Tag Archives: Rock n’ Roll

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.

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A Stoner on Local Cable TV

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The Human Condition [a tribute to René Magritte]

The Human Condition [a tribute to René Magritte] (Photo credit: [ piXo ])

One of the worst things about drug addiction is the tolerance factor.  When one uses drugs frequently they need more and more of them to get the effects they once experienced.  This was the case for me as April and May of 1998 rolled around.  I had been using harder drugs like psychedelics and prescription speed.  My marijuana use was through the roof.  To get any effect from using pot I would have to do 4 or 5 times the amount that I normally did to even feel it, and at times I didn’t even enjoy it any longer.  This did a number on my lungs.  There were times at the end of a dope smoking session that I would feel as if I could barely breathe.

It’s amazing the illusion one cultivates in the midst of addiction.  Doing wrong is fun for a fool, but living wisely brings pleasure to the sensible.  (Proverbs 10:23)  It’s a horrible thing to have your health deteriorating at the age of 16, but when you’re high you almost don’t care.  As time rolls forward you convince yourself that committing slow suicide is the way to go.  People used to ask me at the age of 16, “So Ben, what do you see yourself doing with your life?”  I would answer, “I don’t know man.  I might not even make it past 20…  But I’m going to party as hard as I can until then.”  Drugs had become my god.  I even believed that my destiny was destruction, and my glory was in their shame, because my mind was set on earthly things.  (Phil. 3:19)  I was even willing to die because of drugs and for drugs, because they seemed to give me my only moments of manufactured happiness amidst the desperation and brokenness of the social order I observed around me.  On the outside I was the court jester, a king of fools, a peace-child wanna-be sixties hippie, and on the inside I was growing more cynical and angry every day.  The alienation that one experiences in the midst of chronic drug use is profound and deeply devitalizing.

Despite the popular music of 1998, early 90’s bands like Alice in Chains began to sing the lyrics of my existence.

Down in a hole, feelin’ so small

Down in a hole, losin’ my soul

Down in a hole, outta control

I’d like to fly but my

Wings have been so denied

In moments alone, stark moments of sobriety which lasted only minutes and hours, I was buried in a hole.  I was lying to everyone I really cared about- my girlfriend Harmony, my parents, and even some of my friends.  In fact, many of my friends were becoming afraid of me.  I began to identify more with people who I once thought were too crazy or too criminal to associate with.  There were strange moments when I longed for my childhood again…  days when I felt untainted and more innocent.

Where was my soul in all of this?  I suppose I had buried it beneath the mounds of drugs, alcohol, and lapsed memories.  My conscience had been hardened in so many ways.  I didn’t care if I turned in homework at all, and I had no problem lying all of the time.  It didn’t matter to me if everything around me crumbled.  “These are all things that society just expects me to do man…”  I would reason to myself.  I may have kept a calm exterior because I was self-medicated all of the time.  But deep inside my world was spinning out of control.  “If there is a God out there he definitely wouldn’t want anything to do with me”, I often thought in my darkest moments.  I would just do another shot, smoke another bowl, pop another pill or drop another tab to try and forget about my deeper thoughts.  To me, God was a distant memory, a figment of my childhood imagination.  “Maybe God doesn’t really exist”, I thought.  “Maybe just the moral, do-gooders of the world made him up to feel like they’re better than everybody”.  These were the honest reflections of my mind as I became more marginalized by the mainstream people of my little microcosm of culture.  “No one will ever really love me”, I thought.  “Nobody really wants to understand me or know me”.  “I’m all alone in this world…  in my addiction and misery”.  I would’ve mustered the strength to pray if I thought someone was listening, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that.  How was I even sure that anyone was there?  Nobody really cared anyways, I thought to myself.

Even music had become an afterthought for me.  It was ironic, because I had originally thought that drugs would enhance my music.  Quite the opposite was true.  In years before, I had written between thirty and fifty songs a year.  In the year of 1997, I had only written about twenty songs, which were getting increasingly weird.  The recordings I made contained more mistakes than ever, and my vocals were out of key at times.  Even the sound of my voice deteriorated as I assaulted it daily with a variety of smoke, sleepless nights and hard living.  Throughout the winter and spring of 1998, and all the way into summer, I continually worked on the recording of one eight-minute song, and kept scrapping parts because I was too constantly intoxicated to produce anything of musical value.  I certainly hadn’t found the inspiration that I thought would come from LSD…  Lucy was so far away in the sky with diamonds that I couldn’t make out her distorted face in the clouds.  The only happiness I experienced was chemical… fake… and I began to view everyone and everything through that lens.  ”What a bunch of fakes and phonies” I thought about the world and society around me.

In Ohio, at Hudson High School, during the spring of 1998, the teachers had gotten tired of a bad contract and decided to go on strike.  This meant that we would get a lot of press from the local news stations.  This also meant that they would try to set up a system to keep us in school.  They sent teachers in to substitute and pick up where the others had left off.  But because of the strike we knew there was no legal requirement for us to attend.

I remember when the cameras from the local news showed up at our institution.  All the students had decided to march out of the building and skip at 10am.  There was nothing anyone could do about it- not the school board, not the cops.  When 10am arrived, we all marched our way out of the temple of learning in great defiance.  I felt like I was part of the late 1960’s.  The cameras from the news station were there as we walked out.  I was definitely out of my mind when I saw them, and was yelling expletives as they passed by…  I was shocked that I didn’t make it on the local news that night at 11pm.  Looking back I realize how silly I was to think that they’d put a loudmouth kid swearing at the camera on TV.

This began 18 days of freedom from responsibility.  It was like summer vacation.  We never went to school.  Of course I started to go completely out of control.  I was using more than I ever had before.  I honestly don’t even remember one detail about those 18 days.  I just know that I was let loose like a wild, untamed golden retriever in a vacant candy store.  I was bound to leave a trail of devastation behind…  and have no idea exactly what that devastation even looked like.

I do know that we had RockFest for our Junior year of High School after the strike was over.  I was playing bass in a psychedelic cover band with mostly guys that were older than me at the show, and was invited to play one acoustic tune on my own.  The Hudson local channel had come to film the performance and interview the performers.  I only heard about this afterwards, because they had supposedly interviewed me and I had absolutely no recollection of even talking to them.  But there I was, on local TV for all the parents of Hudson students and local authorities to see me.  I never watched what I said, but people told me that I acted completely insane and babbled in incoherent riddles.  I do also know that I played the song “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd acoustically when I had my solo spot.  I invited an older friend, Willie Martin, to sing with me.  At one point I was addressing the audience;

“Hey man…  is Willie Martin out there?” I said into the microphone before an audience of about 300 kids.  “I need him to come up and sing with me…  Yo Willie, where are you brotha?  Haha…”

I was told later that I kept asking for Willie to come up, for about 3 minutes.  He had been right next to me on the microphone to my left for about 2 of those minutes.  I do remember only the moment when I looked over and saw him.  I exclaimed,  “Oh man, there you are!”  and everyone was laughing at me.  I officially had the reputation of being a complete stoner.

The summer of 1998 was about to unleash me into a wild realm of reckless existence.  My friend Mitchell began to become afraid of doing harder drugs.  He backed away from my pursuit of deeper aberration.  I was beginning to hang out in the haunts of my town with the freaks, drop-outs and super bohemians.  I had friends in their twenties who dealt drugs.  I was stepping into a world of danger that I knew nothing about, but I didn’t care where it led me…  whether it be insanity, prison, or even death.  I know that my parents were afraid for me, but I didn’t care what they thought anymore.  I didn’t want to follow any rules except the voice of id.