Tuesday, September 13, 2005

an interview with heroin

The other day I watched a rockumentary about the long-lived Oklahoma City band the Flaming Lips. The movie, The Fearless Freaks, made and narrated by Bradley Beesley using interviews he has done over the course of about fifteen years, supplemented by home movies from the families of band members, follows the trajectory of the Flaming Lips, whose first claim to fame was for being very LOUD (yes, they love The Who) and putting on outrageous live shows with flaming drums and smoke and motorcycles on amps. Over time and over the course of many experiments, including a parking-garage concert featuring several hundred cars playing different specially-recorded tapes on their stereos all at the same time to create a symphonic effect, the Flaming Lips evolved into what they are now -- the creators of some of the most innovative and intelligent rock music today, but still with a wild live show featuring fake head injuries, giant bunny costumes and other theatrical flourishes.

A fairly standard movie really, made more interesting by the artistic evolution of the band itself since its inception in 1983. But it has a long scene that is some of the strongest stuff I've seen in a movie in a long time. The scene was preceded by a short piece with charismatic head Lip Wayne Coyne, who was discussing the the band's long-in-the-making, soon-to-be-released backyard-studio movie project, Christmas on Mars. Coyne mentions how it was rather risky to use fellow Lip Steve Drozd in the lead role in the movie; although he thought Drozd was an interesting actor, Coyne said frankly they didn't know whether Drozd would be alive long enough to complete the project.

The movie cuts to Beesley's long interview with Drozd, the Lips' drummer and most talented musician, while Drozd prepared his next hit of heroin. Drozd matter-of-factly described how heroin had affected him over the five or six years he had been addicted. He owned basically nothing -- even his drum kit and other musical instruments he sold to the other Lips, who let him borrow them. His relationship was on the rocks, his health was deteriorating, and he was deep in debt. Before it was time to record a new album, Drozd would get off the smack long enough to function and then fall back into the heroin. The whole time Drozd was discussing this, the camera, in black-and-white focussed tightly on him sitting at a little table, heating the heroin on a spoon, filling a syringe, and then finally looking for a vein. Drozd noted how he used to have no problem finding a vein, but now he said it was like they were sick of being abused and were hiding. Finally, Drozd found a vein in his hand and then shot up.

Drozd stood up, and said the effect would hit in about 20 seconds. You can see the change come over him; he describes the rush and how good it feels. But he also knows that the stuff is killing him -- again, he says he has sold everything he ever owned to pay for this rush, no longer an recreational thrill but a daily necessity.

Spellbinding and horrifying. Worth a watch even if you don't care about the music of the Flaming Lips or the inventiveness of Coyne and Drozd. I believe that the war on drugs is counterproductive and that that drugs should be legalized and regulated. Yes, heroin and other drugs will continue to fuck up people like Drozd. But guess what? Today, alcohol fucks up more people than heroin or LSD or crystal meth or cocaine or crack or any of that stuff. And nicotine causes far, far more damage to people's health and lives (and wallets) that marijuana. Marijuana is NOT a gateway drug -- if anything, NICOTINE and ALCOHOL are. The only connection between pot and the harder stuff is that they are all illegal!

Like an alcoholic relying on gin, tequila, or beer, Drozd could have been fucking up his life using heroin without the fear of jail adding to the general misery of his own living hell. Unlike an alcoholic, Drozd had the constant fear of arrest and imprisonment for his drug of choice hanging over his head. An aside -- the documentary also features one of Wayne Coyne's older brothers, who spent 12 years in jail under a three-strikes-and-you're-out law -- two petty drug possession convictions then shoplifting. Wooh, a real hardened criminal and menace to society. How fucking stupid. And ironically, despite rumors and a very odd life and musical style, Wayne said he never touches the stuff. In any case, if these drugs weren't illegal much of the violence associated with the drug trade would also disappear, and it would be easier for addicts to seek help without fear of legal repercussions. Not a panacea, but better than the current absurd system.

I'm not sure when the interview was shot -- I think at least 6-7 years ago. But after a final confrontation where the non-violent Wayne Coyne punched him a couple of times, Drozd finally got off the heroin. Steve Drozd is still alive and healthy, the Flaming Lips are enjoying critical and (some) commercial success, and Christmas on Mars is supposed to come out this year.

Edit: Drozd defended his decision to include this scene in the movie. I'm glad he did. It's brutally honest, and it's one of the most effective ANTI-DRUG messages I can imagine.

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