Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Sex, Drugs, Rock n' Roll: Brief Chronicles

Music and intoxication have gone hand in hand, not only from the 60’s Sex, Drugs rock and Roll era, but ever since the birth of music. Many cultures across the globe such as Turkish, Polish, Swedish, German, Danish and even our so called conservative Indian has an equivalent phrase: “Kabab, Sharab aur Shabab”(Meat, Wine and Women/Beauty). All of this being centuries prior to the sixties. So don’t go blaming the hippies when for the debauchery and the opulent lifestyle. However this lifestyle reached it peak in the 60’s with the hippie movement leading a life of sex, drugs, rock n’ roll having strong liberal and peace views. “Flower Children” as they are popularly known as, produced some of the best rock music there ever can be.

Much of this interest in drugs rose as a means to escape all the negativity of the world (War, etc). This culture became very popular and also became means of getting inspiration for some. While some indulged in it for sheer joy, while some out of personal dilemmas. Whatever the reason, it gave the best rock we would ever get.
The Beatles say, they actually started “really thinking” after consuming drugs, who were introduced to it by Bob Dylan. A lot of artists started drugs out of curiosity as it was a fad of the time. Beatles used to consume a lot of scotch and coke prior to the drug introduction. And as Paul McCartney says that they preferred drugs as it didn’t cause their motor nerves to malfunction while playing the guitar. He also says he tried it cause everyone was doing it from Beach Boys to Eric Clapton was doing it. This kind of indulgence mostly spread through hedonist parties which had omnipresent skimpily clad women, drugs, alcohol in abundance along with a night full of debauchery. One would begin from there and get hooked on for life, mostly till death, or in some cases, clean up. However the acts performed by these stars are rather amusing.

One of the most amusing and fascinating is Syd Barrett, who indulged in LSD (Powerful hallucinogen drug) very early on during the days of Pink Floyd. Many report seeing him on stage with the group, strumming on one chord through the entire concert, or not playing at all. At a show at The Fillmore West in San Francisco, during a performance of Interstellar Overdrive, Barrett slowly detuned his guitar. The audience seemed to enjoy such antics, unaware of the rest of the band's consternation. Before a performance in late 1967, Barrett apparently crushed Mandrax and an entire tube of Brylcreem into his hair, which subsequently melted down his face under the heat of the stage lighting, making him look like "a guttered candle". The image of Syd's melting features would later be used in The Wall film. For a handful of shows David played and sang while Barrett wandered around on stage, occasionally deigning to join in playing.

But Syd Barrett wasn’t the only one with strange on stage antics. During a 1969 concert at The Dinner Key Auditorium in Miami, an intoxicated Morrison exposed himself on stage. He was arrested for this act on the 1st of March, 1969. His often anti-social behaviour made him a hero to his own generation, but he was regarded as a dangerous influence by middle-aged establishments and concerts were cancelled. Then there was Jimi Hendrix who would literally make love to the music with his pelvic gyrations in front of his amplifier producing revolutionary sounds through his guitar using feedback. Stage antics would also involve playing the guitar with his teeth, playing behind his back, jump and tumble on stage and perform a whole lot of LSD induced acts. One of the most famous would be at the Monterey Pop festival, 1967, where additional to the above mentioned acts he would also set his guitar on fire followed by smashing it to little bit and pieces. All this while the band continued play in the background. However Jimi Hendrix wasn’t the only one to trash his guitar, there was Pete Townshend of the Who as well who would indulge in the same act.






































On The Smothers Brothers Show, the band was nearing the end of "My Generation" when the American audience witnessed the truly destructive nature of The Who. A smoke machine started behind the amp racks, and Pete Townshend jammed his guitar into his speaker several times, causing it to appear to short circuit in a ball of fire and smoke. This was actually a rigged pyro, set behind the amps, which, bearing in mind that the backing track was pre-recorded, were not plugged in. Keith Moon had rigged his drum set with triple the normal amount of explosives, and as Pete Townshend was smashing his guitar into oblivion on the stage, the drums exploded and Townshend, supposedly, sustained severe ear damage.

The musicians of The Who were also natural showmen: singer Daltrey was a dynamic front man, noted for hurling his microphone around on the end of its cord like a lariat. Townshend is famed for playing crashing chords on his guitar with great windmill-like sweeps of his arms (he claims that he got the idea from watching Keith Richards swing his arms to limber them up before a concert; Richards later said he didn't remember ever doing it). The maniacal Moon battered his drums powerfully. Through all that mayhem, Entwistle stood still, often for the entire length of the show, seemingly bored by the whole affair, playing intricate, powerful, innovative bass lines as if he had the stage to himself. The Who’s extravagant and wild stage antics can be traced back to their early days when they were called “The High Numbers” with Peter Meaden as their manger, who was cultivating a mod image for them. They performed regularly in the Railway Hotel, Harrow, where the low-ceiling was a constant source of impact on the top of Townshend’s guitar. One night the guitar neck snapped clean off to the delight of the delirious crowd. Film directors Kit Lambert and Chris stamp, who were making a documentary on the mod phenomenon, were quick to realize the repetition and exaggeration of this stunt would attract considerable publicity, who then secured them a Tuesday night slot at the Marquee Club under the name of ‘The Who’. The rest is history. But not all was about destruction, there were some rather historical nights too during this era. Steve Paul’s ‘The Scene’ in New York was the greatest nightclub of the sixties, where Jimi Hendrix would often jam. One eventful night he jammed with Jeff Becks, and on March, 1968, he was joined by Jim Morrison who contributed growling, obscenity-laced vocal accompaniment.

If their onstage behaviour appalling, their offstage life will throw you off your wits. Sex, drugs rock n’ roll era, apart from what the name implies is also the era of experiments. Lot of stars indulged in bizarre acts out of curiosity. It is rumoured that Mick Jagger and David Bowie were caught red-handed in the bedroom by the Bowie’s girlfriend who was shocked walked in on them in their bedroom. Also Brian Epstein, who was a known homosexual, had a secret holiday with John Lennon, which he describes as “beautiful” in his biography, and John saying he almost had an affair with Brian. It was quite a known fact to the close associates of the Beatles that Brian Epstein was in love with John Lennon, who also wrote love letters to John Lennon on certain occasions. While some experimented, rest of the stars indulged in plain old debauchery, mostly with their groupies.

None of this can be complete without the mention of the Rolling Stones, and more importantly Mick Jagger who on one night Mick Jagger walked up to Marianne Faithfull and introduced himself and then deliberately poured his champagne down the front of her shirt. After an awkward mumble of apology he was audacious enough to mop spilled drinks with his hands, very slowly and very pointedly. The trick didn’t seem to work and Marianne stood up and was heard calling him a “dreadful, spotty slob”, she also added that she “hated pimply men, and he’s got more spots on his face than she’s ever seen”.

She later dated him.

Another amusing tale about Mick Jagger happened in 1972 when he asked a documentary film producer to make a film about Rolling Stones 1972 tour of South America which was intended for public viewing; however Jagger on viewing the final product declined to release it as it contained explicit sexual activities as well as drug taking. There was said to be a long sequence of sky-high sex with the members of the Stones’ entourage making love to the groupies 30,000 feet in the air while crossing over America. While sexual activities were on in various places on the plane, two of the groups were seen watching the whole scene while provided musical accompaniment on tambourines and maracas.

As bizarre as this sounds, it couldn’t get more bizarre than Jimi Hendrix claiming his sexual life began at the tender age of 12! Hendrix who had a very active sex life often met fan girls through Devon Wilson, a close associate of Jimi, who would often pick up girls for Jimi by telling them “Jimi finds you cute, would you like to come over and meet him?” Hendrix is also widely known for and associated with the use of hallucinogenic drugs, most notably LSD. A common opinion is that Jimi's use of LSD was integral in unlocking his creative process. Hendrix had never taken hallucinogenics until the night he met Linda Keith (girlfriend of Keith Richards), but likely experimented with other drugs in years prior in the forms of sleeping pills, and speed fueled his "stop and go" lifestyle. Throughout his career pictures exist of Hendrix smoking marijuana. He was known to take Heroin according to some, but some suggest he had trypanophobia (fear of needles). While his fellow contemporary Jimmy Page has admitted to using Heroin on several occasions, but insists he was never an addict. It was also rumoured that Hendrix had a cut on his forehead, on which he would tie a bandana with a LSD strip which would slowly fuse into his blood.

Syd Barrett has LSD induced; psychotic stories in abundance. According to Roger Waters, Barrett came into what was to be their last practice session with a new song he had dubbed "Have You Got It, Yet?" The song seemed simple enough when he first presented it to his band mates, but it soon became impossibly difficult to learn: as they were practicing it, Barrett kept changing the arrangement. He would then play it again, with the arbitrary changes, and sing "Have you got it yet?" After more than an hour of trying to "get it", they realised they never would and that they were simply bearing the brunt of Barrett's rather obtuse sense of humour.

Elvis on the other hand has been addicted to several drugs, many of them ironically being prescription drugs to cure his disorders. In Las Vegas, 1971, things almost went out of hands for the King as he almost killed himself and a fan. During his performance he had spotted a 18 year old beautiful blonde, Page Preston, according to her account, one of Elvis helps came up to her and asked if she wanted to meet him. After much persuasion she met him in his hotel room that night and met him later as well in Palm Springs, California. On meeting him in California, she complained of a terrible headache, to which Elvis gave her some pills and from that moment on she doesn’t remember anything until she woke up in the hospital. According to Sonny West, Presley’s bodyguard, Elvis had been feeding both of them various drugs all through out the night and he heard them giggling and mumbling into the wee hours of the morning. Presley’s aides found them the next afternoon unconscious and barely breathing. On another occasion Elvis Presley had asked Sonny West if they could swap their wives by saying that “I know you like Priscilla and I like Judy, why don’t we swap for a bit of fun?” But that is not all there is to The Kings whims. He is also known to have see-through mirrors in his mansion to watch couples make love and see girls change into their costumes before they got into the pool.



Well, apart from the sex there was also a lot of destruction these wild rockers did. One escapade involved John Bonham throwing televisions out of the windows of the Riot House during a drunken rampage and then blaming the damage on Led Zeppelin groupies. Led Zeppelin at the time used to rent out entire sections of hotels most notably the Continental Hyatt House in Los Angeles, colloquially known as the "Riot House" which became the subject of many of rock's most famous stories of debauchery. The Who too had a very notorious reputation on how they treated their hotel and dressing rooms, particularly Keith Moon, who has had frequent incidents of destruction. The band was also arrested for this on at least one occasion, in Montreal, and was for many years banned from the Holiday Inn hotel chain. At one party, Keith Moon under heavy influence of alcohol, dived head long into an empty pool and chipped his front tooth from the accident. But none of this can be rivaled by the cheek of the Beatles who smoked marijuana in the Royal toilets of Buckingham Palace. The very same night they were to receive their MBE. As to why these stars consumed so much of drugs is rather debatable, but nevertheless they do produce amusing stories.




Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles claim that it unlocks their creativity resulting in better music. Their creative abilities can’t be disputed, but does it really work that ways? Well according to certain research it shows that during these drug induced stated your brain is very relaxed and calm, producing similar waves on the EEG as a relaxed brain during intense meditation. It is this state of mind which is optimum for doing creative and productive work. Some Buddhist Tibetan monks achieve this state for days on end and have known to increase their life span which this endured meditation. But all would agree that drugs are a costly bargain for such a state of mind. Neither can one refute the impact and popularity of the music produced in such a state. One example would be “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” which was created on a marijuana spell, so was ‘Strawberry fields forever’ and ‘Day Tripper’ according to the band. ‘Day Tripper’ being a direct reference to drugs which not many people understood at the time. But what garnered the most publicity for the Beatles and drugs was “Lucy in the sky with diamonds” which according to popular belief is a song based on a wild LSD trip, and incidentally abbreviates to LSD.




However time and again both Lennon and McCartney have denied such allegation stating that it was inspired from a drawing of John Lennon’s son, Julian, however recently Paul McCartney in an interview said “the song was obviously about a drug trip”. The video of the song too contains psychedelic colours about a suggestive LSD vision. Eric Clapton too had recorded “Layla” on a drug trip. And most of Jimi Hendrix’s jam sessions took place when he was really intoxicated.



While some consumed drugs for creative inspiration, while some consumed them due to personal dilemmas. One of the most sympathetic would be Janis Joplin, whose addiction only grew with time. She was known to be desperately lonely and expressed it publicly on many occasions. One concert she announced “I have just made love to 25,000 people and I’m going home alone!” She used sex as a vehicle to console her loneliness. She constantly went on one-night stands with young boys who she didn’t bother knowing much about, but none of this rid her of her ghosts who only grew stronger with drugs, alcohol and time. Janis had a foreboding sense of morbidity and on hearing about Hendrix’s death she ruefully exclaimed “Goddamn it. He beat me to it.”

Very similar to her was the lifestyle of Jim Morrison who famously lived by an oft-repeated quote from Blake, "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom." Even before the formation of The Doors, Morrison took copious amounts of LSD, but soon switched to alcohol; which he began to consume in herculean proportions. He reportedly also indulged in various bacchanalia. He would increasingly start to show up for recording sessions extremely inebriated (he can be heard hiccupping on the song "Five To One") as well as being late to arrive for live performances, which caused the band to linger on stage playing only music or occasionally forcing Ray Manzarek to take on the singing duties. Such excesses and apathy took their toll on Morrison and the band. Morrison too regularly slept with fans and had numerous short flings with women who were celebrities in their own right, including one with Nico from Velvet Underground, a one night stand with singer Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane, an on again off again relationship with 16 magazine's editor in chief Gloria Stavers, and an alleged alcohol-fueled encounter with Janis Joplin that left Joplin in tears. At the time of his death, there were reportedly as many as 20 paternity actions pending against him.

But none of this can be complete without the mention of the youth hero Kurt Cobain, who battled addiction due to depression. He has been battling depression and chronic bronchitis throughout his life. Doctors however were not able to pin-point his cause of depression thereby not entirely able to help him. Cobain self-medicated with heroin, although his condition was not the primary reason for his heroin use. Cobain had his first taste of heroin sometime in 1986, administered to him by a local drug dealer, who had previously been supplying him with Percodan. Cobain used heroin sporadically for several years, but, by the end of 1990, his use had developed into a full-fledged addiction. A year later, his use began affecting the band's support of Nevermind, with Cobain passing out during photo shoots. Prior to a performance at the New Music Seminar in New York City in July 1993, Cobain suffered a heroin overdose. Rather than calling for an ambulance, Love injected Cobain with illegally acquired Narcan to bring him out of his unconscious state. Cobain proceeded to perform with Nirvana, giving the public no indication that anything out of the ordinary had taken place. Cobain had visited Rome for his Laryngitis and Bronchitis treatment on March 3rd, 1994, The next morning, Love awoke to find that Cobain had overdosed on a combination of champagne and Rohypnol (Love had a prescription for Rohypnol filled after arriving in Rome). Cobain was immediately rushed to the hospital, and spent the rest of the day unconscious. After five days in the hospital, Cobain was released and returned to Seattle. Love later insisted publicly that the incident was Cobain's first suicide attempt.

All was not hunky dory as soon this lifestyle of excesses started claiming lives. In 1968 Brian Jones was convicted of drug abuse and caused much doubts about his availability for the Stones’ US tour. He was also very jealous of Mick Jaggers leading role; however matters escalated when Keith Richards impregnated his girlfriend Anita Pallenberg and he finally quit in June, 1969. The following month he was found dead in his swimming pool. The official and much disputed verdict stated death due to misadventure.
In the early morning hours of 18 September 1970, Jimi Hendrix was found dead in the basement flat of the Samarkand Hotel at 22 Lansdowne Crescent in London. Hendrix died amid circumstances which have never been fully explained. Having spent the night with his German girlfriend, Monika Dannemann, he likely died in bed after drinking wine and taking nine Vesperax sleeping pills, then asphyxiating on his own vomit. For years, Dannemann publicly claimed that Hendrix was alive when placed in the back of the ambulance; however, her comments about that morning were often contradictory and confused, varying from interview to interview. Police and ambulance reports reveal that not only was Hendrix dead when they arrived on the scene, but he had been dead for some time, the apartment's front door was wide open, and the apartment itself empty. Following a libel case brought in 1996 by Hendrix's long-term British girlfriend Kathy Etchingham, Monika Dannemann allegedly took her own life.
Some reports indicated that the paramedics who escorted Jimi out of the apartment did not support his head and that he was still alive. According to this version of events, he choked on his own vomit and died during the trip to the hospital, because his head and his neck were not supported.
A sad poem written by Hendrix that was found in the apartment has led some to believe that he committed suicide. More speculative is the belief that Hendrix was murdered--forcibly given the sleeping pills and wine, then asphyxiated with a scarf by professionals hired by manager Michael Jeffery, Hendrix’s manager who is also rumoured to have staged a kidnapping of Hendrix due to a dispute. The most popular theory, however, is that he simply misjudged the potency of the sleeping pills, and asphyxiated in his sleep due to an inability to regain consciousness when he vomited. He died at 27.

On hearing this Janis Joplin exclaimed “Goddamn it. He beat me to it.” But she wasn’t far from death as 4th October she was found dead caused by an overdose of heroin and whiskey. The last recordings she completed were "Mercedes Benz" and a birthday greeting for John Lennon on October 1, 1970. Lennon, whose birthday was October 9, later told Dick Cavett that her taped greeting arrived at his home after her death. She died at 27.

3rd July 1971, Jim Morrison, age, 27, was found dead in his bathtub by Pamela Courson, his long time companion. Just like Hendrix, his death too is mysterious and caused much controversy. According to Stephen Davis' biography of Morrison, it was reported that he had dried blood around his mouth and nose and large bruising on his chest. This suggests Morrison might have died from a massive hemorrhage caused by tuberculosis. Many fans and biographers have speculated that the cause of death was a drug overdose, but the official report listed the cause of death as heart failure. Pursuant to French law, no autopsy was performed because the medical examiner found no evidence of foul play. The lack of an official autopsy left many questions unanswered and provided a fertile breeding ground for speculation and rumor. According to Danny Sugerman, in his autobiographical novel Wonderland Avenue, he recounts that he briefly met with Courson when she returned to America in the mid-1970s. Courson told him that Morrison had in fact died of a heroin overdose when he inhaled copious amounts of the substance, believing it to be cocaine. Sugerman added that Courson just like Hendrix’s girlfriend had given numerous contradictory versions of Morrison's death. Courson too died a later at age 27 of a heroin overdose. In Densmore's(The Doors drummer) own autobiography, Riders On The Storm, the drummer reasoned that Morrison had taken heroin with a strong iquor, climbed into the bathtub, and committed suicide. A 2006 French television documentary, from a series called 'Death of an Idol', had interviewed several Parisians who claimed that they had seen Morrison at a Paris nightclub, Rock 'n' roll Circus, which was a known place for heroin dealers. The club's manager claimed to have seen Morrison that night. A Parisian woman, Nicole Gosselin, claimed that she had seen Morrison in the club on the evening of 2 July 1971. Apparently there was a shipment of heroin due that evening and Morrison was looking for some. Soon after it arrived, Gosselin claimed that she saw Morrison near the club toilets and that he was passing out against the wall completely white-faced. Gosselin also claimed that the batch of heroin was particularly potent and that she knew the person who sold it to Morrison. Some people took him out of the club and into a taxi, presumably to return him to his apartment. This would perhaps explain why Morrison was found in the bathtub, as this is a classic way of reviving overdose victims. The documentary also spoke to the fireman who arrived at Morrison's apartment early on 3rd July. This man claimed to have seen Morrison's body, with the remnants of a trickle of blood coming from his nose. The fact that Morrison was a known alcoholic meant that adding strong heroin to his already weakened constitution was a dangerous mixture (heroin and alcohol are potentially lethal when mixed in sufficient quantities).
In The Lizard King, Jerry Hopkins recounts that, well before the Doors achieved noticeable success, Morrison had joked that he should fake his own death to generate publicity. According to some of Morrison's friends and bandmates, once the Doors had achieved their remarkable success, publicity was no longer seen as being so desirable. Morrison then spoke of wanting to fake his death and move to Africa in order to escape the scrutiny that surrounded his every move. He told them that if he could succeed with the ruse, he would write to them using the pseudonym/ anagram(of his name) "Mr. Mojo Risin." Such a disappearing act would have paralleled the life of one of Morrison's favorite French poets, Arthur Rimbaud. According to Krieger and other Doors members, they have yet to receive any letters. Similarly conspiracy theory suggested that he faked his death to avoid legal action. All this added to the heap of theories surrounding his death raising ambiguity.
Morrison is buried in "The Poets' Corner" of the famous Père Lachaise cemetery in eastern Paris. Morrison's gravestone has a Greek inscription reading Κατὰ τον δαίμονα ἑαυτοῦ, in capital letters (ΚΑΤΑ ΤΟΝ ΔΑΙΜΟΝΑ ΕΑΥΤΟΥ). The meaning intended by the Morrison family when the inscription was selected is "True to his own spirit." The literal meaning is "according to his own daimōn", an Ancient Greek word that implies a minor deity, attendant spirit, luck, fortune, "guiding star" Various erroneous interpretations of the inscription have been proposed, including "down with his own demons" (presumably in Hell), "burnt by his demons", and "with the devil himself."
Another strange co-incidence is the death of three blues based rock n’ roll artists in serial order all dying at age 27! Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and surprisingly all of their names begin with ‘J’.

Next in line was the Elvis Presley on 16th August, 1977 to pass away. Presley was found lying on the floor of his bedroom's bathroom by his fiancée, Ginger Alden, who had been asleep. A stain on the bathroom carpeting was found that indicated "where Elvis had thrown up after being stricken, apparently while seated on the toilet. It looked to the medical investigator as if he had 'stumbled or crawled several feet before he died'." He was taken to Baptist Memorial Hospital, where at 3:30 P.M. doctors pronounced him dead. Presley was 42 years old. At a press conference following his death, one of the medical examiners declared that he had died of a cardiac arrhythmia from an intake of a large amount of prescription drugs.
7th September the following year it was Keith Moon to follow who died in his sleep after a prescription-drug overdose(which was given to cure his alcoholism), only a few hours after a party held by Paul McCartney. Two ironies about the last album, Who are You, includes the cover, which shows Moon sitting in a chair with the words "not to be taken away," and the song "The Music Must Change", which has no drum track.
25th September, 1980 was the tragic demise of John Bonham, another legendary drummer belonging to Led Zeppelin. A day earlier Bonham was picked up by Led Zeppelin assistant Rex King to attend rehearsals at Bray Studios for the upcoming tour of the US. During the journey Bonham had asked to stop for breakfast, where he downed four quadruple vodkas (roughly sixteen shots (2/3 pint (~8dl)) of vodka), with a ham roll. He then continued to drink when he arrived at the studio. A halt was called to the rehearsals late in the evening and the band retired to Page's Old Mill House in Clewer, Windsor. After midnight, Bonham had fallen asleep and was taken to bed on his side. It was rumoured that he had a total of forty shots that night. Benji LeFevre (Led Zeppelin's then tour manager) and John Paul Jones found him dead the next morning. Bonham was 32 years old.
Shortly after that on the 8th of December was the murder of John Lennon by Mark David Chapman outside his apartment in New York. ‘The Day the Music died!’ screamed out a cover of Time Magazine. Incidentally this very day is Jim Morrison’s birthday as well.
With that ended of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll era. A similar lifestyle did continue into the future but not in the same style and freedom. What did not end with that era was the popularity of the music they made, the lives they led and influence they made.

1 comment:

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