"For one whole year, me and some of the other guys decided to take heroin to see if it inspired us creatively": JJ Burnel on The Stranglers' unorthodox heroin experiment

JJ Burnel
(Image credit: Peter Noble/Redferns)

The Stranglers bassist JJ Burnel has revisited the band's decision to take heroin for a year for artistic purposes, and conceded that it may not have been the most sensible decision he has made in his life.

The band's collective resolution to take heroin on a daily basis for a year was conceived during the making of their fifth album, 1980's The Gospel According To The Meninblack. In a 2014 interview with The Guardian, Burnel revealed that drummer Jet Black and keyboard player Dave Greenfield "were sensible, and quit after a day", but that he and frontman Hugh Cornwell persisted with the experiment, and descended into what he described as "a surreal, dark, necromantic abyss".

"We’d inhale lines of heroin (for a high) mixed with coke (for energy)," Burnel explains in a new [paywalled] interview with The Telegraph. "It did produce a different kind of album! But I was going to bed at dawn and sleeping all day. I was 30 and in a pathetic physical state. As thin as anything, just skin and bones. Dave [Greenfield], our keyboard player, took charge. I went cold turkey, which was grim, and after two or three days I vowed I’d never touch the stuff again."

"What saved me was that I never injected anything," the bassist concludes.  

With that said, Burnel has previously discussed the fact that, during this period, he was so 'blissed out" that he convinced himself that "it would be wonderful to die."

"I wrote a lovely suicide note, took loads of heroin and woke up three days later." he recalled. "The band hadn't even noticed I hadn't been in the studio."

In his Telegraph interview, the bassist offers a slightly different recollection of this anecdote, suggested that his suicide attempt was promoted by the commercial performance of the ...Meninblack album.

"Our fith album, [The Gospel According to the] Meninblack, came out in 1981 and went straight to number eight in the charts, but the next week it had disappeared," he remembers. "We were skint. I thought it was all over, so I took myself off to my garage… Luckily I really was a failure!" 

JJ Burnel's Strangler In The Light memoir is out now.

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.