Psychosis, depression, paranoia, paralysis, introversion. Effects that result from the constant and religious use of drugs, yet the use of them sees no end in our society. Why? It could be from the way it has been normalized for decades by our role models, rockstars, artists, and so on. We always hear about the bad and the ugly that comes from drug abuse, but what if without it we wouldn’t have some of the inspirations we have today? What if the brain can’t create what it can on drugs, sober? What if the drugs create some unknown effects that open a whole different creative world in one’s mind? These are the questions that aren’t considered often enough, yet they have the ability to open a window into understanding the mind behind works created under the influence.
Syd Barrett, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Hunter S. Thompson are all staples in their respective fields and yet were well known to constantly use drugs.
The use of recreational drugs and the effects they cause influenced the creations made by multiple geniuses, such as Syd Barrett, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Hunter S. Thompson.
First and foremost, Syd Barrett was a British musician who was alive from 1946-2006. He is credited with founding the rock band, Pink Floyd around 1965 which was also the time he was known to have been indulging in the psychedelic drug, LSD or acid. Barrett went on to write albums such as The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and The Madcap Laughs.
He not only began to dip his toe in the world of acid then, but began to use it consistently by 1965. Shortly then after, around 1968, he was seen as an irresponsible and unfocused member who was then hospitalized. He was said to be taking acid every morning, even to the extent that his flatmates would spike his coffee with it. They believed thats what was needed to get the creativity out of him. Peter Jenner, Pink Floyd’s first manager, mentioned, “The acid brought out the creativity, but more importantly, it brought out the madness. The creativity was there – dope was enough to get it going.” Yet this inevitably caused him to get kicked out of the band. The acid seemed to have fried Barrett’s mind to the point where he would stand up on stage and only play one chord. His bandmates described him as withdrawn and catatonic. Was all of that worth the music he gave the world?
To understand the link between creator and creation, we need to delve deeper into the effects of what goes on in their brain during a drug “trip.” What exactly happens when one takes acid? To begin, the duration of an acid “trip” usually lasts about 6-12 hours depending on the dosage and the person. The effects of this drug are usually linked with your five senses, such as sensory enhancement. You can also experience personal insight or reflection, enhanced colors and patterns, bigger appreciation for music, distorted perception of self or items around, and a false sense of extreme happiness.
Alternatively, Jean-Michel Basquiat was a well known creative mind who was known to abuse some form of drug. His work reflects the emotions and effects derived from his drug of choice, which was heroin and sometimes cocaine. Despite never receiving any formal teaching in the arts, his work grew to be a staple in the art world. His style resembles that of graffiti street art, which makes sense considering he started his art in a graffiti duo around the age of 17. Basquiat quickly rose to fame, one of his paintings selling for 110.5 million, the highest price ever offered for an American artist. His use of heroin was no secret, he spiraled into a drug habit that cause him about 500 US dollars a day. Suzanne Mallouk, a former lover of Basquiat, recalls, “People would stop me on the street, saying Jean-Michel is in a really bad way, he has spots all over his face, he looks really out of it, you need to go and help him… It was pretty common knowledge that he was not well.” Heroin eventually lead to Jean Michel Basquiat’s early end, killing him at the age of 27 due to accidental overdose. Basquiat was loved by many and his contribution to the world will live on forever. “He lived hard and died harder”.
To put in perspective, heroin is classified as an opioid according to the National Institute on Drug abuse. Opioids attack not only the brain but the nervous system as well, the brain turns heroin into morphine as it gets to the opioid receptors. Immediate effects of heroin include a “rush” feeling depending on the amount taken, and change to breathing and mental function. Other short-term effects include reduced concentration, intense euphoria, confusion, reduced coordination, and drowsiness. Although it may seem hard to connect the symptoms to Basquiat’s work of art, if you look closely it can be deduced that it was created due to this drug. His paintings reflect his inner angst and seemed to have many layers to them. The loss of coordination and concentration can be seen in the way his shapes and faces have no definite form. They even seem to be done in a hurry, as if he was trying to capture something before it was gone. It is said that it is harder to lose control than it is to maintain it, if this is true perhaps heroin is what Basquiat thought he needed to achieve his paintings. After consistent use of heroin, that pleasurable feeling starts to vanish and begins to turn into decreasing and devastation of mental health. Basquiat probably began to face these feelings, began to feel tormented and had a canvas to express these emotions. A tragic end to a beautiful mind, something no one wishes for.
Last but not least, we have American journalist, Hunter S. Thompson who definitely did not keep quiet about his addictions and uses. He was very public on his use and dependency on this drugs and how they helped his work, “I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.” (Thompson) Hunter S. Thompson became a well known writer due to his style of work, which is now called gonzo journalism. Gonzo journalism was actually a movement that he created and coined the term for around 1970. Gonzo journalism is defined as a writing style where all objectivity is thrown out the window, the reporter places themselves within the action and writes about it through that point of view, sometimes even taking a hard side in the matter. The movement was said to be heavily influenced by William Faulkner’s idea that,”The best fiction is far more true than any journalism; the best journalists have always known this.”
To elaborate, why the use of so many substances? What was going on in Hunter S. Thompson’s mind?