Me & My Shadow: A 30-Year Journey Avoiding The Pitfalls of Abuse

by | Feb 23, 2015 | Industry News

Usually I reserve personal thoughts and interjections for my monthly “letter from the editor” piece, which oddly, people seem to respond pretty well to. But for this issue, I felt more explanation was necessary than I could squeeze in a 3-inch column. So here it goes.

When I was young, maybe 11-years-old, I read an interview with Frank Zappa. Great stuff, as is always the case with Frank, but what stood out most was an exchange the interviewer had about Frank’s guitar/gear collection. To paraphrase, he asked Frank how he could afford so much stuff, to which Frank replied something to the effect of: “Simple. I don’t do cocaine.” That mantra has stuck with me for over twenty years.

For the record, I don’t do cocaine, either. In fact I don’t imbibe much of anything (besides the occasional fruity cocktail, preferably with as many slices of pineapple and mini-umbrellas as possible). Part of that is due to the impact of that quote, and part of that is because I’ve seen the destructive nature of drugs of abuse (including alcohol) firsthand, in a number of people who’ve been close to me throughout various points in my life. Put simply: drugs and booze don’t seem like a whole lot of fun when you grow up in a house with an alcoholic father and have to watch one of your close friends detox from heroin at the age of sixteen.

Don’t worry, everyone turned out OK. My dad and I are talking again after an eight-year hiatus, and my old friend is alive, well, and still making music today.

But the glamour and appeal of the bigger-than-life rock star, with their drug-fueled lifestyles that were ever-present during my childhood just seemed, well…not so glamorous anymore. It was kind of a joke, and kind of dangerous…and serious all at once. It’s complicated.

Another standout memory for me was my first club show. I was a teenager, and it was at the now-defunct Daddy-O’s club in Springfield, Massachusetts. I had gone to see a friend’s band, Surge, perform one of their first shows in the area after releasing their debut cassette (yeah, tape, I’m old). Anyway, one of the opening acts was a road-beaten, leather-clad gang of Uriah Heep-looking rejects with ancient gear and even more ancient “old ladies.” It was sad, really. This band (whose name escapes me) had minor success in the late 1970s and was still duking it out on the shitty club circuit. A few minutes with them and it was easy to see why. The guys were all drunk, high, a mixture of both, perhaps? They were so wasted and vacant they could barely stand upright, let alone perform a coherent set. It was sad. That’s the feeling I remember the most, how sad and pathetic and pointless it all was. I could see how the potential was drained out of them, year-by-year, drink-by-drink, show-by-show, and I just felt bad for them.

A lot of artists think that only big-name stars can be role models or influences to young kids. But on that day, some random group of middle-aged rockers had a bigger influence on me than any of the mainstream bands I worshipped at the time. That’s another issue, though, one we cover in-depth later on in this special issue. I urge all indie artists to read that article, as you may not even be aware what your actions and social media posts may be doing to younger fans.

But what really got me? My first writing gigs, probably. I started out where a lot of people start out – in the morgue (so to speak). That is to say, writing obituaries. Doing a hundred or so of those on various celebrities taught me something – a helluva lot of talented people weren’t able to win their battles against substance abuse, and we’ve lost too damn many artistic geniuses to drug and drink.

I promised myself this wouldn’t be too preachy, so I apologize. But there you have it. Shaking my head each time I had to write one of those awful things, cursing under my breath at the idiocy of it all – feeling frustrated and helpless at the same time. I understood addiction. I’d seen it up close. I’d felt its effects. I even believe there’s an addictive quality in me that I’m (thankfully) able to keep in check. But unless you’re in the throes of addiction, actively battling your demons day-by-day, you can never really understand what people are going through. Like I said, it’s a frustrating business to be in. I’ve seen talented kids on the verge of major breakthroughs throw it all away for a hit of shit. Absolute shit. And poof – all the promise was gone.

So, that’s my long-winded segue into answering the question you’re probably asking: why are we doing a drug issue? Certainly not to be a downer, or to be preachy (although I guess I failed at that, already), or to attract more readers (this isn’t exactly a sexy topic). There are no Nancy Reagan sponsorships here, I assure you. This issue was simply mean to be an open, honest look at the drug culture and its effects on the music scene. We didn’t want it to be a “Just Say No” propaganda issue – rather, we wanted to examine the devastation drugs of abuse are capable of, as well as the role they play in the creative process for musicians. I felt we’d be doing a disservice by simply loading the pages with anti-drug sentiments. But, after speaking with a number of artists who do partake in recreational drugs, the sentiments kept coming back more or less the same: there weren’t a whole lot of upsides to speak of. I guess growing up in the ’80s wasn’t exactly the best barometer for how real artists perceive drugs. What I mean to say is, while it was sort of fun watching Mötley Crüe engage in all manner of debauchery, most artists nowadays see that as, and I quote, “pure clown shoes.”

But we know that not all use is abuse, and that substances have played (and will likely continue to play) major roles in the writing and recording process for a number of bands. We wanted to share that side, warts and all, because we understand that it’s part of the culture. We’ve interviewed bands in the past who swear by their use of psychedelics (see: White Orange) and artists who smoke weed almost religiously as part of their process. And we even got a testimonial (which you can read here) from an artist who swears by drugs as part of their artistic fuel.

At the end of the day, I learned a lot more than I expected, and confirmed a number of things I had assumed to be true. What I’ll leave with is this: I’m not going to stand on some holier-than-thou pedestal condemning what grown adults choose to do with their bodies. That’s not my place. I think Kevin Smith sums it up best in his podcasts when he says, “Handle your high.” If you can handle it, then who the hell am I to judge or shake my finger disapprovingly at you? If you can’t handle it…well, that’s another matter. Smith nearly lost his friend and (no pun intended) muse, Jason Mewes, to heroin abuse too many times to count. And we’d hate to see any of our readers head down paths they can’t get back from. We even have an article with resources especially for musicians who may be struggling with addiction. We urge you to read it even if you’re not facing these problems yourself, since you never know when you might be in a position to help someone you care about.

The bottom line is this: I don’t want to write any more needless obituaries. And I don’t want to see any more talent wasted. I’ve seen enough.

-Benjamin Ricci

photo by by Nono Fara