By the time I had entered into my 9th grade year, the first year of high school, I was more into music than ever. This was 1995, and it was officially becoming the “post-grunge” era. Hootie and the Blowfish were popular, though me and my ever growing band of marauders were anti-pop and therefore anti-Hootie. Silverchair, Greenday and Alanis Morrisette were big during this time. And bands like “Bush” were making it truly official that “grunge rock” had met it’s end in commercialism.
At the beginning of the school year a TV series came on that changed the way I would look at music forever. The 3 remaining Beatles who were alive at the time- Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison, came out with a series of shows about their music career called “Anthology”. My parents and I watched these shows as they came on religiously. I was drawn in to the story and life of the Beatles, and most of all their later era of music. It wasn’t long before I snatched up albums like “Rubber Soul”, “Revolver”, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band“, and “Abbey Road”.
In the story of the life of the Beatles, one of their most creative periods of songwriting began around 1965 when they released “Rubber Soul”. There was a move away from the pop sound they had before and into a stranger, more speculative approach to songwriting. This was the era where they began using marijuana regularly.
I remember the time in the Anthology series where they talked of marijuana as something that seemed to enlighten them spiritually, making them more creative and philosophical. My Dad at the time seemed to agree with what they were saying, and I didn’t know why. I didn’t talk to my parents about it either, but a deep curiosity was birthed in me as I learned of the Beatles’ creative crutch.
During this time I was making close friendships with a few friends, one named Mitchell and the other Duane. Mitchell played guitar often, but was beginning to become a virtuoso on bass- getting into prog rock by Rush and Frank Zappa, and Duane played drums and was heavily into Mitch Mitchell from the Jimi Hendrix experience and Jimmy Chamberlain from the Smashing Pumpkins. I played guitar and sang, and we formed a band that we named “Mulberry Tree” to reflect the mixture of classic and grunge rock that made up our sound.
Because we wanted so much to be like the people we looked up to, the next step for us was to smoke marijuana. Duane was into it before all of us, because he had older friends than we did, and we were ready and willing to join him.
In the Fall of 1995, we had a group of friends over (a band they called “Aftermath”) to play music at my house. My parents were out of town, and Duane had filled a Black and Mild Cigar with dope. These guys were not a part of the “popular crowd” by any means, but because of my 8th grade downfall from popularity I was making the effort to befriend people no matter what their social status was. We set up all of our equipment, including drums, and amps and guitars in my parent’s garage.
Before we could finish setting up or even play one song, Duane pulled out the Black and Mild and convinced us we should light it up. I was beginning to become less careful and encouraged him to go for it. This was the 3rd time I had tried pot, and it hadn’t really intoxicated me yet. Duane encouraged me to inhale it deep and hold it in. I did just that and coughed and coughed until I felt like my lungs were going to pop out of my mouth. I tried a few more hits just like that and then quit, letting Duane finish the rest. I think Mitchell may have tried one hit, but backed off.
So we had finished smoking, and I went back to setting up equipment. The last thing I remembered was being in my basement grabbing speakers and not being able to lift them. I began to freak out as numbness filled my body and clouded my mind.
The next thing I remember is laying on the ground, with all the boys from Aftermath laughing at me and mocking me, though one named Antony was actually pretty concerned for me. I was flipping out at this point, thinking that I was about to die. I kept repeating that over and over to everyone around me, “I’m gonna die!” And Duane once hovered over me as he made serpent rhythms with his hands and quoted Jim Morrison, saying “Don’t worry man! Just ride the snake man, ride the snake!” Duane was as high as me but had been there before. At one point he sang the words of “Tomorrow Never Knows” by John Lennon and the Beatles, “Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream… it is not dying, it is not dying…”
My next memory was playing music with my boys in Mulberry Tree. I probably didn’t hit one correctly timed note on the guitar, and I was beside myself laughing and stumbling all about.
Later in the day I entered my first experience of “coming down”. The high began to wear off and I was grateful to have felt such fear and yet survive it. Something within the experience in my mind became akin to why people ride rollercoasters, or bungee jump, or skydive, or steal something, or lie, or break in to someone’s house, or have sex with someone they’re not committed to. The thrill of the adrenaline… Knowing it was wrong but doing it anyways, and being afraid it would kill me, yet making it out on the other end, made me obsessed with the experience.
And somehow this feeling of “riding the edge”- something that felt like hanging over the edge of a cliff and then being pulled back- became an addiction. Also, all the anger I felt towards my parents, the terrible grades I was getting in school, and the social pressures just seemed to fade away for 4 hours. Later that night all those feelings magnified though. I slipped into a more depressive state, clinging to the sounds of Beatles records, playing the guitar, and writing down poetry to comfort myself.
After that experience, the school week passed by in an anti-climactic fashion. I talked to friends like Kaden about the experience, and it seemed to scare him. Other pot-head kids which I had once viewed as crazy with a higher level of juvenile mania. All of a sudden they became close acquaintances. I longed to get high again and ride the edge of the cliff once more.
The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouths of fools feed on folly. (Prov. 15:14)