Wednesday, May 2, 2012
VELVET UNDERGROUND AND HEROIN
Earlier, I put on a Velvet Underground album. Their tune Heroin continues in my head, Lou Reed's and John Cale's guitars pumping a rhythm with Sterling Morrioson's bass and Moe Tucker's drums keeping the rhythm going. The shriek of guitar strings like subway wheels screeching on the tracks in curves through the tunnels under Manhattan streets. Heroin was their obligatory anthemic drug song required of every band in the Sixties. The drug anthems tended to be around lsd trips, floating over strawberry fields forever. Not the Velvets. Hard core spike in the vein, makes me feel just like Jesus' son. Hippies didn't take to the Velvets' New York scene where everybody hip wore black. California was the flowers in your hair hip style. The Velvet Underground only played outside New York a few times. They made a bus trip to Texas and then to San Francisco in hippie times playing New York sounds and lyrics. Audiences didn't take to them at all. They hated the song Heroin. Too hard core. The Velvet Underground also cranked up the metronome a bit making their rhythms a little closer to original Fifties rhythms of Buddy Holly and Bo Diddley.
Reed's and Cale's guitar solos were never Stairway To Heaven psychedelia. They wrenched the strings making unmelodic squawling sounds that turned up later in new ways by Rage Against The Machine, Papa Roach, The Clash, Garbage, Patti Smith Group. To make it brief, punk. Punk followed Velvet Underground's influence as Velvet Underground had followed Bo Diddley's and Buddy Holly's musical influence. In New York, punk pretty much came out of CBGB's where a new sound was emerging, like all at once after the New York Dolls when Patti Smith recorded Horses. Simultaneously in London punk was an art student trend. Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and the Banshees was one of the first run of London punk bands in the time of the Damned, the Sex Pistols, Generation X, naming just a few, and Nina Hagen Band in Berlin. Siouxsie said punk is not a particular style of music. Punk is the freedom to do what you want to do, make the music you want to hear. In London, the press made punk into an anger expression, when it was an art student trend. There, kids wanting to get with a band went to art school. That was where you met other's looking to get a band going. Every one of the Clash met in art school. Paul Simenon, the bass player, didn't even know how to play bass. When Jones and Strummer started talking about it, Simenon was there and a friend, so come on, you can learn it, let's party. Punk was not an anger expression in New York either.
Herion ran through the New York punk scene like a plague and crossed the Atlantic to the London punk scene where junk critically wounded the punk spirit in just a few months. Richard Hell, interesting New York guitar player in the band Television with Tom Verlaine for awhile, then his own band, Richard Hell and the Voidoids. He didn't last long. The black dragon got him. The one song he might be remembered for is Love Comes In Spurts. He was a guitar player and singer with promise at his very beginning, but he took a liking to the extended orgasmic feeling that's better than sex and goes on for quite awhile. Then it goes away and everything is boring, gotta get some more right away. Breaking and entering, becoming habitual at stealing cars, computers, anything, and it becomes a career. Steve Tyler of Aerosmith kissed the lips of death and wound up in the literal gutter before he could turn around. Lost his band, home, jewelry, self-esteem, the works, down the drain to the sewer. He survived and came back, as did Bob Dylan, Steve Earle and several I don't know about and never heard of.
The obvious finally popped me with a knuckle on the forehead that heroin addiction is the beginning of the spiritual path for the ones able to get with some kind of help to get over the addiction. It looks like the only path out of any kind of addiction is the spiritual path. And when one comes back on the spiritual path, they have experience of both the dark side and the light side, the whole. I think of them as brave people. They may not think they're brave when they start shooting up, but it's not long before breaking into somebody's apartment in an apartment building and carrying out the loot is what you do. That's brave. I do not have the bravery to break into anybody's apartment or house, even if the house is remote and the owners in Europe on vacation. My heart would beat so fast, my knees would be so weak a cat could scare me out of my wits. It wouldn't do for me to put myself in a situation where I have to be brave enough to face somebody being home when I wasn't expecting them. I don't have what it takes to be a junkie. I'm not brave enough to do something to get myself handcuffed behind my back and stuffed into the back seat of a police car. I have a problem being handcuffed by an authority I have no recourse against. I don't want to go there. So I obey the laws, at least within reason.
I've read different writings by junkies, known friends who have friends who are junkies. We have our share here in Alleghany on every kind of thing from crystal meth to opium, cocaine, heroin, anything of prescription drugs. I've seen it take young'uns just out of high school, set free from the leash the first time in their lives, dive head first into everything they can find. Then you need the money. A labor job just out of high school doesn't pay enough. Besides, that's work. Breaking and entering is easy and fun and you find all kindsa shit. Crossing the line into needing to steal a woman's precious jewelry, some of it her mother's, tainting her private space with the presence of a thief without compassion is something I cannot do to both myself and the person I'm stealing from. It's a feeling of having been raped when you discover somebody has been in your house and you start seeing what's missing. I don't like that feeling and I can't give the experience to somebody else. It's just not in me. It doesn't leave the world a better place. Sometimes we hurt other people without intending to and without knowing it, like when I have kicked Caterpillar walking through the house in the dark. I would never kick Caterpillar with intent to hurt her.
The people brave enough to stick a needle between their toes have something I aint got. But then it's not long before standing in the street in downtown New York traffic, holding up a lane of traffic, standing in the street talking to somebody who isn't there. That's not how I want to live my life. Whatever a heroin rush feels like I'll never know and don't want to know. It's the nature trail to hell. For the last half century the American people have made the drug trade the most lucrative in the world. It's got millions of people in prison over the last half century. The drug war is just another war used by our government to keep war going. After the 2nd WW, the Cold War. After the Cold War, the War on Drugs. Or, as Gore Vidal calls it, the War on the American People. I wouldn't think of hoping our government might do something sensible, but it seems to me free treatment programs in every city and rural county would keep prison populations down, clean up the drug problem in a short number of years. I'd be for taking somebody in no matter how many times they lapse and return. Not one minute in the labor of helping junkies is wasted, no matter what the results. Compassion the guiding light instead of punishment makes living easier all the way around. Junkies want help, need help, can't afford help in a society indifferent to them. Not indifferent. Hostile. It is a hostile attitude Americans have for junkies. Making it harder for them just makes it harder for the rest of us. Compassion costs nothing, is easy, and every expression of compassion makes the world a better place.