Monday, November 22, 2010

Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll: Why They All Go Together

So why do sex, drugs, and rock and roll seem to come hand in hand, kind of like how it's almost impossible to order the B without the L and the T, or any combination thereof?  The most drugged out rockers seem to be most blessed with the gift of rock and roll: Keith Richards and Jimi Hendrix were infamous with their use of the horse (i.e. heroin), while others such as David Bowie and Iggy Pop were all about the blow (i.e. cocaine).  But the drugs, in addition to sex, seem to always take precedence or even define the very nature of rock and roll: without the sex and the drugs, rock and roll would not exist at all today, in any way, shape or form.  While hypothetical situations such as that can be debated, the bigger question is "why?"  Why have sex and drugs shaped rock and roll as much as they have?  I think the answer lies in the concept of euphoria.

Sex and drugs are able to foster the highest highs and the lowest lows in a person.  Whether it be a most innocent affection or love (i.e. the Herman's Hermits classic "I'm Into Something Good"), a straight-out depiction of a trip (i.e. "Tomorrow Never Knows" by the Beatles), or something utterly raunchy (like Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On"), they all evidence the same feeling of euphoria, the same complete happiness with one's state.  See also their flip-sides, those moments of pain due to the realization of lost love (Joy Division's masterwork "Love Will Tear Us Apart") the need for drugs (another masterwork, "Heroin" by the Velvet Underground), the evidence for why sex and drugs have been a vital part of the rock and roll livelihood and the basis for its mystique is because that sex and drugs typically bring out the happiest and the saddest in human beings.  Euphoric joy when everything is going right thanks to love, sex, and drugs, and crippling depression when those things leave the rock and roll man with nothing left to live for.

The easiest full-blown examples of those highs and lows lie within the breakup albums: the best examples are Sea Change by Beck, Blood on the Tracks by Bob Dylan, Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs by Derek and the Dominos.  Ok, so perhaps the last one is a stretch in that order, but if you were in love with your best friend's wife, I'd say that's about equivalent to a breakup, if not worse.  They all evince the same themes: sheer joy, the throes of despair, it's all there, plain to see.  While not really relating completely to the notion of drugs in rock and roll, the emotions they generate are inherently the same.

All the highs and lows would be useless if it weren't for the narrators who reveal the story, reveal the triumphs and the downfalls, and make us feel.  Rock and roll is (usually) about wearing your heart on your sleeve, so we as listeners 100% identify with the narrator of the song, to live with (or through) them during both the good times and the bad; without the capacity to generate empathy, rock would be as cold and forbidding as electronica.  Every emotion is completely represented in the rock and roll psyche, from hope for the best to the realization of dread, from the best party the night before to the raging hangover after: if it were not for the sex and drugs, then those emotions would not be as easy to channel into a rock and roll song, and today we would be left with a most infantile rock and roll genre of music, which would honestly be terrible, not only to say that this blog would likely be nonexistent if that were true.

That is not to say that sex and drugs are the only things that go together with rock and roll.  Virtually anything could go together with rock and roll, given that it makes those rampant emotions easy to generate, bottle up and unleash in a rock and roll song.  Sex and drugs are simply the easiest ways to tap into that reserve of our emotions and connect us to them, because they're things many of us have to grapple with.  For example, gospel/worship music (I have somehow referred to them very often the past couple of entries when the previous year I'd not mentioned them at all) derives all its euphoric highs and debilitating lows from the relationship between the singer/listener and God.  But for the non-religious, it's certainly harder for one to relate to their plight; whereas most everyone battles with sex and drugs, not everyone battles with the nature of their relationship with God.

For the rest of rock and roll's existence, it will probably still be forever bundled with sex and drugs.  Probably for the better, sex and drugs more easily made emotions easier to access for rock and roll: the barest confessionals, the unabashed statements of love and the hilarious tales of hangovers or adventures would simply not exist without them.  Am I implicitly condoning the rampant use of sex and drugs?  I hope not, as excessive use of either is simply self-destructive.  I'm merely pointing out that the history of rock and roll shows that for better or for worse, sex and drugs were tightly interwoven into the fabric of rock and roll, and perhaps in some ways as rock and roll glorified and brought out the best in sex and drugs, sex and drugs glorified and brought out the best in rock and roll.

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