Hand In Hand by Jonny Steiner

Posted: May 5, 2008 by Maximum Mike in The Rocking Chair Blog
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Stone Temple Pilots used to be awesome. Though their initial sound borrowed heavily from other bands that were either more popular or more recognizable, they refined the Grunge sound as the first true Arena Rock group of the era. Their music was groovy and catchy. They had all the right elements; a preening, dour frontman, and a tight backing band. With their second release “Purple” the sound got even tighter, and the songs even catchier. They were beginning to develop as a serious contender to the more “legitimate” Alternative acts, although they were habitually panned by the critics. Then in 1996 they released their third album, the bizarrely titled “Tiny Music: Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop.” It sold well, going multi-platinum, but the material was a departure from their early formula. Adding elements from all over the musical spectrum the album was incoherent and rambling, unable to focus on any one element long enough to make a serious go of it. In addition the usually airtight musicianship of Dean and Robert Deleo and Eric Kretz was loose, jangling like the jowls of the elderly.

There are many arguments you can make as to why something like this happened. For one the band, achieving a great deal of recognition, decided to branch out and try something different. With the band’s fame came an elevated profile; with that came information about the band’s very public struggle with drug abuse. After cancelling most of their tour in 1995 the members decided to get help. They emerged from rehab a few months later feeling refreshed and renewed, entering the studio amid a flurry of publicity only to come out with the question mark that is “Tiny Music”.

Yes, I am implying that drugs, or more specifically Heroin, Scag, Smack, Horse, (what have you) played a significant part in the early works of the band. Its removal during the recording process left the band members unfocused and confused. Take the Beatles as an example: the most creative and forward thinking era of their career, from “Rubber Soul” to “Abby Road”, was created amid a wave of hallucinogenic intake. The point I am trying to make is not that drugs are good, I am merely pointing out what Bill Hicks said best; that all those people that have made the music that enhanced our lives were “rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrreal f—–g high on drugs.” Sad yes, but startling, no. Our singers and Rockstars live above the law in a realm where we give them a pass on anything they do. People were shocked when Keith Moon (Drums, The Who) busted up his teeth diving into an empty swimming pool. In a sense we are the greatest enablers of all. We stand back and watch our favorite artists self-destruct, only becoming concerned when they are no longer a viable product. The presence of drugs in the lives of our Rock heroes is hardly shocking either. In some respects the artists themselves feel that drugs help them provide us with the best possible product. George Michael, who has sold over 80 million albums in his 25 year career has said that he absolutely needs weed to make music, that he cannot write songs without it.

What is most interesting about this relationship is how the music being created usually reflects the most popular drugs being consumed at the time. For example, in the 60s and 70s the most popular drugs were LSD and Marijuana. The laid back nature of Folk-Rock and proto-psychedelic classics like Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman” represented the free-thinking and free-living these drugs stereotypically foster. As the 70s began and the Vietnam War continued to escalate, more and more soldiers were found with weed stashed in the butts of their M16s. It seemed that was going to be the way of things, but as the decade wore on and musical tastes shifted, so did the drugs being consumed. As Punk-Rock rose and its newly wealthy artists turned to PCP, the youth who largely could not afford the real thing turned to Glue Huffing to satisfy their desire. PCP, or Angel Dust, Ozone, Sherm, Kools, (well, you get the picture) is an anesthetic and an amphetamine combined, which was perfectly suited for the frantic, often self-destructive nature of the music. Across town, the early superclubs like Studio 54 were packed to the gills with the social elite burying their heads in mountains of cocaine. The socio-economic rift between the Punks and the more bourgeois Disco fans is apparent. Where PCP made you crazy, Coke kept your head in the clouds and your feet on the dance floor.

This continued into the 80s. As New Wave music and early Electronica rose from the ashes of Disco, cocaine followed it. Led largely by Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, and The Pet Shop Boys, the music was ripe with the overly synthesized dance sound that filled dance floors. While true Punk faded into Hardcore, the growing Hip-Hop community already had a problem; Cocaine’s ugly stepsister, Crack. Known as a ghetto drug, crack infested poor ethnic communities all over the United States, and became the source of the rallying cry for early rappers like Grand Master Flash and Eric B and Rakim. In that respect it is not the music that reflects the drugs, rather it is the lyrics that are influenced by crack’s siege on their communities.

As the 90s were ushered in, the freewheeling rockstar cokeheads were replaced by Kurt Cobain and his eras Heroin-chic Grunge sound. The widespread use of heroin was so prevalent that Rolling Stone magazine famously put Layne Staley (vocals, Alice In Chains) on a magazine cover under the headline “The Needle and the Damage Done.” This was a reference to the Neil Young song that speaks about drug abuse. At the same time that Rock was undergoing a public struggle with heroin, another narcotic was infecting the youth of the fledgling Trance community. Ecstacy, or X, E, Go, Adam, Clarity, and so on was a bit of everything. It combined the euphoria of Marijuana with the craziness of crack, and some mild hallucinations to boot. In clubs like London’s famous Ministry of Sound it was all the rage; it fit with the upbeat excitement of the music as well as the sensory overloading light shows. That the pills were cut with a dangerous cocktail of other substances did not seem to bother the kids who came for the drugs and stayed for the music. In the late 90s the DJs themselves tried to put some semblance of sanity back into their scene. Famously Paul Van Dyk, one of the genre’s founders, donned a shirt that read “There is no E in Dyk.” This combined his fear for the drug-obsessed youth of Europe with the correct spelling of his oft misspelled surname.

As we find ourselves hurtling forward into the new millennium, this question seems to beg: what is next? We certainly will continue to idolize our favorite artists with the ever impressionable youth striving to emulate them in every way. A recent poll in England showed that Amy Winehouse, a Heroin addict, is the most influential woman in the country. Where are the boundaries? Is it our fault for idolizing these flawed people, or is it their fault for falling into the trappings of stardom? It is a symbiotic relationship that cycles from our obsessions to the artists fears, and trickles back down. At the end of the day it seems to be not only our choice but one that we have to make together.

What I am listening to: Above & Beyond – Tri-State: A trio of British producers Above & Beyond are one of the first groups in Trance to create an artist album that stands as a cohesive work. Expertly produced with crystal clear beats and lush melodies they proved that Electronic Music is alive and well. They also showed that it was possible for producers who felt trapped by the DJs whose careers they were fueling to escape the shadows and become recognized on their own.

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