Saturday, September 3, 2011

Musicians and Addiction

I found it interesting that two consecutive interviews in Arthur Taylor’s Notes and Tones were not only outspoken on the question of the problem of addiction among musicians but also very much of the same mind.  Both interviewees were leaders in their work, Max Roach and Dizzy Gillespie;  and both approached the whole interview process with clear seriousness of purpose.  Therefore, even though both of these interviews are about forty years old, it seems worth considering what they have to say on what is still a controversial subject.

Since I found Gillespie to be the better spokesman on this topic, let me reproduce his position:

If you study statistics you’ll find more drug addiction in the medical profession than among musicians.  But musicians have bigger names;  if a doctor gets busted, they cure him, nobody knows about it, while if a musician gets busted, it’s on the front page of the newspapers.

Gillespie gave this interview in 1970, and I have no idea how much the numbers have changed since then.  However, from the perspective of the present day, I find it interesting that the question of addiction in the medical profession was virtually untouched until Showtime decided to use it as the basis for the plot of Nurse Jackie.  Given my personal feelings about the consciousness industry and how it works, I would guess that there were any number of initiatives in play to distract the news media from pursuing stories on this subject.  Somehow it always seemed better to pick on patients succumbing to addiction as a result of treatment, encouraging the mindset that those patients lacked the personal discipline of medical professionals.

Still, Gillespie is right about the vulnerability of having a high profile.  The news media always prefer stories with familiar names;  and success in the performing arts has more to do with familiarity of name (which, in turn, is often a product of some major promotion campaign) than with the talent behind the name.  Once the name is familiar, whether it is Charlie Parker or Madonna, it becomes a magnet for “bad news content.”  One might say that we are a culture of idol-builders;  but, after the idols are built, we seem to take equal pleasure in worshipping them and smashing them.  We are no different from the child who wants every toy he sees but gives no thought to taking care of it once he has it.

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