We'll Take the High Road


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No one seems happy about the fact that consciousness-altering substances have been at the center of American popular music for the past 100 years or so-and have probably played a role in 'classical' music as well-no doubt our scholarly respondents will fill in the details.

The Silent Majority (still a great expression-thanks, Spiro) doesn't care for this. It represents a lifestyle that is-choose one or more: amoral, immoral, loathsome, sinful and, no doubt, too evocative of the Shadow Within... We won't dwell on the fact that bourbon also does a pretty good job of altering consciousness.

The Protectors of High Culture don't like it because it undermines their trope about art as direct, unmediated communication with the gods. Their Romantic Heroes must burn up all libidinous, social and political frustrations in the promethean fire of their work; not in a hash pipe.

But that just doesn't seem to be the way things actually work.

One single example: the universally loved Louis Armstrong smoked pot daily. This is, on its face, illustration enough of the tangled, unsightly web of cultural contradictions surrounding the issue.

I'm not about defending or attacking musicians getting high (as a guy looking for a job, at least that's my cover). I'm about removing the moral overlay, the cant and hypocrisy; recognizing that some of the greatest musical improvisation has been fueled by drugs and going from there.

I admit it is a tangled web. As a dad, I see the traps here; the fear of admitting you did what you probably don't want them to do-at least not yet. Probably no 'civilization' has had the courage to overtly display its propensity toward, even reliance on, intoxication. In fact, it seems to me that the creation of (narcotized) ritual may have been the most useful way ever found by a society to finesse the problem. “Don't bother daddy now, Junior. He's trying to see god. It's important for the crops."

I've always bemoaned the Western lack of cultural ritual outside the sanitized versions presented by organized religion. It's interesting to think that our musical 'icons' have always sought the space-spiritual space to me-that is made accessible by consciousness alteration. But shhh. Best keep it to yourself.

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This story appears courtesy of Brilliant Corners, a Boston Jazz Blog.
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