were popular when I was a teenager. Some notable names are: Hilel Slovak (the original guitarist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers), Lane Staley (singer of Alice in Chains), Andrew Wood (singer of Mother Love Bone), and Kurt Cobain (guitarist and singer for Nirvana). Some would argue that a gunshot took Cobain’s life…not heroin…but I say he wouldn’t have been miserable enough to feel suicide was his only option if it hadn’t been for heroin. If you are familiar with this drug at all, then you know that junkies reach a point where they “nod out.” It’s kind of hard to be a musical genius and write awe-inspiring songs when you are unconscious!
Long story short: yes, some of the most amazing musicians have been addicts or alcoholics. However, I am just saying that it is NOT these substances that gifted them. The only thing alcohol and drugs has managed to do is take some wonderful talent from us way too soon.
There are plenty of musicians out there regarded as brilliant and/or influential who have never had substance abuse problems. I’m sure they have all partied hard in their day, but it never affected their output. One example would be my favorite songwriter, Billy Corgan. The man has to be one of the most prolific musicians of his generation, but Cobain has a stronger legacy than him simply because he burned out so fast. Nirvana put out three albums…Corgan (in various musical incarnations) still puts out music TO THIS DAY. Whether his songs were ever worth anything or if today’s stuff lives up to his heyday is up for debate, but you cannot deny the fact that his body of work swallows Cobain’s whole and has room for seconds…and thirds!
I guess what disturbs me the most is that kids who want to be musicians think THEY have to get as messed up as their idols to make great music. I read an interview with Lane Staley where he said kids would come up to him and say, “I love your album, man. I’m high right now!” Lane said he would think to himself, “Oh, man, that’s not what I meant at all. Heroin is NOT cool.” And that’s coming from a guy who KNEW. If that doesn’t say it all, I don’t know what does.