the jazz authority; random dubiously zappy rants about 'the musicians music'.: Musicians & Drugs... cleaning up our act.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Musicians & Drugs... cleaning up our act.

Musicians and drugs. Everybody knows the stereotype: too cool for their own good, ultra night owl, always with a drink in their hand, and always looking for the next party. Not every musician is an irresponsible delinquent, but some are. I used to be. A few years ago I cleaned up my act and quit drinking and drugging. I didn't stop having fun though. I used to wonder why anyone would want to live life without getting loaded all the time. I played all my gigs so out of my mind that by the end I was often left worshiping the porcelain god. Now I play a mean sax, and I got away with that for a few years, but the reputation and the lifestyle caught up and eventually people came to see this party animal as unreliable. That's where the stereotype comes in again.

So like I said, I cleaned up my act just over four years ago, and I gotta tell you that for this musician life is way better this way. I'm not suggesting that everyone out there should quit drinking and whatnot (I don't care if you like to get high... it's none of my business) but if you have had problems in the past and are thinking about cleaning up your act, it might be a good idea. I didn't think it could be done; play gigs, go to after parties and keep my nose clean? I really didn't think that someone could do it. Clifford Brown did it. Today I know a few cats that don't drink and life didn't end for them either. In fact, for some people out there, learning to be a musician 'sans dope' is the best thing we could have done for ourselves. I've played with bands where everyone gets high before the show, during the show, and after the show. I just go for a walk when they go for a 'band conference' in the van. My band mates know not to offer me a beer and it's no big deal. But the rewards are huge. I've saved a whack of cash staying clean and sober. I'm known as a reliable sideman and hard worker. I get to shows early, stay on my game all night, and leave with cash in my pocket.

So yeah, the whole reason that I chose to stop drinking and getting high was because it was blowing my whole life. I pretended for a few years that it was no big deal, but everyone knew that I was getting worse and worse. By writing this post I'm hoping that maybe someone who wants to quit will find the inspiration to do so. Also, I'm not too proud to share a little bit of my sordid past for the sake of entertainment. Dance monkey dance...

One time I was playing a show with a ska band and we were in a club with a stage 3 feet off the floor. By the time the second set finished I had so much to drink that I couldn't see straight. Well, I went to walk out into the crowd, with my sax hanging off of my neck, and stepped straight off the stage without knowing I was up on it. Fortunately my foot was directly under me and my knee was locked so I didn't fall over after I walked/fell off the stage. I was embarrassed and I don't know how many people noticed this, but it's not like it was a big secret that I was drinking like a fish that night.

Now that's not the dumbest thing I've ever done, but it's a good example of how I operated. We can glamourize the lifestyle that big artists are portrayed to be living, but at the top those cats have their stuff together. In Miles' autobiography he talked about how the drugs didn't do anything except screw up his life. Bird died young from living hard, and we all know it was the obsessive woodsheding that made him an amazing musician – not living on the streets, skipping out on gigs, pawning his saxophone or going through withdrawls in the studio. Trane fought long and hard to quit using junk after Hank Mobley got him hooked at a fatefull recording session. When he did quit, he became a heavy drinker and later experimented with hallucinogens and psychedelic drugs. He died of liver failure too. Jimi Hendrix, Janice Joplin, Stan Getz, and on and on – they confused a lot of people regarding the role drugs played in their music. All of them went on record to say that the drugs did nothing for their music. Period.
To get to the top it would do one well to sort out ones' priorities. If you skip out on band practices because it gets in the way of your high, or if you are more concerned about the free drinks at shows than the pay, or how to find the potheads but not how to get the crowd dancing, then I have some tough truths for you.
  1. You're gonna go on in your life to be a great party animal – not a great musician.
  2. There's room at the top for hard workers who a better than average players, but no room for amazing musicians that let their drugs get in the way.
  3. Believe it or not, the great musicians who are really working and bringing in some cash are almost universally kind, patient and hard working artists that keep their noses clean and stay focussed on their music.

Well I guess it's time to get off of my soapbox and let y'all just work it out for yourselves. If you like to get loaded once in a while and it really doesn't get in the way of the rest of your life then go ahead and do your thing. If you are sick of 'coming too' in the morning instead of waking up like the rest of the world then know that you can get your life back on track if you want to.

Feedback is welcome on this post.

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