When sitting at home, listening to your favourite records, have you ever stopped to ponder what that piece of music would sound like if the creator was not on some sort of drug? The person you’re listening to may never have indulged in such ‘back alley antics’, but the likelihood is that one of your favourite artists was definitely on some sort of substance when they came up with their latest masterpiece.
The use of drugs in line with creativity is a well documented topic. Artists, and I mean artist in every sense of the word, are often very open about their drug use in the past. They don’t seem scared to talk about it. Is this because they know that the use of a drug aided them on their path to personal and mainstream success? Or is it that they really don’t care how they are viewed by others?
The arts and drug use walk hand in hand down a glorified path, full of prosperity and tragedy. There have been highs for these artists (also in every sense of the word), but there have also been moments of despair. Suicide, mental illness, isolation. The list is endless. Throughout this feature I’ll look at some of the greatest artists that have ever lived, and their drug habits, to pose the question, do the creative industries view drugs as a necessity?
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The influence of mood & genre
Creatives drug use is certainly not limited to a specific genre. Yes, there are certain species of music that maintain a more infamous reputation than others, but drug use is something that is participated in across every form of music.
What I’ve found myself contemplating is this, does it take a certain genre to fuse together with a certain drug to achieve maximum creativity? For example, if an artist wants to make a record drenched in mournful, moody sound perhaps they’ll take a Xanax. If an artist wants to make a record that’s loud and in your face, perhaps they’ll take cocaine.
Joe Strummer, the lead vocalist of The Clash, commented on the subject in a documentary. He said that “every drug has a nature. In the jazz days the saxophone players would be addicted to heroin, and that suited horn playing, because you can float over the music, but it doesn’t suit drumming, which is like hammering a nail into the floor. The beats gotta be there.”
The more you look at it the more it becomes obvious that certain drugs are going to influence different forms of music, but it still remains impossible to completely tie down a drug to a specific sound. In some cases it does, but an artist can still write a sad song if they’re off their head on cocaine. The mood must be there initially, the drugs have their influence, but so much emphasis is put on mood. Your attitude prior to drug use determines what kind of experience you will have on the drug, the same goes for writing a piece of music.
Below is a clip of Nirvana icon Kurt Cobain speaking about how his moodiness and ‘things that piss him off’ played a major influence in the grungy, melancholic sound that Nirvana became known for.