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Drugs: Mike Portnoy

Drugs are so widely used and abused in music, it’s almost like they’re an obligation.

Well, nobody forces you get wasted. But when you become a rock’n’roll musician, especially in a touring band, it hands you a ‘get out of jail free’ pass. I know from experience that having a tour manager who will scoop you up no matter what kind of a mess you end up in just allows you to do all of that stuff.

Is it an attitude you’d like to see change?

I can’t stand former addicts that try to inflict their lifestyles on others. But I don’t think you’ll ever change it. When I started out, it was something that attracted me to the lifestyle. It was only when those situations began taking over my life that things really became problematic.

What about the idea that drugs can be a creative aid?

I don’t mind admitting that not smoking [weed] any more has had an adverse effect on my enjoyment of films and even some music. But I never used alcohol or drugs when I wrote. They just make me into a mess.

But, for example, some people prefer Aerosmith when they were smashed off their heads to the streamlined MTV version…

I can understand that example maybe. And some incredible music has been made under the influence of drugs and alcohol. But if you put yourself in Aerosmith’s shoes, I’m sure they’d much rather be alive than the alternative.

Did you draw the line at soft drugs?

Pretty much. I drank a lot of booze, smoked pot. I also popped pills and I took some coke. But I was always afraid of getting onto anything harder than that.

The story goes that before things reached breaking point during your time with Dream Theater, you had a bar by the side of your drum kit. You’ve even said that the drinking became just as important as the show.

That’s right. At the start, I always refused to take a drink before the show. But then I hit the slippery slope. Instead of having my tech pass me water, it was Jägermeister. Before too long I was taking a drink during the keyboard solo, or partying with the support band before the show. It got out of control.

How long have you been sober now?

I haven’t picked up a drink in fourteen years.

And how has your life changed because of that?

Had I not made the change, I wouldn’t be talking to you now. Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic, right? My two children had just been born and I didn’t want to be another John Bonham or Keith Moon, as much as those guys are my heroes. I knew I had to choose one road or the other. I don’t think I’d have reached the age of forty, and now here I am at forty seven.

You continue to attend AA meetings while on tour. The temptation never goes away?

No, it’s always there, but you just learn to remove yourself from certain potentially uncomfortable situations. I can handle people drinking around me. That’s not an issue unless they get completely obnoxious. When I played with Avenged Sevenfold, that was one of my biggest worries: how would I deal with being on tour with a bunch of young guys that drank and partied? In fact, it had the adverse effect: I would wake up on the bus and watch the hangovers. It made me realise: man, I don’t miss this at all.

Dave Ling was a co-founder of Classic Rock magazine. His words have appeared in a variety of music publications, including RAW, Kerrang!, Metal Hammer, Prog, Rock Candy, Fireworks and Sounds. Dave’s life was shaped in 1974 through the purchase of a copy of Sweet’s album ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’, along with early gig experiences from Status Quo, Rush, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Yes and Queen. As a lifelong season ticket holder of Crystal Palace FC, he is completely incapable of uttering the word ‘Br***ton’.