I heard an interview on NPR a few weeks ago with Jonah Lehrer, author of Imagine: How Creativity Works, in which he discussed the positive and negative effects of drug-use on the creative process.
The two specific examples he cited were Bob Dylan (ya know, like… the iconic folk/rock megastar) and poet W.H. Auden. Both artists were blitzed on amphetamines (can you be “blitzed” on amphetamines?) at the height of their careers, and during the creation of their masterworks.
Their drug of choice flooded the brain with dopamine, increasing energy (good for recording a trillion great albums in a single decade), focus (good for drilling down into the minutia of your process), euphoria (good for euphoria), and a sense of grandiosity (as if Dylan needed any more of that).
Then there is the flip side of that drug — the “come down”: anxiety, depression, fatigue, suicidal ponderings, and very creepy dreams. Later in life, Auden especially struggled to maintain his creativity without the use of amphetamines. His flow had become dependent on the buzz.
Drug-use: the path to greatness or regret?
It’s 4/20 today. And this post is not meant to moralize or judge, simply to ask the question– how have drugs affected your musical career and creative process?
We’ve all “had friends” who’ve dabbled here and there, expanding their consciousness with this, staying awake with that, quieting the inner critic with this, boosting self-confidence with that.
But for every mind that’s been opened to new forms and ideas, there’s a bad hippie lyric about “burnished souls of yogurt yellow, very cherry cheese;” for every guitarist who could party all night long, there’s the following night’s missed gig; for every sweet stoner jam there’s the sober moment when you hear the truth; for every coked-up frontman who could strike a rockstar pose, there’s probably a broken nose and some bitter fans calling him an A-hole.
Actually, that sounds like I’m moralizing; I don’t mean to. I’ve seen people do incredible and terrible things on drugs. I just don’t always trust that the taker can tell the difference. And then there’s all those long-term effects of dependency.
But if even the scientists are telling us that there’s certain things the creative mind can only accomplished while high, where does that leave us? I’m curious what your thoughts are. What has your experience been, either personally or with bandmates, family, friends, and foes? Let us know in the comments section below.