Sunday, May 17, 2009
No Sex in the Champagne Room, But Plenty of Drugs and Rock and Roll
After some goading from a faithful and no doubt severely twisted reader of my befuddled musings, I have decided to plunge ahead with my previously mentioned threat to create the official CD for the drug user in all of us.
In truth, great music would hardly exist without the aid of the occasional narcotic. The oft-frustrated comedian Bill Hicks once yelped, "Drugs have done some good things. If you don't believe me take out all your tapes and CDs and burn 'em. All those musicians who have created all that music that has enhanced your lives over the years? Reeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaalllllllllll fucking high on drugs."
Take warning, though, this will not always be a happy ride - these substances, which can at times expand our consciousness and create great art also can come with the hefty price of addiction, obsession, and even death. I have tried to create a mix that illustrates the whole picture, a drug train, to quote Social Distortion - the good, the bad, and the ugly, building from the softer drugs up to the harder narcotics and their at times terrible consequences.
I will also include some honorable mentions here and there just in case you want to expand the mix into a boxed set.
Since I have already dedicated a mix tape purely to songs about booze, we will skip that silly sissy stuff and move on to the most commonly used illegal narcotic, marijuana, the wacky weed that has inspired countless bards throughout the years.
1. "I Love You Mary Jane" by Cypress Hill and Sonic Youth. Who better to lie in the grass and sing of its joys than the fellows from Cypress Hill, who have nearly created their own genre (ganja rap?) by doing that very thing. The tune, from the Judgement Night Soundtrack, also features hipsters Sonic Youth as the back-up band. Money shot: "Sugar come back, gets me high, if you wanna party, well shit I'm gonna, as soon as she comes...."
2. "Stoned Immaculate" by the Doors. Jim Morrison wrote a short and simple song about the joys of visiting the nether regions which exist within us all. He takes us there by creating a hazy musical atmosphere that has been unmatched by any of his peers (if there can be said to be any) over the last forty years.
Honorable Mentions: "Glazed" by Rocket from the Crypt, "Herojuana" by NOFX, and "Marijuana" by Hayseed Dixie. Why not add "Mr. Bake-O" by Adam Sandler (from the era when he was still occasionally funny) to inject a little comedy into your day? R. Alton has also pointed out my near-criminal negligence in omitting "Smoke Two Joints" by Sublime.
Next up, cocaine: the white powder that rarely kills, but can be ferociously addictive and some claim invariably leads to harder drugs. Some bands wrote a song about it, goes something like this...
3. "Bananas and Blow" by Ween. The masters of any genre they attempt, Ween goes calypso with this gem, that tells of the joys one can experience sitting on the cabana and subsisting solely on the two substances that give the song its name. I can't say I want to drown my nose in white powder afterward, but I sure am ready to relax on the exotic beach and enjoy an alcohol-laced beverage.
4. "Cocaine Blues" by Johnny Cash. "Cocaine Blues" is a warning of a song that takes us on a trip to the darker side of narcotics. It is the story of a man sentenced to "99 years in the Folsom Pen" whose troubles start only after he takes a shot of cocaine.
Honorable Mentions: "Cocaine Lil" by the Mekons. Also, give a listen to the comedy track "Cocaine" by Richard Pryor, someone who had a firsthand experience or two with the Peruvian marching powder. For those of you waiting for country music to be represented, quit before you die of old age, I don't really know any (unless you count Cash). However, a friend of mine recommends Hank Williams "Od'd in Denver."
Time to expand our minds with a little lysergic acid, brewed up in the lab just in time to give birth to the colorful era of the 1960s.
5. "White Rabbit" by Jefferson Airplane. Words don't do justice to this classic, a song that takes Alice down the rabbit hole and into a world that exists in the back of our mind, but can only be reached with a little assist from our friendly neighborhood pharmacist, someone always happy to help you feed your head. Take the pill that makes you larger, take the one that makes you small, just skip the one that doesn't do anything at all.
6. "Third Eye" by Tool. Tool's music often speaks cryptically about the joys of the mind-altering experience, but the band doesn't make any effort to hide their pro-drug leanings in this epic thirteen minute track, from which I have taken the Bill Hicks quote used in the introduction to this piece.
Honorable Mentions: "No LSD Tonight" by Jeffrey Lewis and of course just about anything from the masters of psychedelia, Pink Floyd - let's go with "Comfortably Numb" if you want to pick one single track.
We move to the world of pills, a sordid place where our fear and anxiety can be transformed into serenity with the addition of a few milligrams of Prozac here and a small dose of Xanax there.
7. "Mother's Little Helper" by the Rolling Stones. Who can blame mom if she needs something to calm her down? With a busy day ahead of cleaning and caring for a bunch of crazed rugrats, who wouldn't want to put their head in an oven? A little shelter from the mother's little helper will help to minimize her plight!
8. "That Smell" by Lynyrd Skynyrd. A bit of a stretch for this category I admit, this song is about the inherent dangers of getting too heavily involved in the party scene. Van Zant's brilliant insertion of a line about quaaludes, a mainly forgotten pill commonly abused in the 1970s allows the Southern rockers to eke into this category.
Honorable Mention: If you can find it, there is a great audio track to insert here - the scene from Walk Hard where Tim Meadow's character explains pills to Dewey Cox. There are three or four similar episodes in the flick and if I can get my hand on them, they are going in my collection for sure.
The poppy plant has brought Oriental bliss to the United States for centuries in various forms, from opium to morphine and finally through the joys and ultimate pain of heroin.
9. "Golden Brown" by the Stranglers. A song that rides like a carefree merry-go-round and shares the ecstasy of those first heroin experiences when our brain's pleasure centers are caressed by the narcotic's tempting embrace. Never a frown....golden brown.
10. "Post Blue" by Placebo. Placebo takes us into the future of our heroin abuser, now living in a world of co-dependency where love, drugs, and sex are all part of one emotion, a need to feel something that has been taken away by the years of abusing heroin and other drugs that should have been left in the capable hands of the fashion models who know how to take them in the properly irresponsible manner.
Honorable Mention: "Heroin Girl" by Everclear and "Mr. Brownstone" by Guns N' Roses.
There are of course many other different ways we can abuse our body, and expand our mind, and various combinations in which we may do it. Here are a couple of examples:
11. "Special K" by Placebo. As the only band to appear twice so far, Placebo has clearly earned an advanced degree in writing about drugs (and sex). In order to find new material they have been willing to sample the entire pharmacy, including Special K, also known as ketamine, a cat tranquilizer which has some interesting effects when ingested by humans. To quote an expert:
"At low doses, K is a mild if weird stimulant. At medium to high doses, it becomes a very powerful paralyzing psychedelic. Its effects are like a combination of cocaine, cannabis, opium, nitrous oxide, and alcohol." Sounds like a bit too much fun for me.
12. "Crack Pipe Burned My Hand" by the Coolies. A song that could, I suppose, go into the cocaine category, but this version is chemically altered, more addictive than cocaine, and just so much funnier to talk about for some inexplicable reason that I will leave it to Dave Chappelle to explain to us one day. The Coolies, a defunct band out of the 1990s Atlanta scene, go the humor route on this track and the results are scrumptious enough to make me want to sprinkle crack on a dead hooker.
Honorable Mention: "Hash Pipe" by Weezer and "Methamphetamine Blues" by Mark Lanegan.
Now that we have sampled everything our neighborhood dealer has to offer, let's take a look at the results.
13. "Junkhead" by Alice-in-Chains. One of the most haunting songs ever written, this is the most obvious cry for help among the many attempts Layne Staley made. An unapologetic paean to drug culture, "Junkhead" asks the question, "What's my drug of choice?" and gives the answer "What have you got?" Staley's subsequent death from an overdose leads one to believe he was a little too fervent in practicing what he preached.
14. "Cure for Pain" by Morphine. "Junkhead," which I referred to as haunting, is like a trip through Candyland compared to this frightening suicide note of a composition offered up by bandleader Mark Sandman. Although Sandman would live six years more after "Cure for Pain" was released on the album of the same name, the writing was on the wall. He collapsed of a heart attack and died on stage during a 1999 show in Rome. The money shot: "Someday there'll be a cure for pain -that's the day - I throw my drugs away."
Honorable Mention: Placebo's "Commercial for Levi." Honestly if you turned this mix into a box set you'd have to dedicate a whole CD to Placebo and this song about a man's attempt at saving a friend from addiction would be right at the top of the list. If you want something a little more light-hearted, check out the NOFX jam "Drugs Are Good."
Now that our drug mix has gone to the brink of death - there are only two results: continue on that grim path or to come back from the edge.
15. "The Needle and the Damage Done" by Neil Young. A short and sweet ballad by a man who has produced an endless supply of such gems. When you end with the words, "every junkie is like the setting sun," its safe to assume things have not gone well.
16. "Whoops I Od'd" by NOFX. Known best for their word play and humor, some of which is indeed delightfully juvenile, the boys at this veteran punk outfit can put together a deadly serious song when the urge strikes them. "Whoops I Od'd" is the first person account of a man who has overindulged a bit too often and is in the midst of paying the price for his indiscretion. He is lucky enough to live through the experience, but whether he learns from it or not we do not know.
17. "Gravity" by A Perfect Circle. The last track from the CD "Thirteenth Step"is also the perfect ending for this magical musical tour. The title suggests the wobbly first step taken after a former abuser has completed a twelve-step program. These songs are very personal, as they recount singer Maynard Keenan's attempt to overcome his addiction. "Gravity," which ends with the line, "I choose to live," demonstrates Keenan's determination to end his downward spiral and not end up like Staley and Sandman.
Honorable Mention: If you are a little bit down after these last tracks, kick back with Black Grape's "Get Higher" which mocks American drug policy by using actual audio from Ronald and Nancy Reagan. "Treatment Bound" by the Replacements sticks closer to the motif while somehow still carrying the snotty vibe you can usually expect from most of the band's early catalog. Comedy tracks by Dave Attell and David Cross both entitled "Drugs" will also suck those tears right back up into your welcoming eyeballs.
If you believe I have made any egregious errors here, and if you love music I am sure you do, feel free to suggest any possible omissions, I am always looking to enhance my collection.
Editor's Note: He forgot Blue October's "Hate Me" and K's Choice's "Not An Addict," but what are you gonna do, he's just a junior travel correspondent.