“I used to do a little but a little wouldn’t do so the little got more and more…”
The lyric from the classic Guns N’ Roses song, Mr. Brownstone, is one out of the countless somber, yet insightful illustrations of how addiction and substance abuse have plagued the music industry for decades.
For the majority of individuals, listening to music serves as an instinctive element of day-to-day life and more often than not, acts as a ubiquitous form of companionship. However, for music creators, the industry is heavily intertwined with drug addiction and substance abuse. Barbara Beinstock, an LCSW psychotherapist, with over 30 years of experience in private practice states that addiction within the industry is a growing epidemic. She explained, “when people work in an area where they’re using, or trying to use creative juices, there’s this idea that drugs and alcohol can stimulate a creative process.”
Each year, addiction claims the lives of about 570,000 individuals within the United States, which makes up roughly 17 percent of the American population- a statistic that has become increasingly prevalent within the music industry. Throughout the decades, the music culture grew to become characterized by what was perceived to be the essential components of the rock star lifestyle—sex, drugs and rock and roll. Historically, the music industry and drug experimentation shared a symbiotic relationship where new drugs marked the distinction of a new era. While the 50s were a tumultuous time to experiment with alcohol, the 60s led many on a psychedelic trip under the influence of LSD. Fast forward to the 80s when The Rolling Stones, inspired by heroin, crafted the infamous line“I’ll be in my basement room with a needle and a spoon;” and in the 2000s, cocaine became the poison of choice. Beinstock explained that “there are different times where certain drugs were more popular than others, but one of the big epidemics, in general today, is the use of opiates.” She added that the surplus of “cash, downtime and opportunity” is what provokes many music industry professionals to seek refuge through substance abuse.
Tragically, numerous musical icons and legends have passed prematurely due to an ongoing battle with addiction or other trying circumstances. Icons such as the Doors’ Jim Morrison, Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, the Who’s Keith Moon, the Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones to more modern artists such as Sublime’s Bradley Nowell, Blind Melon’s Shannon Hoon, Whitney Houston and Amy Winehouse are just a few examples of talented musical icons who lost their battle with substance abuse.
While many recognize The Recording Academy for the GRAMMY Awards, which take place every February, few are aware of one of the main contributions and core focuses of the non-profit organization. MusiCares, a charity of The Recording Academy, was established in 1989, and aims to provide a safety net of critical assistance for members of the music community and ensures that music professionals have somewhere to turn in times of difficulty. The foundation, affectionately referred to as the Red Cross of the music industry, provides services and resources, which cover a wide range of financial, medical and personal emergencies, each of which are treated confidentially and with the utmost of integrity.
Woody Herman, a Milwaukee born Jazz artist, began performing as a child singing in Vaudeville. At the age of 11, Herman mastered the art of the saxophone and garnered a substantial amount of professional experience and credibility performing with the big bands of Tom Gerun, Harry Sosnik, and Gus Arnheim. In 1934, Herman joined the Isham Jones orchestra, and after the band broke up, Herman utilized the remaining talented members to construct his own orchestra. His career continued to flourish and he soon became recognized as one of the most influential band leaders of his time, producing tunes that are still applauded today, such as his theme At the Woodchopper‘s Ball, Early Autumn, and Four Brothers.
Sadly, despite a notable career lasting more than 60 years, and countless legendary contributions to the music industry, Herman passed away virtually homeless and alone. While his influence in the music industry was greatly appreciated, music industry professionals were outraged that someone of his stature, particularly someone who had contributed so much to the world of music, could pass away in such tragic circumstances.
Stories like Herman’s, that illustrate the heartbreaking health and financial hardships faced by too many members of the musical family, prompted The Recording Academy’s establishment of the MusiCares Foundation more than 25 years ago. MusiCares executive director Debbie Carroll explained that the circumstances of Herman’s unfortunate passing led “a number of musicians, including Bonnie Raitt, to come together and say no one in our music family should end up in this type of situation.”
“You know I took the poison
From the poison stream
Then I floated out of here
Singing ha la la la de day”
This verse, from the U2 song, Running to Stand Still, illustrates yet another vexing encounter with addiction, one that Adam Clayton, one of the group’s core members, is familiar with on a personal level.
U2’s Adam Clayton Photographed by Sam Jones
With 23 GRAMMYs, over 30 top 40 hits and more than170 million records sold worldwide, U2 is without a doubt one of the most successful rock bands of all time.
Despite experiencing tremendous success as a member of one of the most iconic rock bands of all time U2’s Adam Clayton suffered with an ongoing substance abuse. In 2013, in an interview with the Irish Examiner, Clayton recounted the story of how he ultimately came to recognize his troubled state. While on their 1993 Zoo TV Tour, Clayton reportedly was unable to perform at the band’s show at the Sydney Football Stadium succeeding an all-nighter of drinking and was replaced by a roadie, who took his place on the bass. Clayton explained to the Irish Examiner, “Zoo TV was a period of confusion for me. I think that being so successful took me 10 years to get used to. There were a lot of things I could no longer do like going to gigs and not having people talk to you all the time. It was also hard being in a room where everyone knows more about you than you do about them.”
While his band members were supportive and patient with Clayton’s party animal lifestyle, Clayton came to the realization that this could potentially be the end of the road for him. Clayton explained to the Irish Examiner, “It was a pretty awful feeling and you promise yourself that it will never happen again. I was lucky. I realized that if I didn’t do something about it I’d lose everything.” He continued to state “the other members of U2 were beginning to realize that I wasn’t handling my addiction very well.” The bass player, who was formerly engaged to supermodel Naomi Campbell, explained “I became a very bitter person that wasn’t living up to my potential. There comes a point, as you age, when that’s not very gracious. I was in a successful band with great people whose lives were functional. They were in long-term relationships and raising families. I hated not feeling good enough.” After facing an excruciatingly difficult battle with alcoholism, the bass player is now 24 years free of addiction.
As Beinstock mentioned, addiction continues to be a growing epidemic and many individuals remain unaware of the severity of the issue. The truth of the matter is that addiction persists to be an intricate disease that requires more than willpower and strong intentions to align oneself on the right path. Beinstock explained that in order to be sober “you have to want it. You have to hit [rock] bottom. Just because other people tell you [that] you have a problem, you have to understand and see where its affecting your life.” In most instances, Beinstock stated that “there has to be an impact on a certain area of a person’s life that means something to them, and if they don’t get the help, they’re going to lose that something or someone.” Sadly Beinstock higlights “addiction is really powerful and I’ve seen people pick their substance over their loved ones time and time again.” Regarding MusiCares efforts, Beinstock states,
“I respect what MusiCares is doing. I think they’ve got the right idea and they are a great resource.”
The MusiCares Foundation offers multiple programs and services, available to members of the music community, including emergency financial assistance for basic living expenses, medical expenses, psychotherapy and treatment for HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, hepatitis C and other illnesses. Additionally, MusiCares, offers nationwide educational workshops covering subjects such as financial, legal, medical and substance abuse issues. The non-profit provides a particularly interesting feature, called the Safe Harbor Room, staffed by qualified chemical dependency and intervention specialists, which provides a safe space to musicians in recovery while participating in some well-known music festivals, such as Coachella. MusiCares also holds weekly addiction support groups and provides a MusiCares Sober Touring Network, which is a database of individuals who take music people to recovery support meetings, while they are touring on the road.
Each year, the MusiCares Map Fund Benefit Concert recognizes a prominent music-industry professional who has overcome addiction. Last year, renowned Motown singer and songwriter Smokey Robinson received the Stevie Ray Vaughan Award for his dedication and support of the MusiCares MAP Fund as well as his commitment to helping others with the addiction recovery process. This year, The Recording Academy and MusiCares, will honor the multi-GRAMMY award winning musician Adam Clayton for overcoming his longtime battle with substance abuse. The foundation has previously awarded iconic artists such as Pete Townshend, Ozzy Osbourne, Chester Bennington, and Dave Gahan.
Today, addiction and substance abuse remain an increasing issue within the entertainment and music industry. For more than 20 years, MusiCares has been a place for music industry professions to turn to in times of financial, personal, or medical crises and has helped change many people’s lives. The non-profit believes that musicians should have access to quality and confidential treatment. According to a MusiCares representative, “It’s a simple as a phone call to one of our toll-free numbers; followed by some paperwork. Eligibility consists of documented employment in the music industry for at least five years or credited contribution to six commercially released recordings or videos.” If you or a loved one is in need of assistance please contact one of the MusiCares numbers toll free, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, listed below.
Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1.800.SUICIDE (784-2433)
National Drug Abuse Hotline:1.800.622.4357
Homelessness 24-hour Hotline: 1.800.654.8595
National Mental Health Association: 1.800.969.NMHA (6642)