Heroin: Art and Culture’s Last Taboo



These are the best journalistic pieces I’ve ever read/listened to that delve into the history of junk philosophy. The author doesn’t seem to have ever been a heroin addict, which is wonderful. What joy, to see our little tribe of philosophers in extremis considered on its merits by the outside world! Andrew Hussey deserves a round of slow, lethargic applause.

The Article: Heroin: Art and Culture’s Last Taboo — by Andrew Hussey, The Observer

The Radio Version, which is even better: BBC Radio 4: Heroin, by Andrew Hussey — on Art, Creativity and Heroin 

The drug did not give Baudelaire visions or hallucinations, even if he had wished for them; instead, it threw him into a profound meditation which detached him from the world and made him understand it more clearly…

Heroin users don’t need to do anything or go anywhere: they just are.

This above all is what makes the heroin user a threat to a society built on speed and movement. Heroin, in contrast, makes the individual deeply introspective. Beyond the “dirty junkie” cliches and the fear of disease, one of the reasons why heroin is still taboo is that it wipes away the sense of responsibility to the collective, to the herd. This is why heroin users are usually characterised as self-destructive narcissists who don’t really deserve to survive their habits.

But it is clear that artists who are heroin users have a clearly developed sense of negativity in relation to society, and that has its own aesthetic. This indeed is the true art of heroin – to refuse life, to refuse society; terrifyingly, in every absolute sense: to just say “no”.


Professor Andrew Hussey: dean of the University of London Institute in Paris


SYD ARTHUR’s Psychedelic Daydream Sounds: Talking Shop with Liam Magill and Raven Bush


Syd Arthur’s Liam Magill showing off his supercool electric fingerstyle

Syd Arthur, psychedelic rock virtuosos from Canterbury, opened last night for Sean Lennon at the Great American Musical Hall in San Francisco. Both bands were fantastic. Thanks to Liam for hanging out with us to talk shop at the expense of time, tobacco, sleep, and beer.

Syd Arthur’s music is like a stream of consciousness soundscape of psychedelia, rock, and funk, with undertones of folk and jazz and blues and more. It all makes for a really unique sound infused with some real history. Both Syd Arthur and Sean Lennon’s The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger are rarities in a psychedelic music scene dominated by electronica. It’s great to see a 21st century English psychedelic rock band with solid influences. It’s great to hear psychedelic music performed by people who can actually play instruments. It’s great to see two bands in one night that would both make a young Syd Barrett proud.


Syd Arthur is Liam Magill (vocals, guitar), Raven Bush (violin, mandolin, keys), Joel Magill (bass, vocals), and Fred Rother (drums, percussion).

You know a band is good when they sound even better live than when all tracked up and mastered. These guys are great musicians. Raven Bush (violin, mandolin, keys) explained that his music background is academic; he knows his music theory. It shows. His mandolin solos are a thing to behold. And I’m sure it made his night that he got to play violin with Bob Weir from The Grateful Dead in Sean’s encore.

Liam Magill (guitar, vocals, songwriter) says he comes at music more organically. His guitar style is a great mix of technicality and forceful attack, the kind of style that does develop organically over time as you find your own way. Liam does the lion’s share of the songwriting, and while touring can suck, I was amused to hear him say he just takes his electric keyboard on the road and does some contemplative composing. He also said he composes a bit on the flute, which is pretty damn cool, because there is definitely a little Jethro Tull in there somewhere.

Here’s what really got me, though: Liam has a vicious guitar fingerstyle. It’s something you don’t expect to see played on a Stratocaster, on rhythm, in front of a wall of sound. He brings the plectrum out as needed, but where everyone else would use a pick, Liam uses a sort of aggressive funk clawhammer with percussive slaps, downstroke strumming, and string-assaulting upstroke plucking. He’s got that aggressive Neil Young attack (although Liam actually moves his wrist) and the hard strumming of an angry John Lennon rhythm, but he does almost all of it without a plectrum. It’s an aggressive technique, it really stands out, and it works wonderfully in their music. Who needs a guitar pick after watching that? Not me.


So, you should really check out Syd Arthur. Go see them touring with Sean Lennon or at Bonnaroo. Take some 2c-e, 2c-i, 2c-whatever, DMT, LSD, shrooms, mescaline, maybe even some peyote if you can find it. Take them all together. And check out what real psychedelic music is, based on solid influences, performed by people who play real instruments.

Syd Arthur is touring with Sean Lennon and will be at the Bonnaroo Music Festival in a few weeks.

Syd Arthur’s new album, Sound Mirror, is out now in the US and coming out in June in the UK. Check it out.

Online: http://sydarthur.co.uk/index.htm

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sydarthur

On Twitter: https://twitter.com/sydarthurband/

On Band Camp: https://sydarthur.bandcamp.com

Bad Cops, Good Drugs and Self Destruction: If you like FILTH, you’ll love BAD LIEUTENANT (1992)

Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant is a film about your average cop: a corrupt headcase with a gun who was born to be a criminal, but turned out to be a late developer. If you like James McAvoy in Filth, you’ll love Harvey Keitel in Bad Lieutenant. This cop knows how to mix his drugs. He’s also good at mixing his drug taking with a lot of stealing, drug dealing, screaming, whoring, and hard drinking. He does have some problems with gambling, though.

Ferrara is always willing to go to dark places, and in Harvey Keitel he found an actor who could go all the way. This NC-17 B-flick full of drugs, degeneracy, wild nihilism, suicidal apathy, horrific rape, and total self destruction is such a beautiful train wreck to watch that even Roger Ebert thinks it’s wonderful. But it’s not the subject matter that makes the film: it’s Harvey Keitel. The parallels to Jon S. Baird’s Filth (2013) are striking, specifically James McAvoy’s reach-out-and-choke-the-audience performance.

This is one bad lieutenant

Harvey Keitel plays the titular and unnamed Bad Lieutenant, the baddest of bad cops, who makes McAvoy’s Filth corruption seem like schoolboy pranks. Keitel pulls the entire film up from its b-movie vibe. The cinematography is so bad it makes shot/reverse shot look nouvelle vague. But it doesn’t make any difference at all while you’re watching it. The visceral shock of Keitel’s acting makes everything else peripheral. See the stills? They don’t come close to matching the intensity of the performance at 24 frames per second. Rogert Ebert wrote, “Harvey Keitel plays this man with such uncompromised honesty that the performance can only be called courageous…” That’s a delicate way to put it. It’s better described as a performance of beautiful insanity.

Gambling his life away, lying, conning, thieving, stealing evidence, selling drugs, robbing criminals, sexually assaulting teenagers, snorting cocaine, smoking crack, smoking heroin, shooting heroin, shooting at people, shooting at car radios, and drinking to oblivion in a naked stupor while whoring with bondage hookers: this Bad Lieutenant is far too busy tearing his world apart to photocopy an image of his phallus just to pull the department secretary.

BAD.LIEUTENANT-(NC-17.RATING).avi_snapshot_01.30.07_[2014.05.13_04.56.38]Now, if you’re here for the existential nihilism like me, I have to warn you: it’s not really the elusive nihilist film you’ve been searching for, because like most screen nihilists, this Bad Lieutenant comes with a twist. Unlike most filmmakers who deal with nihilistic characters, however, Ferrara’s lens never really makes judgments. The camera just watches. And this is one hell of a spectacle.

If you want to see a more phillosophical brand of nihilism in action, check out Terrence Malick’s Badlands (1973), whose lens is somewhat judgmental but leaves things open to interpretation. Mike Hodges’ Get Carter (1971) glorifies Michael Caine’s nihilist antihero. Mike Leigh’s Naked (1993) is closer to the philosophical mark, and David Thewlis is as mesmerizing as Keitel. Finally, another worthy Ferrara film is King of New York (1990) with Christopher Walken as gangster antihero.

Ferrara is currently filming Pasolini starring Willem Dafoe as the infamous Italian poet, critic and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini, in a portrayal of his final days leading up to his mysterious murder. Let’s hope that film gets released because if there ever was a great cinephile biopic in the making, it’s a story about Pasolini.

Shakespeare on Heroin


Newly reformulated and cut with iambic pentameter.

Relapse Day 7: Bad Scene, Act I

To use or not to use, that is the question—
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The stabs and shots of outrageous misfortune
Or tie up Veins against a sea of troubles
And by injection, end them? To dream, to sleep—
Ever more; and with a shot, put to end
This Heartache, these thousand unnatural shocks
Our brains are heir to? ‘Tis a preparation
Devoutly taken. To walk the world asleep…
To sleep, perchance to Wake! Aye, there’s the rub,
For on our heroin, what life may come,
While we flee in disdain this mortal coil,
Must give us pause, despite all the Thoughts
That make Absurdity of waking life
For who would bear the stripes and bars of time,
The prosecutor’s wrong, the social scorn,
The pangs of junky love, the Law’s decay,
The insolence of officers, all spurns
The world merits but we are forced to take
While we ourselves might our quietus make
With a bare syringe. Who would these troubles bear,
To grieve and sweat under a broken life,
But that the dread of losing our escape,
From sobriety, that unsought country
Travelers avoid return to, slows our Time,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than withdraw to a world we care not for.
Thus Suffering does make Junkies of us all,
And thus the golden rays of opium
Are sicklied o’er, with the pale cast of Dreams,
While enterprises of great pitch and moment,
Are tossed by Time as currents turn awry,
And we yield to Inaction.

Original free verse:

To use or not to use, that is the question—
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The pains and miseries of outrageous misfortune
Or tie up Veins against a sea of troubles
And by injecting, end them? To dream, to sleep—
Forevermore; and by a shot, to say we end
The Heart-ache, and the thousand unnatural shocks
Our brains are heir to? ‘Tis a preparation
Devoutly to be taken. To walk the world, asleep…
To sleep, perchance to Wake! Aye, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of heroin, what life may come,
When we have shuffled away to deny this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There’s the respect
That makes Absurdity of so painful a waking life
For who would bear the stripes and bars of time,
The prosecutor’s wrong, the society’s scorn,
The pangs of junky love, the Law’s decay,
The insolence of officers, and the spurns
That society merits yet we are forced to take
While we ourselves might our quietus make
With a bare syringe. Who would these troubles bear,
To grieve and sweat under a broken life,
But that the dread of losing something in our escape,
From an unsought country, whose sobriety
No traveler wishes to return to, collapses the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than withdraw to others that we care not for.
Thus Suffering does make junkies of us all,
And thus the golden rays of opium
Are sicklied o’er, with the pale cast of Thought,
While enterprises of great pitch and moment,
Are lost to time and turn awry,
And we lose ourselves to inaction.

Of Ragamuffins and Dens: State Legislation, Municipal Enforcement, and Opium Smoking

Social class has as much to do with effective drug demonization as race. This great article doesn’t rewrite the history of anti-Chinese racism in the prohibition of opium, but the class divide caused by criminalization and the speed of the cultural shift from upper class but bohemian acceptability to disgust, classism, and racial segregation of drug use is breathtaking. You see the same pattern throughout the general history of drug prohibition in the 19th and 20th century, with different drugs and in various societies.

Points: short & insightful writing about a long & complex history

On May 26, 1888, the Boston Daily Globe reported the death of a young Harvard student named Frank Mills. The front page headline read: “Fatal Opium.” According to the story, having decided that life at Harvard would not be complete without the experience, Mills and three fellow students had ventured into Boston with the hopes of securing some opium. Following suggestions from their classmates the foursome sought out a man known as Nicholas Gentleman who sold opium in the South End. The boys had “refused to go to an opium joint,” as they feared a police raid, but told Gentleman if he would come to Harvard they would “make things all right for him.” He readily agreed after several assurances that Mills was “an old hand at smoking.” That evening Mills continued to claim he was a frequent smoker leading Gentleman to oblige his numerous requests for another pipe. Mills…

View original post 1,380 more words

Junk Dilemmas: Day 739

I feel like I’m fading away….

I cannot resist turning back to watch my own once-precious skyscrapers collapse into crystalline forms and shift in dimensions with the phases of the moon. The past is so alive and present, even rendered unto ruins. It’s not easy to let go of what’s lost when your future is buried under the dark debris of memories of what might have been. Death doesn’t lie in the future. Death lives in the moment. She whispers to you in the hollow places between unspoken words.

We all live in the past, with the present unfolding before us like a tapestry of promises woven from our dreams. But the past is a sandcastle made up of ashes and bones. Perhaps there will come a day when someone will appreciate my ancient ruins; stop to stare at them in curiosity as I stopped, once, to stare at the fresh grave of a soldier. I wanted to escape death, so I willed life to stop. On the edge of time’s glacial black abyss, I peered over the edge and—


Time is not a river. It is the horror of the singularity within a black hole. Forever destroying, forever fleeting, in the darkness and the silence of moments we cannot comprehend. This momentary abyss shatters everything around us, every now and every then and all forever. I can only look backwards to see the future before me. I want to escape it. I will it to stop. On the edge of time’s glacial black abyss, I peer over the edge and—

I won’t resist turning back to watch my own precious skyscrapers collapse into crystalline forms and shift in dimensions with the phases of each new moon. The future is alive, even if the past is rendered unto ruins. It’s not easy to let go of what’s behind you when your past is right before you, buried under the dark debris of thoughts of what your life could be. Death doesn’t lie in the past. Death lives in the moment. She whispers to you in the hollow places between unspoken words.

Who Killed Kurt Cobain? Vultures: Courtney Love explains


In 1995, Courtney Love, in a questionable but more honest interview than most, talked about the immediate reason Kurt killed himself: being “ganged up upon” by selfish, greedy jerks who were supposed to be his friends. Courtney and the vultures that surrounded him staged a “tough love” drug intervention. Any idiot could have told them it would backfire. But they didn’t do it for him. They were trying to shove their cash cow toward the bullpen. He was supposed to be touring, he was cancelling left and right, and millions of dollars were at stake over Lollapalooza alone. And here we have a guy who is not only on smack, he wants to sneak off and record Lead Belly covers. He doesn’t want to be a pop star and make us money. That is unacceptable.

It’s a rare, vintage moment of honesty among a crowd that never wants to talk about why Kurt killed himself, or dispel the myth that fame alone did him in. As if fame is some evil goddess. Even in the same interview, Courtney starts to veer toward that official line. Actually, the twisted, greedy pigs around Kurt and in the music industry are the ones who did him in.

These prohibition-minded, temperance movement style drug and alcohol interventions kill people. At best, they can do serious damage. If the management and money men had just let Kurt do what he wanted with his music, since his decisions are what made them all rich in the first place, and if they’d just put Kurt on methadone James Taylor style, maybe he’d be alive today. Maybe not. Who can say? But in the 1990s, tough love interventions were all the rage. Actually, they’re still going on. Even the disgusting A&E show Intervention ran until 2013: 193 episodes, 13 seasons of exploitation and misery.

Mark Goheen, an addiction counselor, put it plainly: “These interventions backfire because it reinforces the idea that [kids’] parents are assholes.” Great way to help some one, right? Be a total prick to them when they’re suffering.

Remember kids, drugs are bad for you, but it’s prohibition that kills.

at 8m18s

Barbara Walters: Could you have stopped it?

Courtney Love: Yes.

BW: Could you have stopped it permanently?

CL: No, but I could have been diligent…

BW: …Why do you think your husband killed himself?

CL: He was ganged up upon…

BW: …Do you feel his death is your fault?

CL: In this instance, yes.

BW: Because?

CL: Because I didn’t need to call for an intervention. I shouldn’t have called for an intervention. I just panicked.

BW: …Because you tried to get him off drugs…it’s your fault?

CL: He thought he was a waste of space. Yes. I told him he had dropped the baby. And I was mean about it… I told him on the phone, ‘you know, you dropped the baby the other day.’ When he was in rehab. You dropped the baby. He was like ‘what!?’ I’m like, ‘you dropped the baby, you dropped Frances on her head.’ She was wearing a big hooded coat, he did not hurt her. And I did not need to tell him that.

BW: And you think that’s why he did it?

CL: I think that’s a major reason…I do, I think that’s a major reason alright? And also, he felt like a waste of space, and a sell out and he’d made everything too huge and it was his fault that everything was too huge. Do you understand what I mean? I mean it came like a Mack truck. First, it was magical. It was so weird. It was surreal and magic in the air. Everybody my age remembers that period when his band got big. And then huge, and then the grown ups knew and then the boomers knew… and he was too famous.


heroin raindrops

heroinraindropsCranes fly overhead
Reflected by glass and steel
Turning dreams to dust

Sweet blades of wet grass
Soft as the silk of her hair
Tremble in the rain

Red sunset beauty
Ponds ripple, blue light scatters
All things fade in time

How to lose your life
Without even trying to
You just follow me

First I hesitate
Plunge the needle in my vein
Yes, the fix is in

What’s the speed of smack?
Misery to ecstasy
In seven seconds

Every junky’s like:
Never mind the setting sun,
We’re supernovas.

all dead heroes


I walk with dead heroes in a sea of broken statues, of ancient gods with stoic faces that weep spiders as they stare into the sun. We shiver in the heat, drift like ghosts through city streets, scattering the happiest of crowds. People roll away from us like waves do from the shore, our desperation sensed by those desperate to ignore.

I live with dead heroes who speak to me in murmurs, across the veins of dry rivers that once swelled in the sun. Now I float where your river takes me. I sleep where your shadows make me. My dry rivers have long since vanished into darkness where they died weeping crimson tears. I am an escape artist. My heart whispers of escapades, but my pockets are full of prisons and my stomach is sick with keys. So I spend my nights alone with you and all my dead heroes in these quiet, cluttered rooms.

Tonight, I slip past sleeping statues, I abandon all dead heroes. I find peace on crowded city streets with youthful gods at play, who in dance and drink live to die another day. But my dead heroes always find me, and trace their lines upon my arms. These people flow around me like ripples on a pond, my presence sensed but my life soon to be foregone.