The other day I was thinking, scary I know, about music and the arts in general. I am not sure what led to this line of thought but sometimes when you let you mind wonder you stumble upon some things that are worth exploring. I got to thinking about musicians and how so many of the greats had or at one time experimented with drugs. Then this line of thought spilled over into the other arts as well, so I decided to do a little research and see what I could find.
In my mind I already knew that most musicians including most of my favorites used or abused drugs during their careers. Jimi Hendrix, whose drug use was legendary, was the first that came to mind, followed by Kirt Cobain, Jim Morrison, Chris Cornell, the list goes on and on. As I stated above I started to do a little research and found the numerous painters, writers, and poets all used drugs during their now famous careers. So the question is this, do drugs or mind altering substances, despite their downfalls, have a legitimate place in our society for the creation of music and other mediums of art?
I want to step away from the political aspect of this argument and focus on a different side, one that never gets discussed and maybe it should? I do not think it is a secret that mind altering substances have been linked to some of the most famous artist throughout history. So if these artist, whoever they may be, never experimented with their drug of choice would they be remembered for the their artistic contribution to society? I would argue probably not, but it is tough to say.
Without heroine or opium would Charles Dickens have written A Christmas Carol, would Cobain have written Smells Like Teen Spirit launching the grunge movement. Would Edgar Allan Poe be remembered for his poems without his excessive alcoholism, same with Hemmingway. Stephen King who has struggled with addiction to prescription pills and alcohol, would he have written some of the best and most famous horror novels of all time without those substances?
I will play devil’s advocate, for every artist that I name there is at least one that is just as famous that did not use any sort of mind altering substance during their illustrious careers. Off the top of my head and I would call myself a laymen of most categories, meaning that I only know a few of the most famous artist in the genre: Painters- Van Gough, yes used drugs extensively during his painting career. Rembrandt, could find nothing that suggested he was a user of drugs. Salvidor Dali, nothing I could find said he did, but there is much speculation about his private life. On to musicians, I would say that almost everyone playing rock and roll in the 60’s and 70’s was experimenting with something, which I think also helps explain the explosion of great music from that time. Even Miles Davis who is one of the greatest Jazz musicians of all time was known to use drugs extensively during his career as well. Fast forward to modern hip hop and rap music. Lil Wayne has never hid his use of marijuana and “sizzurp”, Snoop Dogg, or Lion, not sure what he calls himself now, has also struggled with substance abuse. The list goes on…
This argument is the ultimate conundrum. As I have mentioned above many if not all of my favorite artist have used drugs and had they not done so would they still be my favorite or would they even be remembered? So if some of yours and my favorite artist were never allowed to experiment with mind altering substances how would history remember them? I don’t know the answer to that, but in a roundabout way recreational drug use in the artistic world is, in my mind, equivalent to Performance Enhancing Drugs (PED’s) in the athletic world. Do artist who take drugs have an edge over those who don’t?
I guess the point I am trying to make is, is do we need to seriously think about legalizing drugs for creative purposes? I will say that not just in the artistic world do drugs make a strong appearance. Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs was known to dabble in various mind altering substances. Do we as a society need drugs to help create art or use them to help design the next new technological breakthroughs. I think this is a genuine question but I think everyone is quick to jump on the wagon that all drugs are bad and ruin lives. While I do not disagree with that sentiment I think it is a little unfair to jump to that conclusion. And again I want to be clear that I am not saying that we as a society need to legalize any substance. I was just raising the question that without those substances would there be a Stairway to Heaven, a Shoot to Thrill, a Starry Night, The Stand, The Raven, and countless other great works that will never fade away and be forgotten.
Perhaps one day in the future there will be a place where you can get any mind altering substance and use it for creative purposes. To touch on the political side a little, and I am not an advocate for legalizing drugs, I do not know what the best solution will be. Just something to think about…