By PAT WATSON
Billie Holiday. Charlie “Bird” Parker. Dinah Washington. Florence Jackson. Jimmy Hendrix. Dennis Brown. Rick James. Ol’ Dirty Bastard (Russell Jones). Ike Turner. Michael Jackson. Don’t we admire the talented and famous, even wishing to be just like them?
Their music is a doorway into our spirits. We feel ‘high’ from their music. Yet, some feel the need to get even ‘higher’ because somehow the music alone is not enough. The music of the greats is a launching pad which, when mixed with mood altering drugs, moves some listeners to yet another level.
Given that reality, what must it be like for those through whom these exalted vibrations flow? For, this is a world where you could be one of the most famous individuals on the face of the planet, adored by countless others for your God-given talent, yet still be so unhappy with yourself that the only peace you can hope to find comes from an over dependence on drugs.
Let’s imagine that time spent away from the inspiring experience of making music and being the conduit for those heavenly sounds is just so mundane that some are driven to seek their heavens even when they are not performing or making music.
The problem arises when personalities substitute spiritual uplift with medications, seeking to imitate the sensations that come from using their talent. In that sense, while their talent may be a gift that can uplift the masses as well as themselves, with mood altering drugs they are engaging in the same escapist and eventually destructive behaviour that ensnares so many ordinary folk.
Where do we draw the line, though? During the early days of reggae music, when, with Bob Marley at the forefront, the genre became hybridized with Rastafari and ganja, the blend was a familiar draw for many. Not to mention the top hits that took to the air in praise of ‘the herb’, the glamorization – or, if you prefer, the rationalization – of drug use. But, in the reggae sphere, a shift occurred when cocaine entered the mix.
It was cocaine that led to the demise of Dennis Brown, the “Crown Prince of Reggae”, gone far too soon.
Now with the confirmation that Michael Jackson’s death is related to his protracted dependency on prescription drugs, the ‘King of Pop’ joins the long list of those who were sucked into the nightmare world of drug addiction and paid the price with their lives. Such personalities show us again and again that traveling the pathway of drug abuse results in three end points: jail, insanity or death.
One would hope that at the very least those who idolize Jackson take the circumstances of his death as a serious warning. However, the sad truth is that once a person is seduced into addiction there is practically nothing that motivates that person to seek the necessary help to break free from the dependency, despite their wish to do so.
It is clear from the drug-related death of someone such as Jackson that this state is no respecter of station in life – rich or poor, famous or unknown, religious or non-religious. It is also clear that so many anti-drug programs – like former U.S. First Lady Nancy Reagan’s 1980s “Just Say No” campaign – speak to no one in particular.
When people take a drink after work, it’s not just a social act, it lifts the mood, adds a happy feeling. Who doesn’t want that? But sometimes we do the wrong thing even if trying to seek the right outcome. For some people, seeking that happy feeling is a gateway to increasing dependency.
Anyone really wanting to know why it’s a bad move to go down the path of self-medication can simply ask someone who has. There are a lot of survivors around willing to tell how it was for them. They will tell you first hand why it wasn’t worth it in the first place. Jackson is another tragic example of what can go wrong, but he’s too far away now to give the anti-drug talk to those who are flirting with false happiness.
A note on the quirks in urban living…
Who else was at Yonge and St. Clair last week when the rotund, middle-aged man sauntered casually by wearing a bright pink tutu and pale tights? Completing the outfit were those ballet slippers. You wouldn’t have expected the presentation to come replete with a beard. There has to be more to that story.