The spring of 1999 couldn’t have had a weirder mix of popular music. Songs like “Praise You” by Raver-style DJ “Fatboy Slim” shared billboard spots next to songs like “One” by Creed and “What it’s Like” by Everlast. This was an era when many styles of music were converging and combining. It was a melting pot of hip-hop, rock, hard-core, trance, dance music, jungle, heavy metal. We were a generation on the verge of the millennium, the internet was just beginning to bring the world into one vast social network. The globalization of culture was at hand.
In the midst of all the popular music of this era, I was a retro-rocker to the core. If an album hadn’t endured for at least five years in the consciousness of artistic rock n’ roll culture, I probably wouldn’t get into it. In 1999, I was listening to Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Yes, Rush, early Genesis, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Smashing Pumpkins, The Grateful Dead, Crosby Stills and Nash, U2, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Lenny Kravitz, Blind Melon, and more. I had a blue case full of used cassette tapes that I was constantly popping into the tape player of my blue Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight. Their was a consistent soundtrack in the background during all of the out of control chaos of my party lifestyle.
Woven into the fabric of the years 1998 and 1999, was participation in a retro-rock cover band called “Kaleidoscope”. I played bass and sang both lead and background vocals in the group. Garrett Nevin sang and played guitar, and my good buddy James played drums. We did a great variety of old-school rock songs like “Time” by Pink Floyd, and “Yellow Ledbetter” by Pearl Jam to name a few. There was just one problem, neither Garrett nor I could hold a tune vocally! At this point, my vocal chords were wrecked with smoke and hard living, though I had never really had a strong voice. Garrett didn’t have a very good voice either. We could jam instrumentally with the best of them, but couldn’t sing.
We played a variety of safe gigs in Kaleidoscope. Most of them were for friends that would have supported us if we had tied cats to microphones and pulled their tails. Eventually, we landed a gig among strangers.
Garrett came to us one day, telling us some news. “Hey guys, I got us a gig at a huge frat party at Nelson’s Ledges!” He told us.
Nelson’s Ledges was a huge hippie hideout. And apparently, a large group of collegiate jocks and beer drinkers had rented the place out to throw a big concert. I don’t think I was fully aware that I was about to play the most humiliating gig of my life.
When we arrived at Nelson’s, I was with my girlfriend, Jaime. It was very early in the summer of 1999. I was done with high school and withdrawing from a large amount of speed that I had done all throughout the winter and spring. Of course, because I had no intellectual or ethical grounds for abstaining, we wanted to find some sort of hard drug to take. It was the summer after my senior year, and I still had no desire to abstain from the hard partying scene. It’s a simple fact of God’s wisdom that “the backslider in heart will be filled with the fruit of his ways, and a good man will be filled with the fruit of his ways.” (Proverbs 14:14) One who wants to stray from what is right will receive a just consequence- simply that they will be handed over to the natural end of their pursuits. God has created the world where no one can float along in an illusion of epicurean selfishness for too long. There are consequences to all of our actions.
But Jamie and I were ignoring the consequences. We scoped the scene at Nelson’s Ledges and effortlessly found an older hippie lady that sold us two pills of ecstasy. She warned us; “These have a little bit of mescaline in them, so they’re going to make you trip as well as roll.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mescaline) I only knew that mescaline was found in the peyote cactus and used by Native American tribes to foster “vision quests”. I had never knowingly ingested it. Our band was about to go on in 45 minutes. We took the pills and chased them down with swigs of water.
The next thing I knew, Kaleidoscope was playing live. The ecstasy and mescaline started to invade my mind like a fire eating up dry brush. I thought we were playing the best music in the entire world, as the drugs were reaching their peak. I was tossing myself around the stage like a crazed circus clown, every wave of sound seeming to caress my ears and soul like lavender lotion. I looked out in the crowd and they all appeared to be just like me, smiling and caught up in euphoria. I looked over at James and Garrett, who were completely obliterated on hashish. They seemed to be frowning and barely making it through. I thought to myself, “man, if only they were on the wavelength I was on, they’d get it!”.
We had a set of 2 hours. Somewhere about an hour and a half into the set, I came out of the extreme euphoria I was experiencing…
I awoke, though I had been conscious the entire time. I looked out at the crowd and the noises from the people that once sounded like cheers and shouts of adoration, turned into booing and cussing. This group of frat-boys were standing with their friends, in a group of about 500 people. They were drinking ungodly amounts of beer and literally trying to jeer us off of the stage. We finished the last thirty minutes of the set, and though I was still high out of my mind, I was in reality enough to realize the horror I was in the midst of.
Many people philosophize about the power of drugs and creativity. It may be true that drugs open one up to the power of the weird and mysterious, and make one desire to go outside of the box in their quest for art. But this can be done all the same if one desires to tap into the source of creativity- God Himself. In the end, drugs destroy people’s abilities to perform at anything. This performance was proof of that. I was so high that I thought the entire crowd loved our band. When I came to, they were literally trying to force us off of the stage. Once, even Noel Redding, Jimi Hendrix’s bass player, said that Jimi was so high while on stage once, that they played through 2 songs and had to cancel the gig, because Jimi couldn’t even make it through the chords of the song. Though the mystique of creativity and freedom has been thoroughly associated with drug culture, when it comes down to it, drugs destroy a person’s ability to create. I can’t imagine the kind of music Jimi Hendrix would have made if he would have gotten sober, instead of choking on a pill, drug and booze filled vomit on September 18th, 1970. This was a man that carried his guitar with him almost 8 hours a day and practiced constantly. If he would have been off of drugs, he would have truly been an unbelievable virtuoso. People who associate drugs with great creativity are fooling themselves.
And if I would have known then what I know now, that all the music I created after quitting drugs was ten times better than before, I may have been led to quit drugs altogether much earlier. But I chose to buy into the lies. I was an addict in search of the next out of control experience. I didn’t care if I lived, died, or went to prison. I didn’t want to stop, and I was headed for more trouble.