Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Songs of Addiction

Celebrity rehab: everybody's doing it. Not really--I just wanted a grabby topic sentence. If you are a celebrity and you are in rehab, you'll need good downloads for your iPod as you hasten your way towards sobriety. Why so many musicians gravitate toward drugs and alcohol is a study unto itself. Let us heed their been-there/done-that wisdom as we open our eyes to a clear-headed view of the world.

"When Uncle Bill Quit Dope" - There's no question that Johnny Cash is one of the coolest cats in the universe. Even in the after-life, he is no doubt wowing his peers with his marvelous story-telling through song. Here's a surprisingly cheerful rendition of the werewolf-like horrors of withdrawal.

In 1971 Black Sabbath wrote a classic love song to marijuana called "Sweet Leaf" that I would argue was the birthplace of grunge. By 1987, The Butthole Surfers were the perfect band to cover this song and make it their own. I'm including their version here, entitled "Sweat Loaf," because it's massively strange and it rocks. But also because it's a little scary, like the paranoid feeling when you can't find your keys after smoking a doobie. Or like when you fear you're turning into your friend's ugly plaid couch and the REO Speedwagon video on the TV isn't as bad as you remembered it when sober. Not that I have any experience with either of those scenarios.

"Sunshine Superman" - Did Donovan write any songs in the 60s that weren't about drugs? Pick any of his hits--they all sound druggy (in a good way). He's underrated among composers and songwriters. They tend to dismiss him as a light-weight. But his songs hold up; they're unique and interesting ditties. It didn't last though. He had his moment--a color-drenched, swirly moment in time...

"Purple Haze" - Hey, what's going on there in that purple haze? Jimi Hendrix was the Mozart of rock and had the rare experience of being ahead of his time just before everyone was completely ready for his sound. Imagine if he was happening just five years before his breakthrough in the late 60s. They would have called him undisciplined, pointlessly loud, a sub-par singer. In fact, they did call him that, when he was touring as a hired guitarist with Little Richard and other performers. But after he heard Bob Dylan and found his voice as a soloist, the world fell right into step. Then the abundance of drugs ruined everything.

"My Drug Buddy" - Gee, The Lemonheads were a great 90s band until singer/songwriter Evan Dando spiraled down into his black hole of darkness. He's back now and touring again but he seems burned out. With his Andy Warhol-superstar looks, clever lyrics and excellent melodies, he should have been HUGE. Much bigger than his one-time cohort Courtney Love. Nobody said life was fair. "Drug Buddy" is sad and real. It depresses me and sounds achingly familiar at the same time.

"There's a Tear in my Beer" - Hank Williams (Sr.) was a drinker and a drug taker, which is too bad because his addictions ruined his health and he died before he reached 30. A singular talent.

"Good Morning Heartache" - Billie Holiday's life was very tragic. Growing up she went through every kind of misery imaginable and you can hear it in her beautiful, unique voice. Her addictions eventually affected her voice and prematurely ended her life at 44. I try to focus on her work, which was her gift to the world.

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