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How Drugs Can Affect Your Music Compositions


Music and drugs certainly seem like natural partners. Spark a blunt and suddenly you have a different perspective. The music seems.....better somehow. You can focus on certain elements of the track that previously you had never even been aware of. You may find yourself listening exclusively to the bass line for example, or following the piano intently to the exclusion of everything else. Marijuana has been part of the music scene since before there was radio. Rumors about jazz musicians (mostly black musicians, unfortunately) using drugs have been flying around for over a century. The association between musicians and drugs is so persistent that even today the common assumption is that if you are a musician then you must also be a drug user.

Of course, like most musicians, I was exposed to drugs early in my career and I tried just about everything except heroin. I dodged that nasty bullet thankfully. But I also discovered early on that using drugs while performing or composing had a profoundly negative impact on the results. The textbook definition of insanity as it pertains to drug abuse is "doing something repeatedly expecting different results". So of course I kept smoking pot occasionally while writing music, hoping the euphoric effect would inspire me to new creative heights. Sadly, it did not - and it never will. Fortunately for me, I quickly learned that drinking alcohol or using drugs of any kind while performing had devastating (and occasionally embarrassing) consequences - so I developed an iron clad policy that served me well back then and still does today. Never drink or smoke pot (or any drug for that matter) while performing. That policy also applies to music composition, which in itself is a performance.

There is always a temptation to change one's mood with mind altering substances in the hopes it will somehow lead to breathtakingly impressive results. Inspiration is an elusive prey and some believe drugs are the magic noose with which to capture it. I haven't used recreational drugs for decades (with possibly one or two exceptions) because I don't like what it does to me - especially pot. It makes me anxious, hungry, compulsive and seriously stupid. It compels me to eat, smoke and drink it all away and I end up hurting myself even more. To illustrate how pervasive the lure of drugs can be with respect to music creation, I still find myself thinking about smoking a little pot "just to see" what would happen. Of course, those are just thoughts and they have no power over me now.

I produced an album for a friend some years ago. He was a vocalist and loved to sing. He had never had the opportunity to record a "professional" album and I was happy to help. We found a suitable studio and began production. We recorded several vocal takes on one song until I believed we had what we needed to piece a strong vocal track together. After his last take, he came into the control room and said, "I want to do one more take but I want to smoke a bowl first". I said, "Why? We have what we need already". He told me he thought he could do a much better job if he was a little buzzed. So he got high while I waited then we ran through the song again. It was possibly one of the worst performances I had ever heard from him but despite that, he came strolling into the control room with a huge "I nailed it" look on his smug face. You know the end to this story. We kept the "sober" takes and he learned a very important personal lesson. Pot only makes you "think" you are better. It does not actually make you better.

I believe recent government decisions to legalize or at least decriminalize marijuana are a step in the right direction. No one should do jail time for hurting themselves. My fear is that marijuana, pot, weed, whatever you want to call it, will become so ingrained in our culture, our children's future, in their perception of it as a perfectly acceptable thing to use, that it will cause irreparable harm. While it does show promise in treating various conditions, I'm going to stick with wine at dinner and the occasional tequila or beer. It works for me. That other stuff doesn't.

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