An old friend recently admitted she’d thought me part of the cool in-crowd at my college radio station. “Oooh.” a sick little voice preened in me. “You thought I was cool?”
Musicians like Johnny Thunders and Steve Jones, SF and L.A. punk bands had all come through. Their common denominator to “in” was heroin. By the time the 90’s rolled around, I was so far “in” that Kurt Cobain was a role model to me. A role model who killed himself, but hey, the world sucks, right?
Heroin chic was all the rage in the early 90’s. Gaunt, hollow-eyed models were my cover girl crack. There was nothing better in the ‘90s than the Partnership for a Drug-Free America commercials featuring girls with scarred arms and skinny jeans throwing up in toilets. We twistedly celebrated those disaffected youth, those outsiders, those rebels. Distressed dark denim, spaghetti strap tank top, fragile modern beauty girl hurtling herself around the kitchen, an embodiment of angst and despair, I adored you. Is that what a junkie looks like — that thin, beautiful, and vulnerable? Sign me up!
Even then it felt as if the edges of truth were being picked at, to see how much we could tolerate. Funded by Big Pharma, Ancheuser-Busch, and tobacco companies, with Halliburton and J.P. Morgan tossed in for good measure, those “anti-drug” commercials slyly encouraged us. Now heroin is the drug of choice for blown-out communities across the country, more popular than even meth, which might have been a great drug for the masses except for the going crazy at the end part, and the whole teeth-missing shell of a person thing.
In the early 90’s, the world seemed doomed, and Kurt killed himself for our sins. But in 2018, the joke’s on us. The ‘90s just called — on a cell phone the size of a house — laughed hysterically, hurled a few insults and hung up. And now I live in New York and want to slap every peddler of twisted junkie admiration upside the head.
Sure, I know all the arguments; “Oh, look! Lenny Bruce, Keith Richards, old jazz musicians and artists! They created masterpieces despite their addictions. Creators see the truth! Heroin helps them through the pain!”
In 1987, I sat on the couch of my apartment at Haight and Cole, with a musician of two respected San Francisco punk bands, with nine years of addiction to my five. To have him as my friend in the ‘80s, a punk musician everyone admired! And we copped together! What could be more cool? “The reason junkies are better musicians,” he explained, “is that they take risks with their music in the same way they do with their lives.”
Now he calls to chat from the small house in Wyoming he inherited from his mother, ingests 120 mg. of methadone per day, and is sometimes able to get through a whole conversation without nodding out in mid-sentence.
We can all just stop our bizarre veneration of junkies, of Johnny Thunders and his ilk, that comes with such a heaping helping of denial and requires a widescreen blind spot. In that blind spot are all the dead bodies and ruined lives. In the blind spot are people like me.
Negative energy resonates and I fell under the spell of “cool” at a young age. I saw my musician friends with blackened eyes and hair walk upon that edge with the agility of youth, peek over and then dance back, with the occasional exception, like Sid Vicious. But wasn’t Sid meant to die anyway?
Heroin chic comes with decades lost. “Junkie business” is the light being sucked from your soul. Like an albino alligator, an old junkie is a rare thing. I can give Cobain a tiny pass, as fame came upon him so quickly and consumed him so completely. But holding up Johnny Thunders as an icon of cool? That’s fetishism of the unhealthiest sort.
Like those magazines and commercials showed me, it’s pretty to be a junkie when you’re young, the cost for being that cool is high. I lost friends to heroin addiction, and can tell you there is nothing noble in a heroin death.
We speak of some of my friends in hushed tones. They are legendary for having achieved the same “plane” as Johnny Thunders. Literally.
Can we all just stop now?
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