Tag Archives: Kurt Cobain

God, Drugs and Rock n’ Roll

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Abstract Art, Dubai

Abstract Art, Dubai (Photo credit: Virtual BCM-Bobb & Company Marketing)

I had taken a dose of LSD that he couldn’t handle in the Summer of 1998.  The effects of the LSD went completely haywire.  I was in a dark fantasy world of which  had no control, nor escape. The people I saw contorted into minions…  the very air I breathed seemed to be filled with acidic poison.  The back of my brain felt like it was melting off of my head.  I didn’t know then that LSD physically made my brain hemorrhage.  I only felt completely out of control.  I remembered reading of Mephistopheles in the legend of Faust.  Had I been overcome by some dark angel like him?  Would I ever make it out of this state of mind, or was I doomed to wear a straightjacket in a little white room for the rest of my life?

The profound, dark thoughts seemed to overcome my mind like a swarm of wasps…  

A year before, I was smoking weed every day and getting drunk on weekends.  Two years before I was dabbling with pot and alcohol.  Three years before it was just cigarettes and an occasional shot of alcohol.  All that to say, what started as a mildly mischievous juvenile pursuit, had turned into an obvious problem.

There were reasons why I did the things I did, and reasons why I shouldn’t have done them.

Analogously, there are reasons why we all do the things we do.  Some of them are justified, and some are selfish.  We’re all products of the nature and nurture that we’ve been handed.  In one sense we’re all victims, and yet in another sense we’re all completely responsible for our actions.  Jerry Cantrell wrote words in song to his bandmate, Layne Staley in the song “No Excuses” in 1994;

Everyday
Something hits me all so cold
Find me sitting by myself
No excuses that I know

Every addict finds themselves sitting alone with no excuses left at some point in their addiction… usually numerous times. Layne Staley died from a mixture of heroin and cocaine…  Laboratory results determined the singer died April 5, 2002, according to a spokesperson for the King County medical examiner’s office, the same day fellow grunge pioneer Kurt Cobain committed suicide in 1994. Staley was found dead two weeks later, surrounded by intravenous drug paraphernalia in his Seattle apartment.  The death certificate reads Staley’s death resulted from “an acute intoxication due to the combined effects of opiate (heroin) and cocaine.” The death was classified as “accidental.” (http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1453818/staley-died-from-mix-heroin-cocaine.jhtml)

I was and am not a famous musician like Staley, though I’ve had delusions of grandeur wishing I would be, and my story did not end like Staley’s, or so many other forgotten phantoms who never got national publicity for their overdose.  (In 2010, there were 25 overdose deaths per 100,000 people in the U.S. (www.popsci.com))  My story of addiction ended with redemption.  My story ended with a life completely enraptured with the presence, sacrifice, and teachings of Jesus Christ.  It hasn’t made life easier, or like some Ned Flanders, cornucopian, utopian day-dream.  But it has made it clearer and more beautiful.

I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind. (Eccl.  1:14)

But we must ask the question…  are drugs a channel for spirituality?  A lot of people would hear this question and easily dismiss it- of course drugs aren’t “spiritual”!  Other people would go to the other extreme and say “they are the only channel into the spiritual!”  The fact is, drugs are spiritual.  The real quandary is whether or not the spirituality they induce has a positive or negative effect.  Do they uncover an insidious darkness or a utopian dream-world?  Are they gateways into true consciousness and the other unused ninety-percent of our brains, or are they toxic poisons that cause irreparable damage to our sanity and physical health?

I was raised by parents who were basically agnostic, and they encouraged me all of my life to expand my horizons and search for enlightened creativity, individual expression, and freedom.

Much like my Father, whose spiritual search led him down a road of using drugs and playing in the Cleveland rock and roll scene of the 1970’s.  I spent a lot of my youth listening to the BeatlesPink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, and played music.  I began to believe that experimenting with drugs would lead me to a higher plane of enlightenment, and give me greater creativity.  I was writing songs at the age of 12, and began using drugs at the age of 14.  I really did approach using them on a spiritual level, and felt that somehow they would give me a greater connection to the mystical.

But in the story that will follow, we will see how that journey ended up hitting some very serious dead-ends, and eventually I was at the end of my rope, and miraculously stumbled into a real, vibrant relationship with God that changed my life completely.

Middle School Drinking and Its Aftermath

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Dead Drunk

Dead Drunk (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My friend Edan and I somehow got caught up in the quest for cool rebellion.  It was an electric summer for the music scene in 1993.  Riding the coattails of gritty, raw bands like The Cult, the Pixies and Guns n’ RosesNirvana‘s Nevermind had already wrecked the glam rock of the late eighties, and other bands were coming out of the wood work that rode Kurt Cobain‘s trail of mayhem, including Pearl JamSoul AsylumAlice in ChainsBlind Melon and Soundgarden.

Edan and I were listening to all of this new music, and coming of age as well.  Puberty was figuratively smacking us in the face.  Girls were becoming more and more of an irresistible enigma, and we were starting to develop heroes apart from our parents and the basketball icon Michael Jordan.

Our heroes were found in the ringing loudness of cassette tapes, and a new invention that was starting become common in home sound systems- Compact Discs.  Kurt Cobain sang of a world we deeply wanted to understand.  We began to be fascinated with the idea of being intoxicated, because we knew all of these guys constantly were.  And since I played music I somehow believed that intoxication would enhance my music, and in many ways that’s what I cared about the most- playing and writing good music.

We started by rolling up green oak leaves and stealing my Dad’s lighter.  We’d go out into in my backyard and sit in an oak tree (where else???) and smoke oak leaves!  We definitely didn’t inhale, but we got the adrenaline rush that came with doing something we knew our parents would think was wrong (or maybe really, just stupid and weird!)

From there it moved on to smoking cinnamon sticks, which weren’t very good at all.  It was amazing how silly we were doing these things.

Then we got the hunger to begin trying something truly illegal, smoking cigarettes while we were still only 12 years old.  We used to wait by the entrance of a grocery store in town.  People would walk in and put their cigarettes in the ash tray outside, some of them still mostly full.  We would take the cigarettes and smoke them!  Man, looking back I’m glad we didn’t get some sort of Hepatitis!

Edan’s 13th birthday was coming up.  It was the end of summer, the beginning of our 7th grade year in school.  Nirvana’s “In Utero” had just hit the CD racks in music stores, and we bought it up immediately.  With this music as our background soundtrack, we decided to steal a bunch of booze from Edan’s Dad.  We stole a couple of beers, we took little plastic bottles and filled them with whiskey, then rum, and then vodka.  I paid a 7th Grader about 3 bucks for a pack of cigarettes that was half empty (that would be a cheap price now, but then it was a rip-off!).  So we had gathered up what we saw as the most trouble we could get ourselves into to prepare for Eric’s 13th birthday bash.

Edan invited a number of his and my friends to the party.  After an evening of walking around on the dirt of an undeveloped area of his neighborhood and smoking cigarettes in the cool Fall evening, we headed back to his house.

When his parents were asleep, we broke out all of the alcohol.  I treaded carefully and drank little sips, pretending to be more and more intoxicated, when I was really faking it.  One of our friends, Nathan, refused to participate in the drinking.  He actually became the prophet of morality for the night.  We made fun of him for standing out.  I look back and realize it took a lot of courage to do.  As a thirty-two-year old man who has been sober for thirteen years, I know that I would be the one to stand out now.  Of course, I’d do it without condemning the people that are partying.  But then, I was much different, and much more easily persuaded to follow my id.

The night went on, and everyone seemed to be faking it like they were drunk.  We all winded down and Edan seemed to get crazier.  I suppose he drank a whole lot more than most of us, because a lot of us were just scared to do it.  Edan started getting violent and cynical.  He came after a few of us physically.  I remembered Nathan wrestling him and throwing him to the ground one time.  I think the alcohol just got a hold of Edan in a way he couldn’t handle (I mean, what 12 year old kid could?).  The night ended with Edan hugging the toilet and vomiting for quite awhile.

We woke up the next morning and I was too naive to understand what had happened.  I was seriously mad at Edan for acting that way and didn’t realize how much the alcohol had taken hold of him.  Regretfully I shunned Edan after that.  It was another step in my quest for popularity, and I was willing to mow anyone down to get there.  I turned other people against him and spread vicious rumors about him.  And it wasn’t until my eleventh grade year of High School that I came to tell him how sorry I was for that.

Junior High School is a cold, Darwinian arena where “survival of the fittest”, or maybe “coolest” or “meanest” can be the only rule.  Those who create the rumor mill and oppress the honest and vulnerable come to prominence.  Those who forthrightly navigate their way through the wilderness of confusion get left behind in a trail of smoke.  Some of these realities come alive in adulthood, where consumers subversively gnaw and tear at each other’s souls, and bosses subversively undercut and demoralize their employees.  Hopefully, we learn from these errors and seek to love our friends, neighbors and enemies, fueled by unconditional love from above.  Yet it is the lips of the wise spread knowledge; not so the hearts of fools. (Prov. 15:7)  Our very nature is to spread calamity, but rising above it is possible through surrender.

I didn’t realize these things at the naive age of twelve.  I would have many years of infamy before being driven towards true assertion.

Riding the Tailwind of Kurt Cobain’s Suicide

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kurt cobain and frances bean

kurt cobain and frances bean (Photo credit: seattlewhat)

Electric “Grunge” Rock filled the soundwaves of 1993 and 1994.  We could talk about the hits by Mariah Carey, Ace of Base and Boyz II Men that filled the radio stations those years, but my friends and I were fueled by the gritty sounds of Nirvana, as well as the Doors, the Beatles and Led Zeppelin.  Seventh grade became a year of great defiance and anger for me, and my new clan of friends.  They were years of rollerblading around Hudson Ohio and stealing “chromies” off of cars.  Chromies were the term we used for really shiny or novelty tire air cap covers.  We used to fly around on our blades, unscrewing them off of cars, and at times getting caught by the car owners and flying off on a cement getaway.

We were into vandalism also.  Kalen and I used to smash windows, and use BB guns to blow out gas meters.  We would fill balloons with maple or chocolate syrup and throw them at parked cars.  We would walk the train tracks to golf courses and shoot geese with our BB guns, as well as tearing up the greens with our shoes.  Once, Percy and I raided a vacant high-school prep dorm room and coated the walls and carpet with fire extinguisher foam, escaping after out of where else?  The fire escape!

We spent plenty of afternoons after school walking downtown to Hudson and finding underground spots to hide our misdemeanor crimes.  We would go to a spot called “the ribs”, which was hidden in the forest underneath a little bridge by a creek.  It was a hot spot for kids to go who drank and smoked.  There would even be times when groups of seventh graders would just be walking openly on the sidewalks smoking cigarettes.  We employed a method of hiding them called “cupping” where we’d keep the cigarettes cupped in our hands as if nobody would notice the trail of smoke we had in our wake.

Amidst all this pursuit of a bad boy image my friends and I grew in popularity and infamy amongst our peers at school.  Younger or less arrogant kids would duck away from us, because they knew they’d be thrown against a locker if they looked at us the wrong way.  Somehow our ability to be mean gained us a certain measure of respect.  Something in me knew how awful it was, but I enjoyed the power trip and respect that bullying brought me.  But it is undeniable that the violence of the wicked will sweep them away, because they refuse to do what is just. (Prov. 21:7)  I had no idea of the size of the garbage pile that I was accumulating- a garbage pile filled with consequence and regret.

This popularity even got the attention of a few girls for me, which was new.  Maybe the rollerblading had burned off some of the baby fat, and the everlasting scowl that I wore on my face warranted me some attention as a “bad boy”.  Nevertheless, I was looked at in a different light than the days of chubby nerdy-ness.  Popular girls started to notice me.  This fed my hunger for notoriety even more.

It all came to a climax at the seventh grade talent show.  We had by no means practiced to the point of being professional, but our band “Joker’s Wild” had become somewhat of an in-house enigma to fellow schoolmates.

Kurt Cobain had committed suicide by blowing his head off with a shotgun on April 5th in the Spring of 1994.  In his suicide note he even wrote about his wife, Courtney Love of the band “Hole”, and their daughter, Frances Bean.  He wrote;

I have a goddess of a wife who sweats ambition and empathy and a daughter who reminds me too much of what i used to be, full of love and joy, kissing every person she meets because everyone is good and will do her no harm. And that terrifies me to the point to where I can barely function. I can’t stand the thought of Frances becoming the miserable, self-destructive, death rocker that I’ve become. (http://kurtcobainssuicidenote.com/kurt_cobains_suicide_note.html)

So Kurt Cobain had become a rock n’ roll casualty.  He had chased after the life we so desperately aimed for and it ended in terrible misery, even reflecting on the innocence of his little child and being overcome with his own self-destruction.

We paid homage to Kurt in our seventh grade talent show performance, doing a naïve but nonetheless distorted and angst-ridden version of “All Apologies”.  Percy sang out the melodies as if they cut through to his very own heart, and I picked out the dirty guitar riff on my cherry red Gibson Les Paul as if it was the song of my life.  We had about 5 people in our band at that point, including our good friend Jaden who had picked up the bass guitar a couple months earlier and worked his butt off to learn the parts.

Our version of All Apologies lit the young crowd of our peers up, and they cheered for an encore, which we had pre-meditated (we had put a bunch of our friends up to yelling “ENCORE, ENCORE”!).  Our song of acclamation was a grunge rock version of “Day Tripper” by the Beatles, which lit the crowd up even more because of it’s upbeat vibe.  The crowd cheered and we felt as if we were now legends.  If girls liked us a little bit before, they liked us even more then.  In so many ways, no matter how many people we had mowed down to get there, we felt as if we were at the top of the world.  Percy and I were the creative force behind what we believed would be a lifetime career- to be the next huge band to change the world with music.  We had no idea how naive we really were, but who does in the utopia of seventh grade?

Doing Mushrooms at Prom

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Nathan Hale HS Prom, 1983

Nathan Hale HS Prom, 1983 (Photo credit: litlnemo)

As the year slid into the summer of 1999, I wanted my world to be freer than ever.  I had stayed sober from psychedelic and harder drugs for 3 months in order to attempt graduating high school.  I had succeeded by the skin of my teeth, and my marginal success had dumped me back into libertine freedom.  I had used self-control to avoid the humiliation of staying back a grade in my senior year and joining the class of 2000.  As soon as I accomplished what I had to, I let my inhibitions go once again.

There is no institutional moment that a typical high-school student longs for more than their senior prom.  Mine was on its’ way.  My girlfriend Jamie had been away at an all-girls school in the middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania, for almost the entire spring semester of that year.  She was to return back to the town of Hudson, Ohio, and back into my life.  She had made a few friends during her stint at the school who were partiers, but she swore up and down that her sobriety had remained in tact.  She had only continued to smoke Camel Red Lights daily, drink coffee, and study, or so she said.  Of course, our MDMA fueled romance led me to believe what I wanted to believe- that she was completely faithful to her word and to me.  To this day, I’m unsure of details as to how many lies were flying around, but I was equally guilty of living in a fantasy world.

Jamie was to be my prom date at the senior prom of 1999.  Hudson High School was a wealthy school fueled by stinking rich, Upper-Middle class taxpayers.  We were to have our senior prom at the newly built Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland Ohio.  This should have been a dream come true for me, as my life was fueled by the inductees who did and were to line the halls…  people like Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, Sting, Jim Morrison, Bono, Eddie Van Halen, Kurt Cobain and Lars Ulrich.  But by this point, drugs and their subsequent selfish pursuits had pulled me far away from pursuing the heights with playing music.  I hadn’t been in a well functioning band in years, and my efforts at making music were very secluded and personal.  I made songs for Jaime and myself instead of sharing them with my peers.  To make it worse, the rival high-school band, who went by the name “Discordant”, had become far more popular than me and my friends.  They were going to play live on the Rock Hall’s prestigious stage during our prom.  I hated them passionately for this.  Joni Mitchell, the great folk songwriter who began her career in the late sixties once wrote;

Oh the jealousy, the greed is the unraveling

It’s the unraveling

And it undoes all the joy that could be

When James, the brother of Jesus, spoke of the jealousy that was among Jesus’ early followers, he said that “where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.” (James 3:16), and he was speaking to people who were supposed to have known better.  I suppose in a way, I should’ve known better as well.  But just like Joni Mitchell and James the brother of Jesus collaboratively pointed out nineteen centuries apart, my jealousy was unraveling my soul and leading me down a road of bitterness and stagnant soul-eradication.

This is the downward spiral of the drug user.  One who uses drugs to cope with life becomes more and more disabled within reality.  Deep inside I hated most everyone, especially those who were “succeeding” in life, I loathed myself for my disinclined suicidal tendencies and instead of rightfully blaming myself and beginning to deal with the problems that plagued me, I blamed everyone else.  I was the victim in their cruel game.  As long as I stayed high or drunk, everything would at least seem serene.

The High School prom of Hudson High in 1999 was an amazing party that only the most privileged would have attended, relishing the memory for years beyond.  Jamie and I went and had dinner with another couple, my friend Duane and his date Kali, we attended the prom, fueled by an over-load of caffeine and nicotine.  We slow danced a few times and I sat in rage and sweaty bitterness as Discordant played through their pop rock set, complaining to Jamie about how much they were sell-outs that sucked, though inwardly I wished I was in their place.  In my mind were delusions of grandeur, the way life should have been.  Me up there on the Rock Hall stage playing solo with my back up band…  “Ben White and the Misfits of Love”, singing original tunes that made people cry and ponder the deep things of life.  Instead, I was a washed up drug addict that had barely made it out of High School, with his drug addict girlfriend who was two years younger than him.

During the “after-prom”, they had decked out the Hudson High School gymnasium with inflatable obstacle courses, games, photo booths, memories, and other joyous moments of the past four years that our entire class could share together.

Jamie and I ditched the after-prom, and headed to the backyard of my parents’ house.  It was 1 a.m. and they were asleep.  I had a half ounce of psilocybin mushrooms, and we were going to take a small dose and trip the night away.  Forget our peers.  Forget meaningful social ties.  We were wanna-be hippies and just wanted to do what we always did best; hide in a vacuum and waste our lives away.

We each took a small dose of psilocybin mushrooms and sat in my parents’ backyard, staring at the canopy of the trees above us as it merged and twisted like a kaleidoscope.  Our peers were at the all night lock-in at my High School, which was a couple of miles away from my parents’ house.  There we were, alone and tripping, the dissenters continuing their lone escapade.  We stayed up all night, most of which I don’t recall, and the morning brought in a new summer that would certainly be filled with wanton hedonism.

We had purchased these mushrooms at a large reenactment of the 1969 Woodstock concert aptly named “Hookahville” somewhere in the middle of nowhere in central Ohio.  Jamie and I had paid about $50 apiece to enter the concert for one day, even though we paid for the three day event.  We couldn’t come up with lies to stay all three days together, because we knew our parents would figure out we were both gone.

Hookahville was a wild array of hippies, and proved that even in the year 1999, the Grateful Dead’s anthem “Golden road to unlimited devotion”, written in 1967, was still being lived out;

Well everybody’s dancin’ in a ring around the sun

Nobody’s finished, we ain’t even begun.

So take off your shoes, child, and take off your hat.

Try on your wings and find out where it’s at.

This place was a huge collection of hippies.  There were people with long hair and beards that walked around in a thick haze of psychedelic craziness.  Many people were wearing tie-dyes and bell bottoms, and the air smelled of dope smoke and patchouli incense.  These were happenings where somehow the cops couldn’t come, either.  So there were literally little stands that sold balls of peanut butter and marijuana for $10 and called them “Dank Goo-Balls”.  For me at the time, I felt that I had stepped into a utopian dream, though really, it was a disturbing place full of darkness and people wandering around on an imaginary lost planet.

But being the gregarious one I was, I knew what Jamie and I had come for.  I wanted to find a bag of psilocybin mushrooms.  I literally walked around just yelling; “Shrooms!  Does anybody have shrooms?”  Even Jamie thought I was totally crazy.

A wild cat heard me.  He had black opal dilated pupils, and was thin as a rail with a huge beard, long hair, and a tall hat that belonged on the head of the Mad Hatter of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.  “Hey man, you need shrooms?”  He said, obviously tripping on them himself.  “Yeah that’d be great man.”  I responded, trying my best at the age of seventeen to appear like an experienced hippie.

That was where we scored our half ounce of mushrooms for prom.  We didn’t stick around long for Hookahville after, even though the Grateful Dead spin-off band “Ratdog” led by ex-Dead guitarist and singer Bob Weir, were on the stage, making all the hippies dance like it was the summer of love.  We needed to get back home before curfew.

Fast-forward to the day after prom, after the first dose of those shrooms had been consumed.  Jaime had to head back to her boarding school in the middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania to take her finals.  We had only taken a very small amount of these mushrooms, and I was left with more than three-eighths of an ounce of them to myself.  When Jaime headed back for her finals, she made me promise her something.  She pleaded with me; “Ben, please save these for me so we can do them together again.”  Of course I agreed.  But I was a drug-head with an insatiable hunger to do stupid things.  I hadn’t yet tasted the sweet honey of wisdom, the “drippings of the honeycomb sweet to the taste, such could wisdom have been to my soul; where if I had found it, there would be a future, and my hope would not be cut off.” (Prov. 24:13-14)  Instead, I was often tasting the bitter gall of sin and self-loathing.  Leaving a huge bag of mushrooms in the hands of such a young man was a bad thing to do…