In the wake of the Electric Zoo festival being cancelled because of two drug-related deaths, and the news of a 19-year-old girl overdosing at a DJ Zedd concert last week at the House of Blues in Boston, I've been thinking more than usual about young people, music and overdosing.
Obviously we've all read enough about Miley Cyrus' antics at the VMAs to last us the rest of our lives (198,000,000 stories and counting, according to Google -- much of them, according to my extremely unscientific survey, saying the same thing). And maybe that's part of the problem. Call me a cynic, but the whole "scandal" seemed, to me, to be more about forced scandal creation equaling millions of dollars both for MTV and for Cyrus than anything else. I also think it says a lot more about the hypocritically-puritanical society we live in (we're scandalized by a 20-something displaying her sexuality on a stage while we host 60 percent of all porn sites) than about Miley Cyrus.
Much has been made of how Cyrus promotes the use of molly in her hit song, "We Can't Stop." And honestly, part of me wants to tell the Puritanical Police to calm down, to explain that this girl making one maybe reference to this drug (because she has claimed she's singing the word "Miley") doesn't cause kids to think the drug is cool and go out and do it. I mean, Jay Z references Ambien and MDMA in "Empire State of Mind," and no one's accusing him of getting America's teens on drugs, right?
Then I remember being around 16 years old and hearing the song "White Lines" by Grandmaster Flash. My friends knew the song: They were singing along. I'd never heard it before, and I liked it. More relevantly, I thought it was cool -- it was clear to me by the way they were singing it that this was a song that cool people knew and sang along to. And I felt excited by the lyrics -- I knew cocaine was bad, everyone knew cocaine was bad but, as a burgeoning addict, the idea of something bad was titillating if not downright appealing. The irony, of course, is that "White Lines" is considered an anti-drug song. But I didn't seem to take in the bits about selling your soul or the explicit, Nancy Reagan-esque order, "Don't do it." I just knew it was about cocaine, and that was exciting.
Did Grandmaster Flash cause my cocaine addiction years later? Obviously not. Would I have become a cocaine addict had I never heard that song? Absolutely. Yes, that song normalized and even somehow glorified the drug for me in a way that I guarantee seeped into my consciousness. But it wouldn't have had I not already been highly interested in the topic of cocaine.
In comparison to a lot of other drugs, cocaine doesn't cause a lot of ODs. But when I became a heavy coke user, life started to not seem all that important and thus ODing started to not seem like that big of a deal. I don't know if the coke made me so depressed that I just stopped caring about life or if the only way to justify doing something that you know could kill you -- because I was also mixing pills and alcohol to come down from the coke as well as drinking and driving -- is to convince yourself that life itself isn't all that important. But after a certain point, once the drugs had stopped working but I couldn't stop doing them, I very much welcomed the idea that they could kill me.
Death -- or just some bad shit going down -- often felt like a variable. One night, when I was having a birthday party at a bar in Hollywood, I did what I thought was coke with a friend. Turned out it was not coke -- the friend explained, after we'd done it, that he'd stolen the white powder from his roommate and that this roommate was pretty into special K -- and well, let's just say that I don't handle my ketamine well. I never made it to my birthday party, actually; after finding myself unable to speak or move, I was parked by friends next to the dumpster behind the bar, where I continued experiencing what I guess is known as a K-hole (not recommended!). Friends would come out and visit me, wish me a happy birthday and then go back inside the bar while I sat there, mostly comatose, waiting until I could move again. I ended up being taken to a friend's place after the party, where I ultimately passed out on her couch. And I'll never forget the next morning, when she came out, looked at me, saw my eyes were open and said, "Oh, good, you're breathing -- I wasn't sure you would be," as casually as she might have offered me coffee.
We were not a crowd that went out to see much live music. Our priority was doing drugs, and it was far easier to stay in a cop-free place, especially one where you didn't have to sneak off to the bathroom to do drugs. We hung around one guy's place a lot -- a guy who we knew had had a bad drug problem at one point ("He has holes in his back from smoking so much crack in New York," I remember someone whispering to me and I surely nodded in response though I still don't know what that means). But denial was a tool many of us possessed so his "former" problem didn't seem all that relevant. I felt similarly about a girl I met at the home of one of my coke dealers, who told me that she'd been to rehab. "That poor girl shouldn't do drugs because she obviously has a problem or she wouldn't have been to rehab!" I thought. It didn't occur to me, in other words, that the fact that I was meeting her, or anyone, at my drug dealer's house might suggest that I, too, could have a problem.
Anyway, at this alleged-holes-in-his-back guy's house, I became somewhat accustomed to people freaking out or having adverse reactions to the drugs they were doing. No one ever OD'd when I was there but there were definitely times when, "Oh my God, she's stopped breathing!" was yelled across the apartment. She, whoever she was, always started breathing again when I was around. But if she didn't -- well, that was something we all knew could happen at any time.
Now, I can't speak for any of the other people who were holed up there with me, snorting their lives away. But I know that I had no idea what life could offer or that I was chopping up lines with credit cards I was going to feel horribly ashamed of using the next time I took them out to buy something because I was miserable and trying to escape it. I thought I was "partying." I thought I was having fun. I thought I was entitled to it and that I needed it.
The kids dying of all these overdoses lately may have felt the same way, or maybe they were just trying a drug for the first time in the name of "fun." Miley Cyrus didn't kill them. DJ Zedd, whomever he is, didn't kill them. The Zoo Festival didn't kill them. But our society, which glorifies the use of drugs and alcohol and stigmatizes addiction and even recovery -- that expends outrageous amounts of energy on shaming Miley Cyrus while ignoring many of the issues worth getting upset about -- does play a part. In the words of Grandmaster Flash, it's hard as hell to fight it. But how can we make any progress if we waste so much time and energy focusing on the wrong things?
This post originally appeared on AfterPartyChat.
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