ISSUES Why do musicians turn to drugs, asks SAROOP OOMMEN, when music itself is the best source of a natural high?
The death of Amy Winehouse at age 27 sparked off a burning question: why do musicians and drugs have to be connected, always? The “27 Club” had always been intriguing but more than the eerie phenomenon that so many famous musicians died of substance abuse at age 27, what hit me, actually, was sadness.
A Robin Cook medical thriller, Blindsight came to mind; a mystery of how people suspiciously die of cocaine overdose. Personally, the ending was a let down, but the first chapter has a clear description of how cocaine travels into the brain cells and induces that super euphoric high. It’s incredible to read how it all works.That high is caused by the release of a neurotransmitter called dopamine. The cocaine fools the brain to release exaggerated amounts of dopamine.
In a natural situation, the brain releases dopamine as a reward or motivation to pleasurable activities like eating, sex or a breathtaking view! The dopamine makes the experience a euphoric one. If the dopamine high is naturally caused, it’s healthier. People who get more natural highs are actually more satisfied humans. This also explains why today people are easily bored and always need greasy fast-food, energy drinks and gadgets to keep them peppy! They need higher levels of dopamine, compared to a person who gets a natural high from seeing the blue sky, the smell of fresh air or even a home cooked meal!
Guess what’s the next best source of a natural dopamine high? Music! That’s right; the same section of the brain that releases dopamine from drug abuse is stimulated by great musical experiences! A Google search showed that there’s been extensive scientific research on this subject! As recently as March 2011, Dr. Robert Zatorre and his team from McGill University released award-winning papers on this subject! They let people choose their own music and recorded the changes in their brains by MRI scans! And the “abstract” assumption was scientifically proven! Now doesn’t that make complete sense? That’s why people still flock to a Bryan Adams concert! That’s why we create playlists of our favourites! Listening to music or going to a concert are great natural highs!! And we need one again and again! That also answers why music is such an integral part of human culture worldwide!
Coming back to my sadness, there is a vulnerability attached to performing artists. A gifted artist gives from the depths of his/her whole being and that emotionally spent situation can leave them empty, exposed and tender! That emptiness needs to be filled and it’s an extremely delicate balance. That’s why you will see even veteran artists basking in flattery! For extremely talented artists, may be drugs or alcohol is the only way to fill up that emptiness. Or may be after an energetic performance that floods the brain with natural dopamine, the sudden drop from “a high” calls for a substitute. You don’t need a Ph.D. to validate the results, just read up on the lives of the “27 Club” artists or just watch “Ray”.
Last September, during a panel discussion on “Sustainability of Music” I met Moto Boy, a Swedish pop star who sings lush, love songs. To the question about whether he lives the rock-star legacy of fast cars, women and drugs, he said, “Those were old times when musicians led a glamorous lifestyle! Now, anyone on the street with some money can have access to drugs and women! It’s no longer exclusive! Also today’s musician has to work harder and use money wisely or fans will just flip to the next track!” Addictions have killed many a promising career, and so it’s invaluable to learn life-lessons from successful comeback stories like Johnny Cash, James Taylor, Steven Tyler, Billy Joel to the more recent Britney Spears
.It’s ironic that artists like Jimi Hendrix or Jim Morrison had to die of drug abuse when the music that they created is now a natural dopamine high for hundreds of fans! They’ve still not proved that Amy Winehouse died of an overdose and I’m hoping they never do, because in the long run, music is much too powerful a gift to be shrouded by the demons of drugs or a reckless lifestyle! Now it’s even a prescription based on neuroscience! So choose wisely, get high!
(In pic (clockwise from top left): Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain)
For us as a band, music is the drug that has brought us back together and injected meaning into our lives. - DR. HARIHARAN ANTONY, guitarist of Grasshopper Green
I studied at Berklee , Boston and one of the College’s core statements is: “ Drugs don’t create great music!” If I can mention a name, Gautham Menon is probably the most creative person today in the industry, and what he drinks all day is green tea! - PRITHVI CHANDRASEKHAR, producer/musician
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