On Drugs

March 27, 2014


On Drugs

by Noah Mickens

In the underground, drugs are here to stay. That’s for sure. As far back as you want to look, you’ll find artists and freaks surrounding the drug scenes of whatever era they’re born into. The reasons why are relatively simple too, I suppose. After all, what does “drugs” mean in the modern definition of the word? Basically, whatever mood-altering substances are deemed illicit or immoral at any given time, those are drugs. Just so, we artists and freaks are most readily identified by our relative estrangement to the times in which we live, and our willingness to go exploring where we’re told to stay away. Drugs—their users and dealers, their customs and esoterica, their celebrities and hangers-on—have always been right there at the same level of glamorous-yet-outre society as prostitutes, criminals, revolutionaries, and bloody artists.

I’m not going to name any names or places in this article, my own included for the most part. But I will say this: I have done a whole hell of a lot of drugs, and I’ve done them every which way. Any of the, like, Big 7 illegal drugs; plus a mess of other ones; and just a ton of booze and cigarettes and coffee and refined sugar and all that shit too. And pharmy shit, painkillers and sedatives and a rainbow of psych meds. I’ve done it all before, and in all honesty I may do it all again.

And you know, I don’t regret it either. Being a drug user—at times a real dick-in-the-dirt addict, but mostly more of a maintenance pothead and recreational everything else—has gotten me into some truly deplorable situations. But to try to think of myself without drugs, to envision a version of Noah Mickens who never started smoking weed when he was 8, cigarettes when he was 11, drinking and dropping acid when he was 13; always chest-deep in the street culture and the band scene, high as fuck, for the first six or seven years of my post-childhood existence; punctuating many of the great eras of my life with particularly profound hallucinogenic revelations and parties that went on for days… what was I talking about? Oh yeah, I just really can’t imagine a version of myself who never did all that. What would I even be like?

These days, I’m old. I’m old, and I can’t be scarfing down a ton of drugs all the time. The last time I tried a bump of speed was a few years ago, and Jesus I thought it was going to kill me. Cocaine gives me the worst sinus problems and ruins my voice for days. Heroin always made me throw up, much to my benefit, so I never got into that beyond trying it a half-dozen times or so because people kept insisting it was the ultimate high. And booze has turned into a different animal for me than it used to be—a nerve-wracking incremental tug-of-war with a patient and all-powerful opponent, my blackout doing its damnedest to sneak up on me and ruin my evening the second I have one sip too many. So nowadays, I’ve pretty much quit. And I did it without rehab or a 12-step group or anything like that. I quit a little at a time, by getting too old to handle it. That’s my perspective, and I’m sure it has a lot to do with how my thoughts on the subject have evolved.

Why do we get high? There’s a lot wrapped up in the experience. There are chemical reasons, very much in vogue to talk about right now. Your brain is all set up to receive and desire serotonin, oxytocin, dopamine—chemicals that result from innate states of consciousness like Achieving a Goal or Having an Orgasm, but can be gotten more immediately through the use of drugs. But that’s not the whole deal.

As discussed earlier, drug use inherently has to do with breaking the law; or at least breaking an established more, such as the one that says smoking cigarettes is bad for you and bad for the people around you. Alcohol is more obvious—It’s accepted that most people drink, but it’s kept in a special compartment of vice that lends it some allure. To simply announce that you’re going to go out and have a few drinks after work is a small confession, an acknowledgement that you are not the upstanding professional that you pretend to be all day. And you want to share that winking contrition, because you don’t want to be that upstanding professional. You want to be the outlaw, the non-conformist, not the company man.

Drugs give us the chance to feel formidable, too. In lives which present few opportunities to prove our strength, drugs let us show the world that we can take a beating, albeit one administered by ourselves. We have hero drug freaks like Hunter Thompson, Iggy Pop, Jerry Garcia, William Burroughs, Keith Richards, Tom Waits, Jim Morrison—prize fighters in the realm of the senses. The self-destructive impulse, strong under any conditions, is infused with romantic mystique by the illicit and sensual world of drugs. These beautiful, talented beings, tearing into themselves with artful gusto until they die miserably and get resurrected on posters and t-shirts. Drugs are the easiest way to be like them. Their more elusive qualities—their genius, their talent—are perhaps a result or a reflection of this shameful sexy vice that we share. Stick a needle in your arm, you’re in the same club as Kurt Cobain. Smoke that spliff, you’re down with Method Man. One of the gang.

Which is how people see you and me, you understand. And by you, I mean the sort of person who might tend to read this Burro Magazine. The articles, not just the photo essays. You more-bookish-than-average underground scenesters with your interesting little projects and your impressive little outfits. Like me! We, the charismatic oddballs one finds at one’s first after-after-hours. One who has sought out the deeper world of unique and welcoming fellow wanderers, and thinks as they lay eyes on us, “I have found them! My people!”

And a moment later, “I’d better not fuck this up.”

And it’s a question of who we are when they find us. Is our busy bohemian exterior just a mask for a mob of degenerates? Certainly, that’s what some disapproving folks in the Square World have to say about us; and in some cases they’re not wrong. You’ve known people like that. You meet this incredible painter, you go back to his dingy-ass apartment, and he’s got some pregnant 16-year-old girlfriend walking around in there smoking coke or something. It’s real shit. And for that matter, it reflects an aspect of what our entire culture is, inflated to a grotesque extreme. It reflects the way that our vices and our charisma, our status and our opposition to the rules, draw less powerful people into situations they don’t know how to handle. You don’t have to be a 16-year-old girl to find yourself drawn to an impressive individual, wanting in on that person’s life, and seeing how the drugs are the easiest way in. That intimacy you want—bring Jim Morrison a bottle of whiskey and you can suck his dick, then maybe lay with him for a while. Maybe he’ll read you a poem and you can cherish and savor the memory till you’re old and alone.

But that’s not it, is it? That’s not what we’re about. The subculture, when used properly, is a tool of liberation and enlightenment. Of course, the sex can be a part of that liberation—people need to let go and do what they like when it comes to sex and love and all that, and this is definitely not the message that’s coming down from the mainstream. I would argue that drugs can be a part of that liberation too. There is another kind of letting-go that needs to happen for a lot of people, and also a big journey inward, and for that matter an ever greater outward journey; and drugs can help get you there. Which, yes, so can yoga and meditation and fasting and running a marathon; but those things just aren’t for everybody. I don’t hold with those who say that everyone should drop acid or smoke weed; but based on my experience, I couldn’t honestly recommend against either. Drugs are part of the culture that we have to offer the world. But they are not the limit of that culture, nor even its most important aspect.

William Burroughs was a genius because of how he deconstructed language and the writing process, how he fearlessly lived as an out gay literary icon, how he challenged the limits of what could be considered literature and what sort of stories would be permitted to exist in printed form. His philosophical concepts—the great families of humanity, the Egyptian-derived mysticism, the psychedelic and violent science fiction future, the cryptic secret histories. He wasn’t a genius because he felt so bad about being gay that he drank and doped himself into insanity and murdered his wife, spent the rest of his life in mourning, then died alone in a shack full of cats. That was his downfall, his destruction. All his life was a battle against those forces; and his weapons were writing and expression. That is the lesson of William Burroughs – that a man possessed by demons can save his soul through a process of self-exploration and fearless sharing.

We have this literature. We have this music. These concepts. These places. We have these generations of discoveries, known and understood only to the Underground. The subculture is a fierce and vibrant mosaic, an endless buffet to rival Valhalla, with more new sights and sounds encoded within than one could explore in a thousand lifetimes. Perhaps you’d like to dance yourself into ecstasy, or tackle some complex ideas of theoretical physics, or get together with your friends and bust your ass on a rainwater irrigation system. And while you’re doing that, maybe tonight’s the night to take a little something extra that will enrich or enliven the experience.

People seek us out for this purpose. Some folks just can’t make it in the Square World. They can’t. So they don’t have to be up in the morning, and they don’t have to get home to the Missus. They’re looking for a reason why that’s all OK, and they’re looking for people who can help them realize their own ideas. They want to start a band but who will be in this band? They want to make a play, but who will be in this play? They want to stay up all night talking about the moon, but who will they talk about it with? Who will respect them for the unique perspective they wish to share, instead of hearing that perspective and deciding they don’t belong?

Culture comes up from the bottom. The system of human society, and how it interacts with every aspect of the physical and energetic systems which surround us, begins at the level of individual people thinking and acting in concert. As we’ve seen proven again and again, one person’s words and conceptions can ripple out and change the shape of the world. Let’s get together and change it for the better. We’re fighting a revolution out here, freeing our fellow people one at a time. It’s no game. It is the Great Work, and we owe this Work all that we have to offer. Working actively against us is a system of control and repression, and the drugs are the easiest way in for them as well. If we accept that drugs will always be a part of the subculture, for all the reasons listed above, then the goal must be to incorporate them into our lives in a way that does not compromise the greater Work.

One friend of mine, a driven a resourceful man who wants nothing more than to devote his all to this Work of ours, told me the other day that he doesn’t like to come around anymore because everybody’s always getting high, but he doesn’t like to do that, so it makes him feel like a chump who gets no respect. Another friend told me he resents the fact that he stays pretty sober and works hard for the cause, but perceives himself as holding an equal-or-lesser status to people who just get high all day. These aren’t bad people. They’re not intolerant, boring squares—they just don’t like the drugs as much as some do, and for them the drugs are taking over the scene. I see it too. I see how getting high is consuming more of our time, driving friends and collaborators apart, exposing us to legal trouble, changing our public image for the worse. Meanwhile, the prisons are full of people for whom mere suspicion of possessing drugs was enough for them to lose their homes, their families, all their possessions, and ultimately their freedom. I see how this can happen to us—how everything we’ve worked and sacrificed to build can be torn down by the pursuit of our petty little escapes.  I see it so clearly that I wrote this article, to get us all talking and thinking about this.

Don’t be a junkie. Don’t be a wastoid. Make a place at the table for everyone, and prioritize our Work and our Community above your personal urges. There’s always time for rails and blowjobs—I promise. But if that kind of casual gratification is what’s at the center of our Work, then we are liars my friends. We are charlatans, perpetuating the same system of privilege and servitude we have supposedly aligned ourselves against; and the world will see us for what we are. Good people will turn away from us and lose out on the true revolutionary moment in which we are all key participants. Others will join wholeheartedly into the least-meaningful aspects of our Work and become avaricious dead weight sucking from the tit of the Revolution instead of finding that elusive spark that will set their spirits ablaze and spur them on to create Works of their own. One at a time. Instruments of liberation and not enslavement. Tiny steps forward and upward that compound into a single journey. A world-spanning family of individualists, whose paths have nonetheless led us to something greater than ourselves.

Let us be that, my friends. Thank you.

-N

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