Creating While Clean; 9 sober musicians
January 19, 2019 11:35 PM   Subscribe

In the modern pop-culture tradition, being a musician has often come with a series of default lifestyle expectations, ones of indulgence and recklessness, larger-than-life living, and a diligent pursuit of altered forms of consciousness. Some see these expectations as having played a part in what happened to them, though most ultimately see their decisions and actions as also—if not mainly—a matter of their own psychology and personality and predisposition...What they have in common is that they are all, by their own account, for now, living sober.

"Some delight in a dark humor about their earlier excesses; others talk in a way that suggests that to dwell on these too much, to give such memories too much oxygen, would be to take too lightly something they simply can’t risk taking lightly. That it would be foolhardy or perilous to risk returning, even in thought, to a place where for all kinds of reasons they’d rather not linger. A corollary is that some are reluctant in this context to offer much detail about the particular substances that they consumed, or that consumed them, or both.

And while the particulars they spoke of may be specific to each of them, the wider predicaments and decisions and quandaries and insecurities and dilemmas they spoke of are the same ones that confront us all. No matter which choices each one of us elects to make as we hack through the undergrowth into the future, no matter how like or unlike these lives here might seem to our own lives, I would be astonished—and perhaps a little worried, too—to discover anyone who could read the words these interviewees share without finding plenty to relate to or empathize with, and plenty more to think about."
posted by Grandysaur (69 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
John Coltrane, quite literally one of the greatest musicians of all time, did his best work after getting clean. Just one of many examples.

This pernicious, clinging idea that substance fuelled excess is some sort of gateway to the doors of perception is absolutely toxic and should have been retired long ago.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 1:34 AM on January 20 [24 favorites]


I would say rather that mind-altering substances can be one way of fueling creativity. When I'm out doing photography, a little THC can make a forest go from just a bunch of drab tree-trunks to a wonderland of moss, mushrooms, color, and texture. Sometimes it's totally unnecessary and I just find myself in a good creative groove regardless, but other times it can really help me push past a creative block. Other times though, being stoned will stop me from thinking methodically enough to take some of the more technical shots that require careful setup and deliberation. All things in moderation, I guess.

You're a little bit of a different person when you're on drugs, or I guess possibly a completely different one depending on which drug and how much of it you take, although I don't really go that far with substances myself. I think that it's probably totally true that for some artists—not all artists—the person who can tap into whatever creative magic they're accessing is not the person they are when they're sober. For some artists, the sober person is absolutely their most creative self and drugs merely hinder them—I've known people like that, for sure. For me personally it's a bit of both. My drug of choice can increase my creativity sometimes, but not always.

It's complicated, I guess. It's not a black and white thing.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:36 AM on January 20 [12 favorites]


It's not even always recreational drugs, for that matter. I have a somewhat distant relative who discovered unexpectedly, in his 20s, that he was going to have to choose between his debilitating depression and his identity as a professional musician. That was really hard for him to come to grips with. I'm not actually sure how that worked out for him, in the end. As a fellow depressed person I know what I'd have chosen, but man that would be hard.

Life is weird and difficult and perfect solutions are thin on the ground.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:43 AM on January 20 [8 favorites]


The delicate connections between serenity and creativity aren’t often talked about, and it’s nice to read an article featuring some high profile musicians that focuses on sharing their experiences and struggles with that.
Thanks for posting.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:45 AM on January 20 [3 favorites]


Buzz Osborne from The Melvins has a great quote about this from an interview with the A.V. Club a few years algo:

“AVC: There are some people that argue that it was the drugs that made him artistic.

“BO: So, let me get this straight, if I take LSD and heroin, I’ll play like Jimi Hendrix? Really?! I beg to differ. I guarantee there are guitarists down at Guitar Center without a record contract that are on LSD and heroin and will never make any money playing music. They’re putting that little theory to the test every day. I don’t buy it. I don’t care what you do, but I don’t see alcohol and drugs as being anything other than a way to make whatever problems you have in your life bigger. There’s not a problem in the world you can’t make bigger by drinking a fifth of whiskey. If it worked the other way, they would market it as “problem solving whiskey.””
posted by Special Agent Dale Cooper at 7:15 AM on January 20 [45 favorites]


Leslie Jamison's The Recovery focuses on alcoholic writers but also argues the point that the alcohol hindered, not helped their creativity.

Thanks for posting this. I almost missed my bus stop while reading it
posted by tofu_crouton at 7:34 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]


I've just skimmed over it, but there's some great stuff in there. WRT whether people do good work--or anything close to their best work--sober, Stephen King says that the myth of the substance abuse muse is just that. I'd also suggest the case of Robert Downey Jr. and how he's become vastly more successful and acclaimed while clean and sober.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:23 AM on January 20 [4 favorites]


This is an excellent piece, thanks for posting. As a musician and teacher of musicians, and spouse of a musician, I've found it's most important to remember that all great music, like all great accomplishment of any kind, is mostly the result of a whole lot of work. Inspiration or artistic insight or spontaneous creativity is absolutely essential, but Beethoven didn't write his fifth symphony in a flash of inspiration after a night of hippy flipping acid and molly or whatever--he went on long walks in nature where ideas would form, and then went back home and worked. (There are somewhere around a hundred versions of that famous four-note, opening motive in his sketchbooks, and around 99 of them range from dull to dumb; it took him weeks of honing that simple-seeming idea to get exactly the right version of it, that would sound compelling and also be just the right seed for the astonishing seven-ish minutes of development that follow.) Beethoven didn't create that because he was talented, he created his fifth symphony because he put in hundreds of dull working hours to craft and shape and hone and build from his original inspiration to the finished piece.

Far too many musicians think they need more of the talent, the inspiration, the something magical that will make a great song occur, and because drugs can be so fun and so intriguing they think maybe they're a source of that, but the reality is that most of what makes great music is a good idea + a whole lot of consistent, detailed, boring work. Music is much more often made great by its craft than its inspiration, and drugs--especially alcohol--only impede the kind of regular discipline that it takes to be a working creative artist.

(I mean, for real: the daily reality of Michelangelo's life was mostly a lot of chiseling. My students never want to hear this, they mostly want solutions to be along the lines of 'learn this information and the problem will be solved,' or 'this practice technique will quickly and efficiently correct that,' but most of the time the answer is actually 'it sounds like you're not practicing enough, your two hours per day needs to go to four hours daily, for the next few years.' Before enlightenment: chop wood, carry water; after enlightenment: chop wood, carry water. Or as Jascha Heifitz said, "If I don't practice one day, I know it; two days, the critics know it; three days, the public knows it." Being great at something is mostly comprised of consistent, daily work. Which is probably why so few people get really great at anything.)
posted by LooseFilter at 8:27 AM on January 20 [29 favorites]


This pernicious, clinging idea that substance fuelled excess is some sort of gateway to the doors of perception is absolutely toxic and should have been retired long ago.

unfortunately, you've got to shrug off a vast amount of genius work past, present, and likely future for this to be so. I'm a huge fan of Coltrane, particularly the stuff he did once he straightened out, but I have to wonder if he ever would have got to that place without first having explored alternate forms of consciousness.

I don't for a moment believe every artist needs to get high and/or wasted in order to access their genius, nor do I feel compelled to applaud any that do. But that's a long way from declaring the straight path the only path worth taking. As for the nine artists interviewed, I'm really only up on two* of their careers -- the wasted and the straight chapters -- and bluntly, in terms of the work that made it to my ears, both were magnitudes more relevant and interesting while wasted.

* Joe Walsh and Steven Tyler
posted by philip-random at 8:29 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]


Just watched Beautiful Boy last night. It was miserable, educational, good, in a way, but also just so tormented. I have a lot of familial and in-law and step family links to the recovery communities.

It can just be so desperate. But some of our greatest art comes from conflicted people, sickened and made miserable by chemical fascination. I liked how Beautiful Boy showed the love that links us, despite the struggles with addiction, the conflicts, the changes in loyalty wrought by desperation, withdrawal, fix seeking. It's so complicated, so complex, so rich in human experience.

In recovery, we make certain choices, draw certain boundaries, ask just plain folks for what seems like inhuman efforts of constant vigilance, will, and effort. It's so very hard. And when we slip, we ask our family to forgive us. And we start again. Sometimes and for some, just constantly re-earning that one-day coin is as much an inhuman effort as the 5 year or the 10 year anniversary.

FWIW, in my experience of substance use/abuse, I got way more creative, it seemed, but unable to execute. There was like a swinging door. More creative ideas and possibilities, but no way to get them down. Rarely getting the ideas down to paper, to print, to notebooks, they seemed vapid and trivial or wholly delusional in sobriety.
posted by kalessin at 8:30 AM on January 20


Though this does remind me that some Taoist artists (I'm thinking specifically of the 13th Century Chen Rong) made a practice to create in extremely altered states. His Nine Dragons scroll at the Boston MFA was created in such conditions. Some people manage it quite well, at least sometimes.
posted by kalessin at 8:39 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]


I have a shit ton of respect for Trey Anastasio. I've always respected him as a musician and since getting sober I've read a lot of interviews with him and the man is so grateful for the second chance he was given, he should be used as an example for anyone. His life was spiraling down due to opiates, he lost his band, the only thing he had done since college, and was about to lose his family. He was facing felony charges, he did what he had to do, and he came out of it really appreciating what he went through. He's since been an advocate for drug courts for addicts rather than jail.

I was a Phish fan back in the 1990s but I stopped listening to them for a long time and only recently got back to them. In my opinion (not shared by all Phish fans, but Phish fans are some of the worst types of nerds) their output now is stronger than it's ever been, as is their playing. I don't think Trey is writing the sort of complex compositions he was writing in college while on acid, but their songs are certainly better.

I think he's in a strange position too because Phish has always been so very associated with drugs. The band used to host the "Betty Ford Clinic" backstage and would often perform under the influence of something. There's a couple of very embarrassing performances out there that can be found during some of the worst years.

Once Trey got clean and they got back together, they changed up their whole way of doing things. No more back stage parties, no more relentless touring.

So I'm very glad he's sober. I'm glad the band is strong. I'm glad they've grown into adults and parents who have eased back on performing. They all remain friends after 30-something years of playing together.

Whatever your opinion of their music, they're a good example of a band who were able to toss aside the way they did things for 20 years, regroup and do things the way a bunch of middle-aged dads should probably do things, in order to continue being a band.

It's really good Trey Anastasio isn't dead. He came pretty close.
posted by bondcliff at 8:47 AM on January 20 [16 favorites]


both were magnitudes more relevant and interesting while wasted.

True, Jimi Hendrix' work once he got sober was....wait....
posted by LooseFilter at 8:48 AM on January 20 [5 favorites]


Didn't expect to read that all the way through, but I did. Quite compelling.
posted by M-x shell at 8:51 AM on January 20


I have to wonder if he ever would have got to that place without first having explored alternate forms of consciousness.

Well perhaps he wouldn't have acquired this focus on spirituality that informed the last decade of his life, but what he quit was heroin and alcohol, which aren't really known for their inspirational power (although of course a lot of jazz musicians in the 50's thought otherwise). He did take some LSD in the 60's, iirc, if you want a credit for drugs.
posted by thelonius at 8:57 AM on January 20


I recall having a related argument with a college professor about Kafka. Would Kafka have written The Trial if he hadn't suffered from depression? No. So, if Prozac had been available in Kafka's time, humanity would be poorer because we wouldn't have The Trial. "Yeah, but," I said, "Kafka might have enjoyed his life more. Are you really demanding human sacrifice for art?"

Is that what we're doing? Asking artists to destroy themselves for our entertainment?
posted by SPrintF at 8:58 AM on January 20 [20 favorites]


An old joke: why did they invent modal jazz? So that junkies could solo.
posted by thelonius at 8:59 AM on January 20 [6 favorites]


Noting that only one of the artists in the original piece is a woman (and she's relatively young, relatively unknown, and cuter than, say, Steven Tyler). Do we mainly lionize drug and alcohol use among tortured male creators?

I'm taken back to Daniel Mallory Ortberg's "How many male novelists" jokes. "He lit a cigarette. His glass of whiskey lit a cigarette too."
posted by gusandrews at 9:06 AM on January 20 [18 favorites]


Or better yet, this quote from the same piece:
"The cocaine isn’t the point. The cocaine is a metaphor,” he explained wearily over the pile of cocaine. She folded her arms. She didn’t understand his cocaine. “Didn’t you read my manifesto?” The prostitute had read his manifesto. Why couldn’t she?
posted by gusandrews at 9:08 AM on January 20 [11 favorites]


Are you really demanding human sacrifice for art?"

art demands human sacrifice - it demands hours and hours of learning, practice - it often demands solitude and social isolation - it can demand that one gives up the security of a normal career and the comfort of having a family for awhile

and it demands those things without any guarantee that one will be successful

i don't think it demands that we suffer mental illness or addiction - but in spite of that, i really have to wonder if happy, contented people are going to create great works of art - i think to try to do something like that is to say that what you're getting isn't good enough for you and you have to make something that will make it better
posted by pyramid termite at 9:13 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]


"Kafka might have enjoyed his life more. Are you really demanding human sacrifice for art?"

Is that what we're doing? Asking artists to destroy themselves for our entertainment?


I can only answer for myself here, and the answer is no. Full stop. But there's a subtext to the question that ought to be addressed, which is something along the lines of, is all drinking-drugging-altered-stating sacrifice and/or destruction? I don't think it is. In my experience, the vast majority of creative types I've known who've imbibed in the name of art have not been destroyed by it, have not ended up in detox or rehab ... etc. They've often stumbled into wormholes that took a while to emerge from, but that's a different order of magnitude from human sacrifice and/or destruction.

And then there's the drugs themselves. They're just not all the same, not even close, both in the doors they may open and the damage they may do.
posted by philip-random at 9:14 AM on January 20 [5 favorites]


Was expecting to see Sia in the profile: very public about her former addiction issues, plus did what is by far her best work in her (still ongoing) sober period.
posted by Ndwright at 9:18 AM on January 20 [3 favorites]


i really have to wonder if happy, contented people are going to create great works of art

I have a friend who had a band with a couple of records out that said once he got married and had kids he found it hard to write songs, because all his song writing was inspired by failed relationships and the misery that comes with them.
posted by COD at 9:24 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]


art demands human sacrifice - it demands hours and hours of learning, practice - it often demands solitude and social isolation - it can demand that one gives up the security of a normal career and the comfort of having a family for awhile...
i don't think it demands that we suffer mental illness or addiction - but in spite of that, i really have to wonder if happy, contented people are going to create great works of art
No. This is bullshit. I'm sorry. This is the kind of thinking that convinces young artistic people that they must continue to lean into the parts of addictions and mental illness that are hurting or killing them if they want to create art (not to mention showing up late to class covered in coffee and ink whining about the horrible case of writers' block they have). Other ways of doing this are possible.

I feel damned lucky I grew out of my Sylvia Plath phase and took a solid course on the whole life of Pablo Neruda, who had a romantic tormented phase when he was young but went on to be an ambassador and political fighter, lived to a ripe old age, and unfortunately died due to Pinochet's machinations. He wrote good poetry at every single stage of that long life.

Any number of great writers, artists, and musicians had other jobs rather than struggling with what art and mental illness dealt them. Wallace Stevens worked for an insurance company, for crying out loud.

It's harmful to lionize art as martyrdom.
posted by gusandrews at 9:45 AM on January 20 [28 favorites]


I feel like the conversation so far about arts, the artists, and sacrifice is eliding a very profoundly serious problem that most cultures have actually paying artists for their work, or supporting the work, or being good to our artists, or giving them cultural, moral, and economical support, compensating artists in any way proportional to the effort artists must put into the work, and including promoting and making sure their art survives in our cultures.
posted by kalessin at 9:54 AM on January 20 [16 favorites]


I suspect that a lot of people are mistaking correlation for causation. Most bands and artists may only have a few albums, or even just a few songs (or just one), in them that anyone will remember. They will probably do those earlier in their career, coincidentally the same years that they'll do their hardest partying, before it really starts to catch up with them. That doesn't mean that the music came from the booze or cocaine.

My favorite counterexample (you may have seen this coming) is Bowie, who went to Berlin to clean up and ended up producing his Berlin Trilogy, arguably the best work of his career. (I've never much liked Lodger, frankly, but the same period also produced the tour that would be used for Stage, IMO his best live album. I'd also argue that Scary Monsters should be considered the unofficial fourth album in the Berlin Trilogy.) Bowie also co-wrote and produced The Idiot and Lust for Life with Iggy Pop, arguably the best albums of his career, while Pop was also in Berlin kicking his habit.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:58 AM on January 20 [11 favorites]


Noting that only one of the artists in the original piece is a woman (and she's relatively young, relatively unknown, and cuter than, say, Steven Tyler). Do we mainly lionize drug and alcohol use among tortured male creators?

Your point still stands, but there's two women.

Good article.

A symptom of my brain is that it's really hard for me to read articles in this format and follow them, especially if I'm not familiar with the people. I keep saying "who is this?" and having to stop and scroll back to the top, and don't really get a sense of each person, because most of the time I just plow through and read it as a bunch of random quotes.
posted by bongo_x at 10:03 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]


No. This is bullshit. I'm sorry. This is the kind of thinking that convinces young artistic people that they must continue to lean into the parts of addictions and mental illness that are hurting or killing them if they want to create art

after i said the complete opposite? no, all i said that it's a tough path to go and it takes a lot of work - anything else is a lie and a disservice to aspiring artists

i suppose it's a 21st century thing that we now regard hard work as some kind of martyrdom
posted by pyramid termite at 10:19 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]


It's harmful to lionize art as martyrdom.
posted by gusandrews 38 minutes ago [8 favorites +


A. I agree.

B. I really don't think that martyrdom is what's being proposed here ... unless you just take the first four words and ignore the rest.

art demands human sacrifice - it demands hours and hours of learning, practice - it often demands solitude and social isolation - it can demand that one gives up the security of a normal career and the comfort of having a family for awhile...

... unless, well, what pyramid termite just said is true:

i suppose it's a 21st century thing that we now regard hard work as some kind of martyrdom
posted by philip-random at 10:33 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]


Careers (or even just work) and family also demand sacrifice.
posted by thelonius at 10:41 AM on January 20 [4 favorites]


I wouldn't deny the hard work! I'm just a pretty firm believer in the possibility of doing artistic work and other work in the course of one lifetime. One need not sacrifice absolutely everything else.
posted by gusandrews at 11:02 AM on January 20


This article comes at good time for me (by which I mean not a very good time for me), so thanks. A lot of it is very helpful to read, tho there is always a two-part kneejerk reaction I have to this sort of thing.

One is the thing a lot of people here have brought up: that the important work was often done before the cleaning up. Though that one is at least common enough that I know a lot of good arguments against it. Can always use more.

The other is that these are successful people. I know everyone's struggle is a real struggle, but part of me can't help but think of how much access, goodwill, and means these people had to work with relative to the average person dealing with addiction and mental illness. It sometimes makes it difficult for me to find these stories inspiring.

I'm not bringing this up to yuck on the yums. I'm trying to express the problematic and self-defeating reaction I have to these stories. I'm genuinely asking to hear good arguments against these feelings.
posted by es_de_bah at 11:26 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]


"Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work." Flaubert, apparently, but Balzac and maybe Zola and for heavens' sake Marx hewed to it as well, as the world allowed. Maybe it's useful to remember that there's more art than the Romantic.

But, arguing for the value to creativity of being not-sober, including endogenous mental alteration, Ellen Forney's Marbles. Doesn't seem to have been on Metafilter previously, I am astounded, it's amazing.
posted by clew at 11:36 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]


i once heard the secret to (one guy's) 'relentless touring' was sleeping 10 hours a day :P
posted by kliuless at 11:42 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]


Soko: It was very easy for me to stop. On top of being addicted to alcohol, I was also bulimic. I stopped food addiction and alcohol all at once—vegan, gluten-free, no processed food, no sugar, no alcohol, no caffeine, overnight. Just by being like: “I’m done. I’m ambitious, and I have things to do. And I want my life to have meaning.”

And here I cringed and wished her the best. This is a 33-year-old who claims they cured substance abuse and an eating disorder overnight with disordered eating. (You don’t cure bulimia with restrictive diets. Bulimia can only be treated with permission to eat without fear.)

I truly wish they had more women in this article, especially older women with more established careers. There’s a lot of interesting reflection and then there’s like, someone who watched Coyote Ugly and thought it sounded glamorous so they started drinking. I bet the way that Tyler or Walsh were tolerated when wasted would be very different than how we look at a woman in that position (one of established fame and scrutiny), and it’d be interesting to hear that perspective.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 12:03 PM on January 20 [8 favorites]


It is a bit odd to me that we seem to be largely lumping all drugs together in this thread, and also equating drug use with self-destructive drug abuse. MetaFilter normally seems to have a more nuanced perspective on these issues.

When it comes to the question of whether people who are happy can make art, I would kind of have to say, well, of course they can? Most artists are not miserable about it. Personally I can only create art if I'm not too depressed to see the beauty around me. I'm not claiming to be a great artist, but I do make art and I make more and better art when I'm happy.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 12:14 PM on January 20 [4 favorites]


My experience of 12-step sobriety programs and philosophies is that the engagement, there, with nuanced moderation, and careful distinction between substances that can be abused is low. The culture and the philosophies, both, aim to support the hardest cases, the worst addicts, people for whom any return to intoxicating substances is a long hard slide back down to addiction and addictive behaviors. These are people for whom the process of getting sober and staying sober is an intense and difficult task, and who do not take getting high/drunk lightly, because to them it can represent loss of years of effort (to stay sober) and loss of years of relationship building and promise making and progress to rebuild lives otherwise destroyed by the disease of addiction.

I'm not saying this is always the most helpful way to look at it. Lots of people who can manage some sort of continual or cyclical moderation (semi-functional self-medication and cycles of addiction and withdrawal) don't understand the 12-step principles, or the reasons the principles stick around and are often quite helpful for some (but certainly not all) addicts. It can be a real hard sell to people who do not have the addiction disease. I totally get it. But so many good and great people have significantly improved their lives by subscribing to and helping others through 12-step programs, I think it's a shame to throw that work and progress out because we don't agree with (and often simply cannot understand) the struggles that addicts can sometimes overcome with the help of these programs.

(I also recognize that for many folks on MetaFilter, the "Higher Power" principle of 12-step programs is a very difficult pill to swallow.)
posted by kalessin at 12:29 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


Well yes, but this is a MeFi thread, not a meeting. If 12-step programs work for some people (which they quite patently do) then that's great and I'm glad that they exist. I don't think that's in question?
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 12:47 PM on January 20 [2 favorites]


The article is full of 12-step terminology and framing.
posted by kalessin at 12:56 PM on January 20


The article is full of 12-step terminology and framing.

agreed. But the first comment in the thread didn't exactly concern itself with that frame ...

This pernicious, clinging idea that substance fuelled excess is some sort of gateway to the doors of perception is absolutely toxic and should have been retired long ago.

... and it was heavily favorited. So yeah, I'm with Anticipation Of here.

It is a bit odd to me that we seem to be largely lumping all drugs together in this thread, and also equating drug use with self-destructive drug abuse. MetaFilter normally seems to have a more nuanced perspective on these issues.
posted by philip-random at 1:04 PM on January 20 [2 favorites]


"They’re still crazy, they’re just not under the influence" puts it in a nutshell for me. I worried about losing the divine lunacy when I stopped at 22; turns out "divine lunacy" just means being a human being. Brains are weirder than I ever imagined without any substance to affect them.

Good article. Thanks for the post.
posted by Peach at 1:32 PM on January 20 [2 favorites]


I've certainly noticed that people who clean up (not just artists) often don't get back to their pre-clean-up heights, but I theorize that some of this maybe that the last couple of years of drinking and using may have done some irreparable damage to cognition and to overall health (impacting the endurance you need to produce), so those heights were gone anyway. One thing I'm sure of is that no one is producing their best work when they're at the rock-bottom that tends to precede successful people deciding to get clean.

I also wonder what the impact is of getting out of non-intoxicating things is. Do we get the best work of a lifetime from people when they're 100 pounds lighter and can't overeat anymore after gastric bypass, or after they've left Scientology, or divorced some horrifically toxic spouse?
posted by MattD at 1:36 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


I know everyone's struggle is a real struggle, but part of me can't help but think of how much access, goodwill, and means these people had to work with relative to the average person

Correlating the timelines, it looks to me like Julien Baker worked through her addictions before releasing anything and before going to Middle Tennessee State University, so yeah, I'm pretty sure that's relatively low privilege.

I liked the article and the ensemble / group discussion format a lot.
posted by ambrosen at 1:43 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


Do we get the best work of a lifetime from people when they're 100 pounds lighter and can't overeat anymore after gastric bypass

Please don’t equate drug use or cult members with being fat. Please don’t equate sobriety with stomach amputation, one of the riskiest surgeries and one that leaves people struggling to meet their nutritional needs even as they gain all the weight back and more. This casual statement equating fat people as food addicts is harmful as shit and not based in reality and I wish it would stop.

If you want to ask a question like that, the better phrasing might be do artists create their best work after they’ve stopped hating their bodies and restricting their food intake to less than a toddler needs to eat, therefore freeing up hours a day normally devoted to obsessing over food and exercise — I’m sure that’s the case. That’s why I find Soko’s statement above so interesting. She might have freed herself from the grip of alcohol but she replaced it with restrictive eating. That takes up a lot of space in a life and I think it’s hard to make a judgement on which one allowed for more creative freedom. But we don’t get those answers in the interviews (like, drug use tends to control weight, did it affect the men the same way gaining weight affects women in the spotlight after they got sober?) so there’s not a lot more to say about it without going very far afield.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 2:10 PM on January 20 [5 favorites]


I totally agree though that 12-step programs help a lot of people, and that for some people the all-or-nothing, submit-to-a-higher-power stuff is probably literally the only way they can stay alive. I'm not here to bash 12-steppers, it's just not the only way to have a healthy relationship with drugs. The only way for some people, sure. Not for everyone.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:11 PM on January 20


I'm grateful that Joe Walsh is still with us.

Walsh: Number one: Don’t drink drunk.

Walsh: When I stopped doing cocaine, it was amazing to me that I didn’t need to carry a gun anymore. I just didn’t need one!

I'm also grateful that my teenage rock band never became successful.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 2:13 PM on January 20 [4 favorites]


the thorn bushes have roses, I didn't take MattD's comment that way, though yeah it's not the parallel I would have chosen to draw. People who elect to have gastric bypass surgery usually do so because their weight is causing serious negative health effects, and that's the comparison with addiction that I think MattD was trying to make. At least, I hope so. Being married to a toxic spouse isn't an indictment of a person's character either.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:14 PM on January 20


The only way we have found to improve the health of fat people is by reducing stigma. I’m asking here again to please stop stigmatizing fat people. Gastric bypass surgery is pushed on fat bodies regardless of whether our health is any better or worse than someone in a smaller body and it kills us and when it doesn’t, it doesn’t actually work to improve health long term. Please consider the impact your words have on fat people even in threads where the article isn’t about us. I will leave it there. If you want to learn more, there are plenty of meta studies out there showing the harmful affects of weight stigma, the failure rate of gastric bypass, and the myths that fat people are less creative and hardworking. I know this is a derail but I am just asking that we stop making statements like MattD’s and defending them. Please.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 2:20 PM on January 20 [4 favorites]


My apologies, I was just trying to offer a more charitable interpretation. It has been said a lot recently that this place would be better if we could try to take a more charitable view of each others' comments. But I certainly understand where you're
coming from, and it is for exactly that reason that I would have avoided reaching for that analogy if the comment had been my own. I agree that it was a poor choice to make, for the very reasons that you have articulated.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:32 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


Coming back to the original subject of the thread, I think it's actually kind of interesting that all the people they chose to interview are folks who self-identify as sober, and who have sworn off their drug of choice (or all drugs, or all drugs and even lots of foods) completely. Our society does take a very all-or-nothing view of drug use, and especially of drug abuse. You don't really hear stories from people whose lives were derailed by their unhealthy relationship with a drug, but who then found a way to scale back their consumption and achieve a more balanced, non-destructive relationship with it, but without stopping entirely. They must be out there, but it's not a narrative our culture grants much legitimacy to.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:39 PM on January 20


'Witness to the Fire: Creativity and the Veil of Addiction' by Linda S. Leonard is an interesting book on this subject.

In my view, there is no single pattern to an artistic process, and no simple pattern to all addictions. There are common recurring themes, of course. Alex Ross mentioned this when he compared the artistic temperments of Gustav Mahler & Rickard Strauss; both were experimental composers and contemporaries: one was neurotic & obsessive, the other chill & sang froid.
posted by ovvl at 2:58 PM on January 20


I love recovery stories. Even by people who's creations aren't my cup of tea. I did think that the layout of the article could have been better. It felt like a series of unconnected comments on the theme of recovery. Thanks Grandysaur!
posted by evilDoug at 3:04 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


I know everyone's struggle is a real struggle, but part of me can't help but think of how much access, goodwill, and means these people had to work with relative to the average person dealing with addiction and mental illness. It sometimes makes it difficult for me to find these stories inspiring.
Those stories are out there, but GQ ain't gonna publish them.
posted by billjings at 3:06 PM on January 20


I think there aren't that many minorities and women included because this article is showing the flip side to the tortured genius coin, and women never had that coin to spend in the first place.
posted by tofu_crouton at 4:01 PM on January 20 [2 favorites]


You don't really hear stories from people whose lives were derailed by their unhealthy relationship with a drug, but who then found a way to scale back their consumption and achieve a more balanced, non-destructive relationship with it, but without stopping entirely.

It's those stories (and the obvious lack of them in spaces where you'd expect them) that make me all the more certain that some bodies are highly-keyed for addiction and therefore require a certain amount of ongoing energy directed into Recovery, and other bodies just aren't like that. There was a point in the 80s where it was patently obvious which bands were releasing albums built on a Mount Everest of cocaine and probably whatever else fell out of the pile in the process. Some of those kids didn't make it out alive, some are Openly Sober now, and others - within the same bands, who were clearly in the same room at those times - seem fine and do not appear to have any kind of strained relationship with substances now. And in their narratives, it much more "well, everyone was doing quite a lot of drugs at the time", "there was a point where I was out too late every night making bad decisions", "got married, had kids, traded the wild city life for country living". References to therapy, "finally growing up" etc, and instead of the primary spotlight there being on The Chemicals that had to be overcome it was just a lifestyle or unhelpful coping method that had to be walked away from, something the first group doesn't seem to have had as an option.

Stephen King talks about even now, walking through a nice restaurant looking at everyone sitting there with half-finished glasses of wine and The Voice in his head just not understanding how anyone can do that, how half-finished is even a thing, and how The Voice wasn't caused by the drugs or the alcohol, the voice was always there, and clearly some people just don't have that happening in their heads, and for those people it's not this enormous fight to make a change in behavior even if they do go through a dalliance period, even one that may have had negative consequences.

On the flip side, I think there's a very strong Recovery narrative that insists that The Only Problem was the chemicals and that if you too strongly acknowledge the co-morbidities - stress, depression, the physical pain that can come with professional-strength playing/singing and frequent travel, anxiety, other mental and physical health conditions, the horrible glurge that young adulthood can be especially when abruptly complicated with money and power - you're somehow not claiming responsibility for your addiction. I think there's probably a nearly invisible sober or not-very-drinky community of people who addressed the comorbidities rather than the chemicals, pretty much stopped drinking/using as a side effect of getting healthier in other ways, and just don't have or aren't interested in airing their recovery narrative.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:17 PM on January 20 [8 favorites]


On the flip side, I think there's a very strong Recovery narrative that insists that The Only Problem was the chemicals and that if you too strongly acknowledge the co-morbidities - stress, depression, the physical pain that can come with professional-strength playing/singing and frequent travel, anxiety, other mental and physical health conditions, the horrible glurge that young adulthood can be especially when abruptly complicated with money and power - you're somehow not claiming responsibility for your addiction. I think there's probably a nearly invisible sober or not-very-drinky community of people who addressed the comorbidities rather than the chemicals, pretty much stopped drinking/using as a side effect of getting healthier in other ways, and just don't have or aren't interested in airing their recovery narrative.
On the one hand, I definitely have seen that if you come into a 12-step meeting and say "I just need to clean up and fix my depression/relationship/stress/what have you and then I'll be able to drink normally," you'll encounter a lot of skepticism. So you're spot on in that sense. If that doesn't match one's experience, then that narrative isn't gonna make a lot of sense. Most of those folks already tried therapy, exercise, rehab, changing jobs/cities, you name it, so — that's the perspective.

But on the other hand, I don't think I've ever heard anybody jump from that skepticism to a conclusion that "The Only Problem was the chemicals". The common consensus is that once you clean up, you have to face these other things. That this is part of showing up each day as a human being: there are great things and there are problems, and there's no magic solution that's going to make the problems go away without work.
posted by billjings at 5:44 PM on January 20 [2 favorites]


I've certainly noticed that people who clean up (not just artists) often don't get back to their pre-clean-up heights

Most people never get back to their heights - whatever their heights were, and whenever they came. Very few people bat 1000 consistently throughout their lives. We should more appropriately frame our understanding around the fact that the vast majority of artists will be lucky if they do one thing that captures wide attention and claim, and even those will likely stop at one, even if they kept using the rest of their lives. Even the greatest writers and musicians have duds. A lot of artists have one or two great works in them and it never lines up quite that way again. Many never have the kind of sales they had when their work was in vogue and they were in the overheated PR machine being slathered over by young fans. That really doesn't mean the quality of their work suffers because of their sobriety. It's sad to me how much correlation/causation assumption is going on here.

I truly wish they had more women in this article, especially older women with more established careers.

God, yes. This article is so weird in that it's like a bunch of legitimately famous, long-experienced men and then like, two token somewhat-successful women that the editor's college friend knows or something. That's insanely disappointing. Florence Welch from Florence and the Machine, Gillian Welch, Neko Case, Chrissie Hynde...these are just a few of the women I know off the cuff are sober. I am sure the musicians they did interview are great, but this isn't what parity looks like.

You don't really hear stories from people whose lives were derailed by their unhealthy relationship with a drug, but who then found a way to scale back their consumption and achieve a more balanced, non-destructive relationship with it, but without stopping entirely. They must be out there, but it's not a narrative our culture grants much legitimacy to.

It's not a very common narrative at all. Sure, some problematic drinking is situational, but alcohol causes changes in the brain and that means it's not so easy to just reset and drink what we like to call "normally" if you've had a serious habit in the past. I've been reading a lot lately about the addictive nature of alcohol - yes, some people are more prone to trouble with alcohol than others, but it actually is chemically pretty well set up to get its hooks into a human brain, deliver decreasing pleasure, and extract increasing commitment, at the most simple neurotransmitter level. The general pattern is that the more you drink, the more you habituate to drinking, and cutting back doesn't deliver enough pleasure any more to feel worth it. Humans are complicated and behavior is complex, so sure, are people who go back to moderate regular drinking after developing disordered drinking, sure, but for a lot of them it takes a level of focus and vigilance that wouldn't make it worth it for everyone. There are also people whose version of this is drinking almost-never (like on Christmas) but that's not exactly moderating or "drinking normally," it's making a rare exception. I would definitely say the reason this narrative isn't common is that the behavior isn't common.

If that doesn't seem right, it's interesting to spend some time with stats on drinking habits. This stuff from the US is really clarifying - the top 10% of people who drink consume more than half of all the alcohol drunk, while 30% of people never drink at all and another big chunk drink maybe a few times a year. The people who drink drink a lot, and a lot of that is problematic.
posted by Miko at 6:05 PM on January 20 [5 favorites]


I think there's probably a nearly invisible sober or not-very-drinky community of people who addressed the comorbidities rather than the chemicals, pretty much stopped drinking/using as a side effect of getting healthier in other ways, and just don't have or aren't interested in airing their recovery narrative.

There very well might be, although I'm not sure that I'd call them a "community" unless they have meetings themselves, or at least a subreddit. I used to think that it was these "comorbidities" that led me to drink so much, until I got my second DUI at over twice the legal limit, after the comorbidities in my life after the first one--recently divorced, serious financial problems (that eventually led to a bankruptcy), boss from hell--had been dealt with or passed out of my life. One of the things that's read aloud at every AA meeting is "How It Works" [PDF], which frames the Twelve Steps in the context of who needs them and why; "We thought we could find an easier, softer way. But we could not" and "Half-measures availed us nothing" are pretty clear as to the kind of person who shows up and sticks to it. There's even a bit in another book, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, that basically says, hey, if you're still not sure whether you belong, go out and try some more "controlled" drinking. I did, and I couldn't.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:37 PM on January 20 [3 favorites]


You don't really hear stories from people whose lives were derailed by their unhealthy relationship with a drug, but who then found a way to scale back their consumption and achieve a more balanced, non-destructive relationship with it, but without stopping entirely. They must be out there, but it's not a narrative our culture grants much legitimacy to.

A good mate of mine fits the bill here, so do I to a reasonable extent. It's not a very compelling narrative to be honest. We know we drink a lot less than we used to, and you can be damn sure that we both know why. Sometimes we talk about that, but we won't bang on to you. Both of us have stopped entirely from time to time, but never with the expectation that we'd never drink again, it's just a way of keeping that habit in the corner knowing who's boss and so it doesn't fucking forget it. I've got both eyes on the booze, but I'll happily have a beer with you and you'll never know it.
posted by deadwax at 7:06 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


My old AP Biology teacher, who has had a very interesting life, used to drink until he'd have about 25% liver function, then take time off drinking until he recovered to about 50% or more over a few months, and then return to it. Still alive (and periodically pickled) as far as I know, in his mid to late 80s.
posted by kalessin at 7:41 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


I truly wish they had more women in this article, especially older women with more established careers.

God, yes. This article is so weird in that it's like a bunch of legitimately famous, long-experienced men and then like, two token somewhat-successful women that the editor's college friend knows or something. That's insanely disappointing. Florence Welch from Florence and the Machine, Gillian Welch, Neko Case, Chrissie Hynde...these are just a few of the women I know off the cuff are sober. I am sure the musicians they did interview are great, but this isn't what parity looks like.


One thing that I always find odd in these discussions is that people seem to ignore math and consent. And I don't mean that to be snarky, but they can only run interviews with people who want to talk about this publicly, right now. Everyone doesn't want to do that, and they are not required to satisfy our curiosity.

I would bet they asked at least most of the women you named and were told no.
There are literally hundreds or thousands of people that fit the bill. These are the people that said yes.
posted by bongo_x at 7:54 PM on January 20


I think there's probably a nearly invisible sober or not-very-drinky community of people who addressed the comorbidities rather than the chemicals, pretty much stopped drinking/using as a side effect of getting healthier in other ways, and just don't have or aren't interested in airing their recovery narrative.

Er yeah, there are tons of them, there are like dozens of Facebook groups (and I'm sure subreddits) and entire online communities of people who decided to reduce or end their drinking, and who use tools other than AA and who don't have the same kind of "recovery narrative" people associate with these stories, like "hitting bottom" and all that. There is a lot going on in this realm right now, probably the easiest thing for me to do is to link you to this former content of mine which contains a bunch of AF (alcohol free) resources. AA has worked for some people and for more people, it's all there was, but there's a bigger world opening up of both support and scientific/medial understanding that is looking at how people relate to and deal with substance problems that are intertwined with habit, lifestyle, stress psychology. There's a lot other than the "Behind the Music" arc, and a lot of people exploring alternatives to both drinking and the 12-step model.
posted by Miko at 7:56 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


For all the things that MF is conscientious and respectful about as far as other people's lives and experiences, it is laughably bad about talking about addiction. Cringing bad.
posted by bongo_x at 8:00 PM on January 20 [3 favorites]


One thing that I always find odd in these discussions is that people seem to ignore math and consent. And I don't mean that to be snarky...

Yet you chose to make it so.

I would bet they asked at least most of the women you named and were told no.

Well, you'd have to bet because you don't have any evidence for this, unless you somehow have access to this reporter's correspondence.

You don't know. The apologetics are just that. Expect horses - they didn't try that hard. Thing is, if it meant anything to writer or editor, they'd have landed better female interviews (it's not like my shortlist is the extent of the world of famous sober women musicians, and it's not like those women haven't been interviewed about their sobriety already in less high-profile venues), or just not run a piece purporting to be about both men and women if they couldn't get a reasonable representation. Given that its GQ I'd actually rather they just focused on men exclusively in a piece like this than did such a lazy, tokenistic job of finding female interviews.
posted by Miko at 8:02 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


You don't really hear stories from people whose lives were derailed by their unhealthy relationship with a drug, but who then found a way to scale back their consumption and achieve a more balanced, non-destructive relationship with it, but without stopping entirely. They must be out there, but it's not a narrative our culture grants much legitimacy to.

I think probably more common are people who quit one or two substances entirely but continue using others casually (which is still frowned upon by certain strains of recovery culture).
posted by atoxyl at 8:12 PM on January 20


Sorry Miko, I shouldn't have quoted you. I didn't mean it to be snarky.
posted by bongo_x at 9:09 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


"[Composer Darius] Milhaud detested Wagner’s music. When a young man wrote to him about Wagner’s theories that all art ‘springs from suffering, unhappiness, and frustration,’ Milhaud wrote: ‘I am glad you decided to write me about your problem [with Wagner’s theories]; here is my point of view, if you want it. I had a marvelously happy childhood. My wife is my companion, my collaborator; we are the best of friends, and this gives me great happiness. My son is a painter who works incessantly, and he is sweet and loving to his parents. Thus I can say that I’ve had a happy life, and if I compose, it’s because I am in love with music and I wouldn’t know how to do anything else…Your Wagner quote proves to me once again that he was an idiot."
posted by huimangm at 10:01 PM on January 20 [8 favorites]


This article is great. I mean, obviously each of them is only an expert in their own recovery, so trying to take lessons applicable to your own life from, say, Harper or Walsh or whatever is probably a terrible idea, but it's still fascinating.

I'm also really glad that Anastasio is included here, because his story makes it super clear how dangerous modern opiates can be.

Graphing the "yeah, I gotta clean up" moments here, such as they're shared, in instructive, too. Anastasio's is kind of the scariest -- I mean, it involved law enforcement and jail and the spectre of prison time -- but the sheer accumulated years of abuse represented by Walsh and Tyler is incredible, too. They're both lucky to be alive (and in particular Walsh seems to know that; it's kind of amazing the loss of Keith Moon wasn't more of a wake-up call for him).
posted by uberchet at 8:05 AM on January 21


While I can't deny that she's a small scale artist compared to the men here, y'all... Julien Baker is freaking potent. I am more than happy to see her in the same frame with Anastasio, Walsh, and Tyler.
posted by billjings at 10:07 AM on January 21 [3 favorites]


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