Opinion: Rock needs to get over its fascination with heroin

(Image credit: Paula Bronstein \/ Getty)

In recent days, Machine Head’s Robb Flynn has spoken candidly about the death of one of his best friends from a heroin overdose, and how he himself once overdosed, having tried the drug “at least 10 times” over 20 years ago. He is not the first, nor unfortunately, will he be the last. The list is endless, and each death is heartbreaking to family and friends. Believe me, I know. Nothing is more painful than watching your children bury their mother, as I had to, after she died from a heroin overdose.

And yet the morbid fascination continues.

If you’d care to take a look through the TeamRock archives, you’ll find that one of the most controversial features concerned the top ten songs about drugs. Many readers were appalled – despite the fact that we didn’t write any of those songs – that we were glamourising the subject. In fact, there were literally hundreds of songs to choose from, many of which — like Velvet Underground’s Heroin and Motley Crue’s Kickstart My Heart — were left out for precisely that reason.

Like it or not, drugs have always been a part of rock ‘n’ roll, and that’s not going to change any time soon. Moreover, some of the greatest rock music of all time has been written by people who were, as Lemmy once put it, “devastated on drugs”. To quote the late and very great comedian, Bill Hicks: “If you don’t think drugs have done good things for us, do me a favour: go home tonight, take all your albums, all your tapes and CDs, and burn them, because the people who made that music were real fucking high!”

But let’s be very clear; not all drugs are equal, and unless we address that, nothing will change. America’s first drug czar, Harry J Anslinger once stated that marijuana was “the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind”. Clearly, it is not; it causes the munchies and, at worst, mild paranoia. It also relieves pain, possibly cures cancer, and is now legal in many states for medicinal and recreational purposes; a welcome side-effect being that it makes music – particularly stoner rock – sound rather better.

Heroin is different. Ecstasy will make you dance around to a car alarm while pulling funny faces, and leave you feeling somewhat depressed a few days later. Heroin will not; it will make you sit in a pool of your own vomit and not care. LSD may open the doors of perception (or possibly make you scared to go in the bathroom in case the toilet monster gets you). Heroin will not; it will make you steal from your friends. Cocaine will make you talk bollocks for hours on end and give you nosebleeds. Heroin will not; it will kill you. If you must take poison, then at least choose your poison wisely.

Of course, there’s the argument that heroin, like all other drugs, has brought us some truly brilliant music. But at what cost? Perhaps Alice In Chains’ Dirt wouldn’t have been quite so astonishing without heroin, but Layne Staley might still be alive. London punks The Ruts might never have written H Eyes or Love In Vein, but at least frontman Malcolm Owen would have seen his 27th birthday. Hell, Sid Vicious might even have learned to play bass.

It is not my place to judge Robb Flynn, nor anybody else. Part of life’s rich tapestry is that we all make stupid mistakes – although making that same mistake “at least 10 times” does seem particularly stupid. Instead, Flynn should be applauded for speaking out and commiserated for his loss. I know how it feels. And I hope that you never find out.

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A veteran of rock, punk and metal journalism for almost three decades, across his career Mörat has interviewed countless music legends for the likes of Metal Hammer, Classic Rock, Kerrang! and more. He's also an accomplished photographer and author whose first novel, The Road To Ferocity, was published in 2014. Famously, it was none other than Motörhead icon and dear friend Lemmy who christened Mörat with his moniker.