Thursday, May 22, 2014


Part 1:
To say that the recreational use of pharmaceuticals has influenced music in some fashion would be a very massive understatement. It's quite easy to say that the use of one drug or another has had some influence on the music of a certain time or certain place and that does not, in any way,
diminish the contribution of the individual artists and musicians involved.
   But mother nature, along with the help of chemistry has provided numerous substances which can have the effect of altering our predominant thinking patterns and adjusting our typical way of thinking. These effects can sometimes prove to be helpful creatively, though often they are accompanied by a rather unwanted addiction or dependency on the drug to relieve feelings of pain, anxiety and depression. Needless to say, Drugs are not to be taken irresponsibly or without proper caution.

   Alcohol is one of the oldest known drugs there is, but here in North America, there was at one time something called the 'temperance movement', and it was a powerful political force led by women and supported by men, claiming that their homes had been broken and their lives ruined by the evils of alcohol. The result was that, for about thirteen years, most of Canada and the U.S. became 'dry' and liquor was made a narcotic by laws which prohibited the production and sale of alcohol.

  At the same time, it is believed that the original jazz era was, at least partly, fuelled by alcohol, even though it may have been illegal. Alcohol production and use survived through the creation of 'speakeasies' which were essentially illegal bars set up by former brewers, local businessmen or even the mob. In these clubs and bars, they weren't exactly craving the classical sounds of a string quartet that played music by Mozart and Beethoven, so jazz was the obvious choice for having a good time. Jazz bands and music thrived through prohibition, speakeasies, and even the legalization of booze. Most of all, Jazz had its greatest era when they finally opened up all the taps to celebrate the return of the soldiers from World War II. The music of the era could also be said to mimic the effects of alcohol on the person. One or two beers got a person to get up and dance, while five or six made people sit down and listen to the band. Jazz was also upbeat and danceable at one extreme, while at the other end it was bluesy, moody and slow paced. The music was played in swing clubs featuring live bands, and the early evening was far more geared to getting up and dancing, using lots of solos and improvisation, while the drunken later hours tended to favour those musicians who could play music that was slower, more nuanced and emotional, and likely better to listen to while sitting down.
   Of course, alcohol being an entirely legal drug continues to influence music today. Although regulated by laws and governments around the world, it's consumption by persons numbers in the billions. (38.3% of the world consumes alcohol, counting those who'll admit it.) So to think that alcohol has only affected music in the past is highly unlikely. The truth is that alcohol is the one drug that is almost absolutely assured to stay and continue to influence music in some way in the future.

The most infamous movie that has ever been made on the subject of the use of marijuana is not starring Cheech & Chong, but rather an anti-use propaganda film called 'Reefer Madness', often watched by stoners who enjoy getting high and laughing at the bad acting and ridiculous dialogue. The movie, while attempting to deliver a positive anti-drug-dependency message is unfortunately riddled with inaccuracies about the drug itself and its effects. There is one scene in which a woman sits down to play piano and her male friend, high on a 'reefer' cigarette is listening. As the drug overtakes his awareness, he becomes insistent on telling the piano player to 'play faster' or 'play louder' while displaying a strange and disturbing grin. This scene is, possibly, the most accurate in the entire movie. The idea that the use of marijuana affects a person's preference in music is well known. However, they may have gotten the pace and style of the music entirely wrong:

    Everyone knows that Jamaica gave birth to Reggae music. The problem is that before Reggae existed, there were several kinds of music that could legitimately be called Jamaican, including Soca, Ska, Calypso and others, each with a rhythm and style all its own. Even Bob Marley and the Wailers early recordings were closer to ska and the dance music of the time. Upbeat, light-hearted, non-political, joyful dance music with a catchy singing style or pop-ish beat was the norm. What changed? How did Reggae become so deep, so powerful? Well, some say that it was the genius of Bob Marley... and some say that it was the drugs
    At the same time that Marley and the Wailers were looking to create a more meaningful form of Jamaican music, they were also exposed to Rastafarian spirituality and the use of marijuana, all during a time of great poverty and political upheaval in Jamaica. Rastafarianism includes the use of marijuana in its practices and treats the plant as a natural herb given by God to humans to use as medicine. Needless to say Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer and the rest were successful in changing the style and tone of the music. Their songs were politically-aware and spiritually powerful, the sound was down-beat and dance-able and the effects of the drug on the music were clear, and this music became world-renowned.
     Marijuana is, in many places around the world, no longer considered a narcotic. Legalization of cannabis is becoming more prevalent as a political movement and is happening on an ongoing basis. The use of marijuana is highly likely to continue even if it doesn't grow in demand so it is probably going to influence future music in some way or another. However, legal or illegal, numerous follow up attempts by musicians using marijuana have not created startlingly new and wonderful types of music such as Reggae, but simply resulted in the obvious: Getting high, getting giggles, getting that burnt-out feeling and then getting the munchies.

LSD (and other psychedelics):

It is rightfully believed that the psychedelic era of music was both aided and abetted by the taking of drugs, but the drug of choice was not just a smoky, fragrant herb or a pint of liquid grain fermentation. It was LSD or Acid and other psychoactive drugs that seemed to make the difference in many tunes.
   In this day and age, it seems silly to think that some hippies back in the late 60s really thought that taking a drug would expand their consciousness so that they could truly make sense of the universe and realize their full creativity and potential. To think that Timothy Leary, a highly educated psychologist, would start encouraging people to quit school and use drugs by saying simply "turn on, tune in, drop out" seems preposterous in this the 21st century. However, nearly 50 years later, we listen to some of the music that was created and have to admit that it's possible these hippies weren't entirely mistaken in their endeavours.
   Whether through meditation, medication, intoxication or simply forcing your mind to take all the socially-accepted norms of music and simply toss them aside for the purpose of attaining a more stream-like type of consciousness and creative clarity, the concept forces a person to think and create differently than before. It suddenly doesn't matter what the arrangement of a song is because the arrangement is just an idea. The important thing is following the creative stream through to the end. Sometimes this led to songs without choruses and verses and no cohesive structure. Sometimes songs became much longer than they would otherwise, but mostly it created a lot of exploration of different sounds and tones of music, loosening the structural elements at the same time as creating a more flowing vibe.
  In the 1960s, when all this was new to people, the possibilities of this type of music likely seemed vast, but in the end these ideas would run their course much like any new concept. They saw it through to the end, and the music, much like the drug itself eventually passed through and out of our systems even though it took quite a long time. And even though the effects still seem to linger and sometimes come back to us when we least expect it, repeated use of the drug has not brought back the same sort of creativity that it seems to have produced in the era of the beginning of its widespread use. It would seem, after all these years, that the discovery of the drugs and the initial effects were far more impressive than the ability of people to reproduce such strange and wonderful new ideas. Even regular users of LSD have claimed that the drug doesn't work two days in a row, and subsequent use required larger doses to get the same effect. Simply put; the 'Acid Rock' era of the sixties is unlikely to return any time soon, neither musically nor in the culture of the original use of LSD.

Want more drugs? Check out part 2: More Drugs!