Shakespeare on Heroin

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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.

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Who Killed Kurt Cobain? Vultures: Courtney Love explains

Ludovico

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.

aim

Kurt Cobain Murder Theory Flaws: The Overdose

 

Tom Grant and murder theorists contend that Kurt Cobain’s blood levels of morphine were so high when he died he could not have pulled the trigger of his Remington Model 11 20 gauge shotgun because he was unconscious from a heroin overdose with blood levels of 1.52 milligrams of morphine per liter.

Tom Grant writes:

Cobain’s heroin, (morphine), blood level was 1.52 mgs per liter. This would require a minimum injection of 225 mgs of heroin, three times a lethal dose, even for a hardcore heroin addict. The drug Diazepam, was also found in Cobain’s blood system.

The problem is that the reality of drug tolerance renders the theory impossible to prove without knowing exactly what his tolerance level was, which is exactly what the toxicologists have said. Addicts routinely inject huge quantities of heroin and experience no more than typical highs, while nurses at methadone clinics have been known to die from stealing a sip well under 30 mg, the (low) starting dose for an addict; while there are people on hundreds of milligrams of methadone per day. I’ve read of a case of a patient exceeding 800 mg of methadone daily. I doubt there even is a tolerance ceiling to opiates, just increasing side effects. So, one man’s poison is another’s painkiller.

Even when you do overdose, you can often fight to maintain consciousness and stay awake, at least for a while. But most deaths from so-called “heroin overdoses” aren’t caused by heroin at all. They’re usually caused by a combination of drugs, especially alcohol, which is such a toxic poison that it can kill you if you mix it with just about anything.

Did anyone at the Seattle Police Department look for possible signs that Kurt was unconscious before death? The telltale bluish-white skin and blue lips? Who knows if those signs would be observable three days after death, or noticed at all by ignorant, inept SPD investigators (who can be seen contaminating the crime scene in newly released photos), or even noticed by the doctor who performed the autopsy, who was an ex-concert promoter and friend of Courtney Love’s, and who probably didn’t conduct a very meticulous investigation. And if Kurt was given a hot shot, as Grant seems to allege, who placed his works, spoon, syringe, etc. back in the cigar box? Would a murderer do that? At the risk of leaving fingerprints? Unfortunately, the idiots at SPD probably didn’t bother checking any of the paraphernalia for prints. They didn’t even check the shotgun until the following month, and it had already been contaminated by the cop who handled it at the crime scene.

Basically, when you screw up an investigation, you invite conspiracy theories. But the idea of an instant, fatal overdose is far-fetched to say the least.

Kurt Cobain cat

Kurt Cobain’s Heroin Kit

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kurt cobain works

You can tell a lot about someone’s personality with a simple glance at their works. An unkempt cigar box. A dirty spoon. Cotton Q-Tips. The inescapable black marks of carbon from flame on metal. The hyper-real clutter of a ritual made to escape reality.

The world’s most famous heroin kit belonged to Kurt Cobain, and now we can stare at it in misery and angst thanks to the Seattle Police Department and their newly developed crime scene photos that are just back from the lab, twenty years too late.

An old cigar box named after an Irish singer and poet. It isn’t very dirty but it’s a bit spartan. Maybe he didn’t use this kit much. Maybe it was a backup. Maybe he just wasn’t as much of a junky as he’s been made out to be. The spoon is dirty and it looks like it has been used two or three times without cleaning. When he cooked up he let the heroin really cook, which left rings of the drug where the water evaporated. He wasn’t compulsive about it, he didn’t try to soak up every last drop clean from the spoon or save every used cotton. It didn’t matter.

There’s some cut left in the spoon. The heroin is street quality black tar. He wasn’t trying to score better gear. Maybe he just didn’t care.Two standard 1cc BD insulin syringes, but at least they’re fresh and new. Nothing to stir with except the plunger end of the syringe. Not even a cup for the water from the sink.

The cotton in the spoon is a huge misshapen lump. Those adept guitarist’s fingers working the cotton off a dirty Q-Tip and fumbling to make a pathetic cotton ball. The dirty towel laid out. A chunk of the drug chosen and placed in the dirty spoon. Going to the sink to drip water in, no longer caring if it spills. Watching the drug liquefy and cook above the flame of a cheap disposable lighter. Stirring with the plunger, carefully removing the cap, tying up with a piece of towel and sending the drug home, wondering if it will change things but knowing nothing will.

There’s nothing to clean up with. Just the dirty towel. No alcohol swabs. Just the open, oozing tube of Dr. Hauschka’s Rosencreme to anoint the burning, sensitive skin.  It may be a mess, but everything’s in it’s right place. And when the ritual is over, it will all go carefully back in the box.

Put the cap back on the syringe, put the spoon back in the box and close the lid and smoke an American Spirit without an ashtray and write about your life in red ink and stab the words into the dirt in an act of defiance against the terrible and absurd rituals of a life in pieces. That’s who Kurt Cobain was. And if you ever find yourself in the Northwest of the United States, go out at night and head west to the water. Stare into the cold darkness of the Pacific. If you feel that darkness staring back at you, then you’ll understand in the moment before you turn away what it might have felt like to be Kurt Cobain.

 

Kurt Cobain crime scene gear

kurtguitarexp

Philosophy of the Drug Film: Joachim Trier’s Oslo, August 31 and Louis Malle’s The Fire Within

Le Feu FolletThe philosophical drug film is a modern invention. Its literary equivalent dates at least to de Quincey. Most of these stories are biography, and whether or not you agree with the implication that there can be thoughtful purpose to addiction, even the medical community presupposes (in scientific answers) the philosophical question: “Why?” Unlike Trainspotting, with its emphasis on character, sensation and style (not unlike its source material)—or more didactic/exploitative predecessors such as The Man With the Golden Arm, Trash, The Panic in Needle Park, Christiane F. (ad infinitum/ad nauseam)—this rare breed of drug film distinguishes itself from its cousins by having something to say beyond didactics, grit, shock; even beyond characterisation and style. As of yet, most are literary adaptations; but film is a young medium.

Joachim Trier’s Oslo, August 31 (2011) might be called a film about social isolation (Trier has highlighted this theme in interviews) and self-reflection, but it is also that most curious kind of film: a philosophical film about addiction. Like Louis Malle’s The Fire Within (1963), it is a contemporized adaptation of the 1931 French novella Le Feu Follet, by Pierre Drieu La Rochelle (published in English as Will o’ the Wisp). The novella is based on the life of Dadaist/Surrealist poet/dandy Jacques Rigaut, who promised in his twenties to commit suicide at 30, and was as good as his word. I have long loved Malle’s film, and would like to have updated the story again myself. So it was much to my surprise when, by chance, I came across Oslo, August 31, and scene by scene, noted the story it was based on, as well as the fact that there might not be much point in filming it again for a while in light of Trier’s excellent work. Thankfully, Trier abandons Malle’s outdated moral façade of alcoholism and returns to the source with heroin as the protagonist’s drug of choice. The literary tradition of these stories powerfully suggests there is no more philosophical drug user than the intellectual opiate addict, whose drug does not stupefy the mind, and whose lifestyle presents both a rejection of and by society that surpasses many plights of poverty and prison, let alone the plight of the common drunk.

The Fire Within

“We drunks are poor cousins, and we know it. Anyway, we fade away fast.”

Alain Leroy (Maurice Ronet, in his best performance), is an alcoholic who doesn’t want to leave the comfort of his apartment at a luxury rehab clinic. He has made a conscious decision to end his life on July 21. In the meantime, he visits his friends one by one, taking a last chance to look for reasons to live. Sometimes he makes his visitations with the composure of a resurrected messiah, and at other times—when his emotions rise to the fore with alcohol, bonhomie (or lack thereof), or sexual attraction—he loses composure altogether. It is precisely these emotional experiences that present Alain with the opportunity to reconsider.

In a parallel life, Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie), a heroin addict two weeks away from completing rehab, journeys to Oslo for a job interview. His is the converse of Alain’s journey. Anders comes to Oslo with reasons to live, after a sudden attempted suicide in the opening of the film, whereas Alain is giving life one last chance to convince him not to leave it. By this logic, Alain is seeking unconvincing and Anders convincing that he should try again. This departure in point of view is the defining difference of the film.

While Alain starts his journey with composure before encountering emotional experiences, Anders starts his journey with a baptism of sorts. He emerges soaking wet and in tears from a sudden attempt to drown himself. It’s this rebirth that shapes his journey to Oslo, in which he becomes the metaphorical ghost of the past making visitations upon his friends and his world. But Anders journey is really an internal one; more so than Alain’s. Anders’ rationality grows and his emotions subside on his journey in Oslo. He responds like a man tempted by trials, with increasing calmness and conviction. Were it not for the trip to Oslo, Anders may have simply made another miserable attempt to walk into the lake. Instead, his journey provides a quest on which he confronts his fears with realities. Whether the conviction he draws from the experience is morally justifiable is irrelevant. Life offers no simple answers. In a sense, these are coming-of-age stories where maturity is reached in the contemplation of suicide, which is to say contemplation of the meaning of life.

Anders and Thomas

Anders rejects the muddled arguments of the complacent intellectual.

Alain questions the purpose of the academic’s life

Anders exists in a world with more faults than he can accept. But he also refuses to absolve himself of blame, or to accept platitudes as substitutes for the honest appraisal of the world that he demands. His first visitation is upon his friend, Thomas (Hans Olav Brenner), a university lecturer. Thomas, who looks as if he’s being haunted by a ghost, patronizes Anders with irrelevant quotations. He offers him stale platitudes and an invitation to complacency. Thomas offers an empty defense of life and the world. His head is “bursting with trivialities,” as his lecture culminates in a finale in which he explains how trivial his own existence is. When Thomas says, “Be a loser, if that’s what you want,” he means it literally and without sarcasm, and goes on to explain the boredom of his life, which is only interrupted by intermittent moments of little consequence. “I got a Playstation. We sit and play video games,” he admits, somewhat depressed. For all his ability to quote Proust with little or no point, it is Thomas who is the loser, and he suggests as much with his own total complacency. “Happy is probably an exaggeration, but it’s okay. You can get there if you want to.” To which Anders replies, “It’s not as if I want to live your life… It seems meaningless to me.” From Anders’ point of view, it is Thomas who is the ghost.

“I was dealing a bit as well. Should I put that on my CV?”

“I admire what you do, because you don’t believe in it.”

Anders assesses himself and the world with growing clarity on his journey. He calls himself stupid and unable to write, yet proves he is capable and intelligent in his job interview at the newspaper. He doesn’t avoid the interview: he takes the reasonable steps society might expect of him. But in the confines of the editor’s office, Anders can’t help but find more fault with more evidence of a vacuous world. At the editor’s invitation to comment, he criticizes the newspaper’s articles about HBO series and video games. The editor’s inane response: “People want something light.”

It is when the world seems unreasonable that Anders refuses to compromise. He won’t lie about his past, and is thus confronted by the editor’s palpable unease when the man finds he’s interviewing a heroin addict. But it’s Anders who rejects the editor, not the other way around. Emotional self-defense notwithstanding, Anders appraises the world with increasing rationality as the journey wears on. Rational appraisal gradually outweighs emotion and ultimately strengthens his convictions. Anders can’t accept a world where his arguably irrelevant past addiction would prevent him from being hired. He won’t even tell a harmless lie to compromise with such a world. He may set too high standards, but his pessimism and self-deprecation isn’t necessarily an emotional weakness. Anders is an intellectual, not an escapist. He reaches nihilism as a matter of logic. It’s hard to imagine Anders voice when Alain says to the object of his dislike, “I admire what you do, because you don’t believe in it.” Alain is the escapist who wishes he could go through the motions. Anders refuses on principle to try.

Alone in the crowd.

In a memorable scene, Anders sits in a restaurant observing the lives and conversations of those around him. At a nearby table a girl discusses a bucket list of things she would like to do in life: go skinny dipping, get a good job, make useful every day items—little things among the obligatory desires for fame and fortune. Anders will be confronted with some of these same experiences on his journey, and he will reject them all outright. To Anders they sound like ripples on the surface of time. He is looking for something more meaningful and real, but no one has it on offer.

So he ventures into the pretty, sunlit streets, where is alone with his thoughts among the bustling crowds. He recounts to himself what he learned from his parents. It is another inventory of delicate minutia, the small things in life that Thomas and the girl in the restaurant find worth living for. These memories, too, offer no real answers. Like the past, the future has little to offer him either. Children are a metaphor for this future in the film, and children consistently interrupt his journey, but Anders’ world-weariness never shows any cracks. To put off the search for meaning into the next generation is to simply spin a wheel back to the starting point.

The arc of the journey: emotion to reason, coming-of-age as coming-of-death

Anders is relatively self-assured about his ability to restrain himself from relapse if he chooses life. He simply doesn’t make that choice. His visit to the heroin dealer is a means to an end, not a thrill. He stands there bored, with contempt for the aimless life of the dealer who, like Thomas, has nothing to speak of but video games, aside from his depressing accumulation of electronics and shoes. Anders, unsurprisingly, is unimpressed. Perhaps he has a better fix on the meaning of life than those who have lived safer lives, and gone through less tragedy. What doesn’t kill you may not make you stronger, but it certainly opens your eyes.

As Anders says to Thomas, “It’s not about the heroin. Not really.”

Joachim Trier’s  Oslo, August 31 is available on DVD and Hulu Plus.

Louis Malle’s The Fire Within is available on Criterion DVD and Hulu Plus.