What Do You Do When Your Heroes Do Drugs? by Michael Channing

What Do You Do
When Your Heroes Do Drugs?

by Michael Channing

I'm a teetotaler. I don't drink, don't smoke, so what do I do? Judge... mostly. When I was young I hated drunk people. I hated them and their stupid problems. If I learned you drank, did drugs, smoked pot, you were garbage to me. This hatred stemmed from growing up with an abusive, drunken junkie father, so you can see why I would want to go straight edge. Dad would routinely pawn my bike, my computer, my Atari. He straight up stole from my piggy bank to buy dope. I often found his used syringes in the trash. Those who chose to partake of alcohol or drugs of any kind were just like him: useless, deceitful, destructive.

Now I never actually said that to anyone's face. I judged in silence. I judged on paper.

Over the years, however, I kinda mellowed. You're never going to convince me that drugs are good. I'll always be a little fearful of them. I've seen the damage they do. I was part of the collateral. But I have good friends who drink or smoke recreationally, or have a history of harder drugs, or still dip into those once in awhile. My best friend in college was a health-nut vegetarian who would occasionally take heroin. And I loved her with all my heart. She certainly didn't need my disdain. She certainly didn't deserve my judgment.

Even some of my heroes, folks I’ve always held up as examples of drug-free living, are, in fact, users. Rush have been my favorite band for decades. With their unmatched musicianship and cerebral lyrics free of psychedelic wankery, I figured there was no way these guys were stunting their brains with drugs. But, ahh… they have an entire song about the pleasures of smoking pot.

A young Rush, looking more goofy than you'd expect.

No, not these guys.

Let's get a whiff of those lyrics, from “Passage to Bangkok”:

Wreathed in smoke in Lebanon
We burn the midnight oil
The fragrance of Afghanistan
Rewards a long day’s toil

It's about oils and incense and, um, soap? Okay okay okay it's about pot. All different kinds of pot. My favorite band smokes as much weed as Snoop Dogg and wrote a whole damn song about it, and I tried to convince myself otherwise for years. It was only in recent interviews with them that I learned the horrible truth. So if I stood the same ground I staked out in my youth, I would have to throw out a huge stack of CDs, a couple of tee-shirts, and never again listen to the greatest music ever captured on tape. Maybe I can bend a little.

It’s obvious weed has in no way diminished their musical prowess or dumbed down their lyrics. So it’s possible I was mistaken about its destructive effects on the brain.

One of the hypocrisies I’ve come to accept is that people who get sober after years of abuse and dangerous behavior get elevated as saints while people like me who have never done drugs or drank an ounce of alcohol are viewed as freaks of nature. That’s fine. I’d rather be canonized for my divine prose and perfect verses anyway. But I've always wanted heroes who shared my teetotaler values. Really cool heroes who stare into the abyss and make it give up its secrets. You know, somebody like Henry Rollins. He’s a tough, outspoken, funny writer possessing physical as well as mental strength. And he’s never done drugs. One of his songs says, “I got no time for drug addiction, no time for smoke and booze. Too strong for a shortened lifespan, I got no time to lose.” Damn right. Just paint me red and inflate me a couple hundred pounds, and I’m pretty much him.

Except Rollins has indeed experimented with drugs. LSD. As he tells the story on his podcast, someone said to him, “You should try acid,” and he, being the compliant boy scout, said, “Sure.” (If I ever get the chance to meet him again, I’ll try to remember to say, “You should hang out with me and be my best pal.”) So he dropped acid a few times just to see what the fuss was all about. I’m still shaking my head at how easily he caved, but the takeaway is that he turned out fine. No permanent brain damage or recurring hallucinations. Just normal, overly intense, will eat anything on a dare Rollins.

A young Henry Rollins looking more goofy than you'd expect.

Even his own eyes.

So maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to condemn those who try a little chemical experimentation. I’m not curious or brave enough myself, but some of my lifelong heroes were, and if I can curtail my judgment for those guys, maybe I can do the same for other, less-talented folks as well. So, go, do your drugs. Just don't call me in the middle of the night asking for a ride or a dollar. I'll be listening to Rush and drinking orange cream soda with the cool kids.

Stars in the Dope Show

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Chokes and Warbles
Now Available

Chokes and Warbles, a collection of essays and poems by Michael Channing

December 7, 2018