I’ve been reading the biography of David Crosby, legendary member of the Byrds, Crosby, Stills and Nash, and various configurations thereof. It is indeed a sad commentary on sex, drugs, and yes also rock n’ roll, a tale of enormously talented musicians who sing like angels and live like the devil. In many ways it is a depressing tale of drug addictions. In some ways it is an interesting tale of musical excellence and courage. It is, in short a mixed bag, an honest confessional combined with narcissistic self-justifications, and oh yes, some wonderful music. As someone who actually worked in the record business for the Record and Tape Center on Franklin St. in Chapel Hill, and the Record Bar chain in Charlotte, and who attended hundreds of classic rock concerts I thought it would be useful to offer some reflections about how to be in the world, without being worldly.
In the first place, it was important for me to know where to draw the line between enjoying the music and participating in the sex and drug culture. I did not indulge in the latter, while very much enjoying the former. I enjoyed the creativity and skill of many talented musicians, and frankly was appalled by a good deal of what went along with it. To some degree you need to understand that you have to be a successful musician to actually be able to afford a lifestyle of sex and drugs…. drugs, especially cocaine, heroin, even grass, do not come free, even to elite musicians. Many of them have squandered their millions on such stuff. It’s sad, and in some cases pathetic to see them groveling for dope. Just as much of a cautionary tale is what happens to a hedonistic approach to sex— you get sexually transmitted diseases, some of which can be fatal.
One may ask why are musicians so susceptible to these temptations and downfalls? Part of it has to do with their openness to trying new things. To be a creative person this is necessary to some degree. Some of it has to do with the vulnerability and sensitivity of right brained persons. They are, as my granny used to say ‘impressionable’. The world affects them more strongly than some people. When the world goes bad, they are often more susceptible to going that way as well. Their openness, their sensitivity leads them as well to get embroiled in major causes that protest the destroying of the environment, the wickedness in political process, true democracy, and the like. They are in short, sometimes too naive and open-minded, and as my granny also warned ‘don’t be so open-minded that you’re brains fall out’.
When folk like these become successful musicians the power and influence sometimes is too much for them to handle, and unfortunately, their managers often tend to be enablers of their bad behavior. Record companies, what’s left of them, are not any more responsible than they ever were in trying to keep their musicians healthy. In some ways the decline of major record companies has been good in terms of more freedom for artists, but in some ways, it has left them without accountability to anyone other than themselves— not good for narcissists and hedonists or even just ordinary musicians who are spending lots of time in their creative imaginations.
I worked with a lot of people that were good folk, some of them hard workers, some of them people of integrity and honesty, some not. When you look at people with the eyes of God you see both the good and the bad, and you are supposed to interpret their actions with both fairness and compassion, both justice but also mercy. The music industry is a great laboratory for learning how to do that. It is in short a perfect environment to learn how to be in the world without being of the world. More on this in another post.