men and women who have passed away and left a literary legacy does seem to be strangely linked to questions of substance abuse and mind-altering drugs. It is
not only my books which suggest this, but my music collection too.
whilst composing and was reputedly drunk in public frequently; Fyodor Dostoevsky was a heavy drinker and wrote to pay for his dual addictions of booze and gambling; Aldous Huxley believed so vehemently in drugs bringing a visionary
experience that he wrote The Doors Of Perception which became a reference for artists seeking the same, and inspired the rock band The Doors to name themselves after it; the famous names of the literary Romantic Era, Shelley, Wordsworth, Byron, Coleridge and Keats to name but a few, all wrote under the influence of Opium and Laudanum. It is seen within acting too, (Oliver Reed, Johnny Depp, Martin Sheen), and, as I have mentioned, music, (Jimmy Page and Stairway to Heaven, Jimi Hendrix and his Purple Haze, Aerosmith, Megadeth, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, David Bowie, Nirvana, Guns n Roses…. ad infinitum). Even amongst sports stars, and by that I mean publicly adored figures who produce “brilliance” for their fans, the stimulants abound, such as George Best, and, latterly, Paul Gascoigne. It seems that wherever there is art and creativity, there is some sort of substance abuse, use or addiction, too.
ability of creative artists in the first place? Is their work the product of them – or of their altered state? Are they, therefore, defined by their altered state and not by their endemic talents? Can they even do their “thing” without the drugs?
believe the impetus and the drive for a story – the act of creation, regardless of the medium, comes from a very deep, (and deeply misunderstood), part of ourselves. Something I refer to as The Creative Anima. It lives and exists regardless of the addiction overlay that so many creative people, and others, labour under. Indeed, creativity is a basic human activity that resides within everyone. We are all blessed with the potential to create artistically just as we are all cursed with the ability to not see it or not use it. The real question I would like to see answered is not what the gifted are capable of with their addictions, but rather what they are capable of without them.
popular, highly successful and undoubtedly unparalleled (so far as commercial
impact is concerned) Stephen King, himself no stranger to drink and drug abuse
in his early days:
Sheerwood Anderson, and the poet Dylan Thomas. They are the writers who largely formed our vision of an existential English-speaking wasteland where people have been cut off from one another and live in an atmosphere of emotional
strangulation and despair. These concepts are very familiar to most alcoholics;
the common reaction to them is amusement. Substance-abusing writers are just
substance abusers – common or garden-variety drunks and druggies, in other
words. Any claims that the drugs and alcohol are necessary to dull a finer
sensibility are just the usual self-serving bullshit. I’ve heard alcoholic
snow-plough drivers make the same claim, that they drink to still the demons. It
doesn’t matter if you’re James Jones, John Cheever, or a stewbum snoozing in
Penn Station; for an addict, the right to the drink or drug of choice must be
preserved at all costs. Hemingway and Fitzgerald didn’t drink because they were
creative, alienated or morally weak. They drank because it’s what alkies are
wired up to do. Creative people probably DO run a greater risk of alcoholism and
addiction than those in some other jobs, but so what? We all look pretty much
the same when we’re puking in the gutter”.
of regrets shoved firmly under the bed until the morning, the sun goes down and
the creative tools of innumerable artists come out to play. God bless you, my
creative brethren. Just be sure that when you pick up the pen, or the guitar, or
the paintbrush, or the dance shoes or whatever it is you “use”, that the Muse is
coming from the bottom of your soul and not from the bottom of your bottle. Yes,
I know it is a darker place down there, but no-one ever mined a gem from their
window-box. Sometimes you gotta go deep to find your feet.