Music and drugs, drugs and music, they seem to go hand in hand. History has left us many examples of the degradation an artist or a group can suffer when they decide to bring the two together.
The fusion of music and drugs has its own history, which goes back to the 1950’s and the birth of Rock and Roll.
Since then ‘Sex and drugs and Rock and Roll’ became a topic destined to follow music on its journey. Alcohol would be the drug that defined that decade and Elvis Presley the one who rose to be King in a post-war European society dreaming of prosperity.
During the ’60s the population felt alive, and despite years stained by the Vietnam War, the Hippy movement was strong.
It was the Beatles’ songs which characterized the era, along with The Rolling Stones, Bob Marley, The Who and Bob Dylan among many others. For this happy generation LSD became the drug par excellence, a substance which altered consciousness and promised to create a new world.
Ten years later in the 70’s society woke up from the Hippy dream, and turned back to reality with the political tensions of the Cold War.
Music then turned into a vehicle for protest and expression in the face of political instability. So Punk was born, one of the most contentious movements of the 20th century.
The group The Clash and the drug Heroin are what best represent the spirit of that time, and others like the New York Dolls, Pink Floyd or Queen also led the way.
In the ’80s the philosophy of Existentialism was reborn, emphasizing the individual as a source of life; the economy began to flourish and new technologies emerged which changed the nature of music.
Mixers and synthesizers helped to create what would be the beginning of electronic music. In these years everyone was looking for the energy of movement, and this made Cocaine and all the other ‘aines’ popular. In Spain it was the decade of La Movida, when Nacha Pop, Radio Futura or Los Pegamoides filled the nights.
After these years of madness the 90’s arrived with its more sophisticated electronic and alternative music. Ecstasy was still the party drug as it had been in the previous decade, and Chemical Brothers the ones who gave the times a push.
Many of the great names were carried to their end by drugs.
Kurt Cobain, lead singer of Nirvana shot himself in the head, and was known to be a Heroin addict.
Jimi Hendrix, the Afro-American guitarist and also addicted to alcohol and drugs, drowned in his own vomit. Michael Jackson died from a Cardiac Arrest caused by an excessive abuse of Cocaine and other drugs throughout his career.
Another case where the decadence of drug-dependency is clearest is that of ‘The King of Rock and Roll’, Elvis Presley.
All though his life he had serious health problems, began taking drugs in the army to keep himself awake, and later others for insomnia. He was addicted to medicines, using one to counteract the effects of others. Sedatives, Amphetamines, sleeping pills and alcohol may have been the cause of his early death.
Other well-known cases include the various members of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. The successful band also had its flirtations with drugs.
Vocalist Anthony Kiedis and his ex-guitarist Hillel Slovak lived through difficult times because of these substances. In 1988 Slovak died from a Heroin overdose at the age of 26.
Kiedis had better luck and managed to rehabilitate himself to continue playing with the group. Their song Under the Bridge reflects that period of the singer’s life.
Meanwhile the Kings of Léon have stated “Cocaine is the basis of our routine”. The group admitted having a phase of madness from which they managed to escape, and say that they only became what they are now thanks to leaving behind their bad habits.
On the Spanish music scene the story of addicts includes Seguridad Social, Mecano, Rosendo, Los Pegamoides, Antonio Vega and Joaquín Sabina, among countless musicians who have admitted their addiction to drugs at some stage in their musical careers.
(Translated by Graham Douglas: Ondastropicais@yahoo.co.uk