Can newly sober musicians still make good music? Like Clapton, Aerosmith, and others before him, Snoop Dogg is giving up intoxicants. But Tom Sinclair wonders if his fans will follow
Can newly sober musicians still make good music?
A writer friend of mine likes to tell an anecdote about a jazz musician he once interviewed. They were discussing the relationship between making music and using drugs and alcohol. ”I guess there are musicians out there who’ve never smoked no reefer, never took no pills, never drank no whiskey,” the jazzman mused, before fixing my friend with a sardonic stare and asking, ”But what kind of musician is THA?”
I was reminded of that story a couple of weeks ago during a surprising interview of my own with rapper Snoop Dogg in which he informed me that he is now clean and sober. That’s right: Snoop — once dubbed ”the Maharaja of Marijuana” in the pages of Entertainment Weekly — has forsworn the devil weed, gin and juice, and all other intoxicants.
This is impressive. As Snoop told me, prior to his decision to clean up his act he had been going through between three and four ounces of pot a day, spiking his high with liberal doses of alcohol. So much of Snoop’s mythology has been based on his being perpetually loaded (he was awarded the Stoner of the Year Award by High Times magazine some months back) that the notion of his opting to live the straight life takes some getting used to.
Personally, I wish him all the luck in the world. Getting clean and sober is a brave step for anyone to take, whether they are famous or not. It’s certainly no secret that drugs and alcohol have robbed us of scores of greats — from Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Elvis Presley to, most recently, Alice in Chains’ Layne Staley and Dee Dee Ramone, to name but a few.
Of course, not every musician who uses drugs or alcohol becomes an addict or an alcoholic. But an unhealthy dependence on chemical substances does appear to be an occupational hazard. There’s a famous quote by the French Symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud about making oneself a seer by ”an immense, long, deliberate derangement of all the senses,” and plenty of musicians seem to be following that program — or at least Gregg Allman’s simplified version of it: ”Just leave your mind alone and just get high.”
Worse, all too many fans feed into the myth of the self-destructive artist, romanticizing and emulating their heroes’ bad behavior and winding up with soul-crushing alcohol and/or drug habits in the process. I’ve actually known people who claim to have started using heroin because of the Velvet Underground song ”Heroin” — or because Charlie Parker or Art Pepper or Kurt Cobain or whoever their fave icon might be did the drug. Likewise, I’ve known folks who’ve sat around getting blind drunk while spinning Gil Scott-Heron’s ”The Bottle,” a devastatingly graphic song about alcoholism.
Of course, the causes of addiction run far deeper than a song or some rock or rap star’s image, but only a fool would deny that musicians’ lifestyles often have a powerful influence on their fans. It’ll be interesting to see how Snoop’s constituency reacts to his recent announcement. My guess is, if he can keep producing quality music, they’ll keep buying it. And who knows? Some of them might even be moved to follow his example. Certainly, giving up intoxicants hasn’t hurt converts to the clean and sober life like Eric Clapton, Aerosmith, Korn’s Jonathan Davis, or Lou Reed (the guy who wrote ”Heroin”). As Snoop told me, ”I’ve driven a lot of niggas over the cliff” by espousing the stay-high lifestyle. Now, let’s see how many he can save.
What do you think? Is experimenting with drugs and alcohol a requirement for being a musician?