“I don’t do drugs, I am drugs.” Salvador Dali
When I was a kid, I used to look up at the sky at twilight in wonderment. It seemed to hold so many possibilities and secrets. The azure blanket sent sparks all around my brain, setting off a demented creativity. I would write weird stories, come up with silly songs; think about a future where I wouldn’t be an accountant or engineer like everyone I knew. I wanted to explore the otherness of the world around me, the flashing lights in the sky, the wrong colours of the morning, the glow around people that wasn’t from the Ready Brek commercials. I didn’t want the boring cycle of cigarettes leading to alcohol all the way to heroin. Fuck that, I thought, looking up at that blue sky, the entrance to space as I saw it. This was my gateway drug.
Back in the late eighties, early nineties, certain freedoms seemed to enfold. There was a push away from conservatism, toward activism and self-expression. The city streets were filled with identity. Goths, metallers, punks, indie types, grunge, clubbers and a fair few paisley shirts could be seen on a sunny afternoon in any park anywhere, all trying to carve out their corner of the universe. The schoolbag was your canvas and your social media account: The Pixies and the Stone Roses; The Cure and the Smiths; Metallica and Slayer. Take one look at the schoolbag and you knew roughly who this guy or girl was. Those who had nothing on their schoolbags belonged to a world that seemed to abhor creativity. I mean, fuck them. Probably got them free from their local bank.
We were the Generation X-ers. A term which I hate as it fits into the niche of the marketing rather than the human experience. We weren’t all out wandering about like we were living in the Douglas Coupland novel. Maybe we were a little more disaffected about society than the baby boomers and maybe there was a more nihilistic quality to the art that flourished in that time. However, plenty seized on the money train and those who grew up to be politicians followed the same template as those who came before them. So who were these Generation X-ers? I was a slacker by heart but a worker by necessity. When I left school it became apparent that everybody financed their weekends with the drudgery of a working week. Who was I to go against that wretched tide? The art that was created had to be worked at and refined. It was a serious business and its legacy can be seen in that all the bands from the slacker era are still gigging and producing nearly 30 years later.
Naturally, staring at the sky led me to want to see it in different ways, with a constant soundtrack running through my head usually through a skinny silver Sony walkman, an artefact which I still miss because post-punk doesn’t sound right to me on digital devices. I wanted to see that sky through different eyes, with different emotions. Identifying myself as an other meant I did exactly the same things as everyone else like me, but I considered it individual. The first hit off that cigarette waiting for the bus at 7am would give you a headrush for at least twenty minutes before you had that second cigarette upstairs on the bus, full volume Ride album smashing your eardrums as with every other sleepy soul in that foggy vehicle. My greasy long hair didn’t really work as long hair in the conventional sense but it was mine. I looked pale and like shit most of the time. This was the look I was going for. I can’t imagine that sullen fucker’s face being a profile pic in today’s vanity driven social world. My vanity was completely at odds with reality, existing in my head, a place I longed to get out of.
Everything seemed a bit more real in the 90s. There was a conscious attempt to get away from the 1980s and all its shiny accoutrements. The jet set life of Duran Duran, cocaine, models and champagne didn’t fit in well with the grim realities of unemployment, terrorism and social upheavel. You had to search out your favourite bands, getting excited if an Iron Maiden or House of Love album appeared in your tiny record shop or repeatedly harassing the owner whether he had the latest Fall or Wedding Present album. It was a cycle: save up the money, hit the shop, buy the album. Listen on repeat for two weeks then start the process again. I still know the lyrics to albums I haven’t listened to in 25 years. I kept the cassettes beside my bed which as a 12 year old provided a tiny curtain to hide the empty cans of beer behind. Experimentation is the key to creativity right? So swig a bit of Harp, realise it was disgusting, hide the can under the bed. Swig some stout. Ugh I hate this. Swig another bottle of stout. How do people drink this stuff? More and more and more…until my mother cleaned my room, pulled back the bed and found thirty empty cans. She cried and cried despite my protestations that every 12-year-old experiments and I wasn’t a raging alcoholic.
My eldest sister got me into smoking which I remind her of to this day. 1987, I was at U2, my first gig, wide eyed with wonderment. Lou Reed was there too. Who was this guy? That guy’s amazing. People were drinking cans, everyone was smoking. I was a sports nut but these people seemed cool, so this is where it was at. Sis handed me a fag and asked if I wanted a drag. I didn’t hesitate and started a lung support structure which would only end a few months shy of my 40th birthday. I know it is ridiculous, but smoking WAS cool despite what the ads said. It was. Maybe not for the non-smokers, but smokers looked at each other with a “we’re dying together” sense of community. Like the schoolbags you could tell what kind of person you were by what you smoked. I smoked Marlboro Reds from a young age because I was into all things American. The USA was cool, unlike today. The lead crackled as you dragged the smoke into your immortal body. Tarantino, Jim Jarmusch, David Lynch. Their movies formed me. Everyone smoked.
“Hair and drug-use issues notwithstanding, I’ve never thought of you as any less than professional.” ― Thomas Pynchon
My other sister and her friend introduced me to hash. I was the cool younger brother on display. I’d do anything to be cool. Being cool wasn’t a vanity thing for me. It was what seemed to be the mode d’emploie. The first hit from the joint didn’t make me cough but acted as a giant weight which sat on my soul pushing me down on to the carpet and forcing me to look up at the sky. That blue sky from earlier now looked fucking amazing, displaying an array of possibilities. This was where this fourteen-year old wanted to be. From then on, this was as important to me as the rugby team I was playing for, the writing, the friends. There were a lot of drugs out there and I wanted them and I wanted to get fucked up. It was a plan, right?
I drifted toward people who looked like they would get me what I wanted. There was very little weed around when I was a teenager, so hash was the only option. Leb or Soapbar. Soap always was a happy fun time drug, making music immersive and the world a bit brighter. We were knee-deep in the grunge phase and drugs formed part of the miserabilism (except it was fun). These days at school discos, the girls are dressed like Kardashians, whereas in the 90s it was plaid shirts, big jumpers, big pants and wooly hats. Well, apart from the line dancers. Nothing prepares you for the shock of finding out that people you knew all your life donned cowboy shirts and formation danced, all fuelled by a combination of Budweiser and vodka. Being stoned in that scene did bad things for your karma. I drank as much as I could find too. There was no point where I found real life acceptable. Everything had to have an edge. An evening would be for getting wasted. The daytime could be more pleasurable with a small amount of acid.
I found hash led me to my more indie tastes. As Linklater’s “Slacker” came out, a movie about people in Austen, Texas just hanging around, I decided to work hard at doing nothing, but well. With the lazy ramshackle music of Pavement and Mudhoney and then the darker Nick Cave stuff, I formed an identity (mostly hidden) but recognised by my own type. It was almost masonic. You are like me, we are not like them. I slouched from here to there. Got some of my more conservative friends to start taking stuff. Like a dick, I pressurised them. They agreed but I had to be careful how far I pushed my druggy agenda, because not everyone is mentally capable of this world. Later, I would include myself in this category. Working hard at being a slacker was generally exhausting.
Soon, you began to notice the styles around you. We were drifting into acid, while others were heading straight to ecstasy. Being misanthropic, the Tolkienesque world of blue skies, nature and walking around for 12 hours in tie-dyed t-shirts appealed to me more than the dayglo t-shirts and fiver in the wallet mentality of clubbers. However, dance music invaded my world, not so much through the house music crowd, but the grimy, weirdo intelligent dance music, Aphex Twin side of it. The clubs were dirtier, purposefully. The drugs were dirtier. People danced in t-shirts that should have been thrown out years ago. There was an nihilistic spirit to the whole enterprise. Whereas the loved up crowd would want to hug everyone, the underlying sinister vibes of the places I went added to the excitement. The trip was all that mattered. Something had to be constantly happening.
What I did notice the more I made drugs my existence was the commonplace situation of being in a dealer’s flat. The grim, shitty pretence of having to like this person to get them a) not to rip you off and b) shut up long enough that you could get your stuff and get the fuck out of there. Friends decided that the dealer was their friend and that hanging out there was the ultimate experience. People from well-off backgrounds were suddenly spouting urban patois. Also, individual identities changed. Colour drained out of my friends. Their clothes became, well, just like everybody else’s. There was no style. These drugs opened their minds but the culture closed them rapidly. I got sick of these dealers and found my own way of getting stuff.
“Whether you sniff it smoke it eat it or shove it up your ass the result is the same: addiction.” ― William Burroughs
Grunge ended after Cobain died. Music got darker and so did I. Drugs became a crutch. Industrial music invaded my world and I shaved most of my hair off, leaving a floppy mess on top, and started dressing in black. When I get dark, I actually get dark. I was smoking constantly, drinking constantly with the aid of my little wraps of dirty speed. My friends and I would take a load of speed, hit the pub, drink hysterical amounts of alcohol, run out of speed and all get blind drunk instantly before last orders. It was a fun game, except you had to be an accountant to factor in the cost of the speed with all the booze. The upside of all this was that you were hilarious, the down side was that you were hilarious and completely unattractive to most women. I was hardly a catch with a smudge of greasy hair, my over worn Pigface t-shirt and my speed-driven gum rolling. I once went on a date where both of us realised we were on speed by our last drink. Despite having a great evening, she looked at me and I at her and we both thought, “You lied to me!”
Around the time I started messing with cocaine, my drug use had become cliched, and I also started to suffer anxiety. I had a tendency to fly from rooms and friends got really annoyed because they thought I was just being an asshole. I would throw them out of my place because I could feel the adrenaline rushing and needed to be alone. I didn’t know what was happening to me, so naturally, of course, I assumed I was dying. One night after a particularly heavy session, I had a full on panic attack. Thinking it was my heart, I crawled down to my parents’ room and forced them to bring me to the hospital. My dad, pissed off, drove fast and at one point turned and asked, “Do you have a pain in your chest?” I said, “No.” And he went, “You’re not having a heart attack so.”
The Junior Doctor forced to deal with me turned out to be a beautiful girl who I kinda knew from across the road. My anxiety had gone and the horrible sensation of realising where I was at in my life kicked in. She tried to not feel contempt for me. I mean she really tried. A few weeks later I tried to cure a panic attack with a line of cocaine. Don’t recommend it. This was smack bang the end of my drug adventures. It was done, over, kaput. I had overdone it. I had become boring and the people who I used to have so much fun with were boring druggies too. I suffered with anxiety for a number of years before I started to turn around. I was caught in a hinterland where I had lost a fair few friends, my taste in clothes was functional and I had shaved my head because I had no more imagination. I had started a new career and needed to become that guy, a working stiff. Something which I have never quite recovered from.
Years later, I was sitting in a bar chatting to my best friend feeling sorry for myself about where I was at in my life and career and wishing maybe I had cooled it a bit back in my youth and concentrated more on becoming a doctor or whatever. I knew stupid people who had passed me by. I received invitations to school events, but didn’t want to see those people. I complained about my stupidity. He was getting pissed off at me and eventually cracked, grabbed me by the shoulders and loudly said,
“Shut the fuck up. I was there. I saw you. You had a fucking great time. Even at the end when things started getting shitty, you were still having a better fucking time than some of the rest of us. You did it to yourself. No-one else. You. And you had a ball.”
“Unlike some men, I had never drunk for boldness or charm or wit; I had used alcohol for precisely what it was, a depressant to check the mental exhilaration produced by extended sobriety.” ― Frederick Exley