Drugs And Rock And Roll Essay Research

Drugs And Rock And Roll Essay, Research Paper

Music and Drugs

Beginning with the late 1960?s counterculture in San Francisco, music and drugs will forever be inter-linked. Hippie bands such as the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers, and Phish are associated with marijuana, mushrooms, and LSD. Modern electronic ?rave? , or club music is associated with MDMA or Ecstasy. When one thinks of rock and roll, sex and drugs immediately come to mind. While the use of drugs is not essential for the creation or performance of all new music, it was certainly in important factor for the counterculture music of the late 1960?s. While some of the most important and influential music was made with the help of psychoactive drugs, it was often to the detriment of the artist. Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, and countless other tremendously talented artists had their lives cut short due to drug use. Drugs were most often good for the music, but deadly for the music makers.

The general mindset of the 1960?s San Francisco scene is well summarized by Reebee Garafalo in his book Rockin? Out: Popular Music in the USA when he states: ?For the counterculture, the focus on mind-expanding drugs seemed to offer the possibility of greater self-awareness and consciousness, which would in turn lead to a world without war, competition, or regimentation.? The concept of expanding the mind in order to achieve a peaceful, utopian world naturally lends itself to the consumption of drugs. The image of half naked, marijuana smoking hippies dancing around in the park comes to mind when one thinks of the late 60?s Haight-Ashbury scene. Drugs help tremendously in creating an altered state, making one oblivious to the outside world. A great deal of the music was preaching peace, love, and harmony. Drugs made it feel real. When on drugs, everything feels and seems peaceful and utopian, so naturally drugs were incorporated into the experience.

Psychedelics, and drugs in general became such an important part of life during the 60?s that it?s influence was inescapable. Nowhere can this fact be seen more clearly than in the music of the time. The most obvious influence drugs had on music can bee seen in the lyrics. Drug references abound, be it Jimi Hendrix?s ?Purple Haze? of marijuana smoke, or the Beatles? ?Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds?, obviously referring to LSD. Even the names of the bands were drug inspired, as Garofalo points out in reference to the Doors: ?The group took it?s name from Aldous Huxley?s The Doors of Perception, a book about the liberating aspects of drug use.? Even the music itself was influenced by drugs. Take for example much of the music by the Doors. Their song ?the End? is a psychedelic journey in to the world of LSD. The slow beat and ?trippy? music in the song was probably created with the use of drugs and hence is better appreciated when heard while on drugs. This is also true of the music of the Grateful Dead, although this can be much more clearly seen in their live performances as opposed to their studio work. Much of their music is geared specifically toward those in the audience who are on drugs. Hearing one of their 30 minute jams is a much different experience on drugs, and that is the experience that they intended the audience to have. While drugs were very much connected to the music of the sixties, it was hardly the only time such a connection occurred. During the 70?s, 80?s and today drugs and music have always been connected. A good example is today?s prominent rave culture. Instead of marijuana and LSD, the drug of choice at raves is Ecstasy. The music played at raves is designed to heighten the experience of the drug, and the drug heightens the experience of the music.

For many, even today, drugs represent both freedom and rebellion, and that is exactly what the counterculture of the 60?s was about. Unfortunately for many of the musicians, they took this rebellion to extremes. For instance, Janis Joplin, one of the greatest blues women of all time as well as a symbol of rebellion for millions, rebelled too hard and died of a heroin overdose. Drugs were very much a part of her music and the performance of it. One of the most memorable and tragic images I have of Janis, is that of her walking around on stage with a bottle of whisky, constantly taking swigs. Janis sums up the mindset of many in her song ?Get it While You Can? when she sings, ?…but then who cares, baby……cause we may not be here tomorrow.? It is a tragedy that she was taken from us so early in her career because of this mindset. Sadly this was to be the fate of many great musicians of the time. Drugs have and probably always will be connected in some way to the creation and consumption of music. While many musicians have paid the price of the use and/or abuse of drugs, the music that they have left behind is priceless.

1. Garafalo, R. Rockin? Out: Popular Music in the USA. Boston:

Allyn and Bacon, 1997. 217-237

2. Personal knowledge on the subject, and my collection of various

music from the time period.


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