No. 134 / June 1996:

BIG BROTHER AND THE HOLDING COMPANY...
Suddenly, the record industry has awakened to its heroin crisis. In a series of panicky, grandstanding pronouncements and meetings closed to press and public, Grammy chieftain Mike Greene has led an effort to "hold people accountable" (as he put it to Reuters) for drug abuse.

Greene's been mighty unspecific--some might even say he's weaseled--about how this can be accomplished. Greene told Entertainment Weekly that NARAS (the Grammy-granting combine he heads) is "100% opposed to any Big Brother kind of approach. You can't make people go into treatment. You can create an environment in which they are not supplied with the money they buy their drugs with."

How can you do that? The industry has been rife with speculation that Greene, Aerosmith manager Tim Collins and others who instigated this "industry intervention" would propose a plan to confiscate royalties from addicted artists. NARAS (which is totally controlled by the labels) could be the "bank." It's hard to imagine record execs like cigar-addict Charles Koppelman of Capitol-EMI disavowing a plan that would allow them not to pay recording artists. Imagine: Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots is in rehab so Atlantic continues to sell his record, keeping the profits and putting whatever amount it chooses to claim is the band's share into NARAS escrow. Who's going to do the audit?

But this isn't 1955, and most stars with drug problems have managers and attorneys--not to mention bandmates--who would fight like crazy to prevent this. No one has suggested (yet) that new artists have to pass a urine test, though this may not be far behind. And of course, not one sentence has been uttered about the unsigned rockers and rappers who already have dope problems.

Greene now denies that royalty confiscation was ever in the cards. He told people at one recent NARAS gathering, "Do not purchase records by artists who use drugs." As Sting commented later, "That would mean you wouldn't get to hear most of the greatest albums ever made." Worse, it's an overt invitation to create a blacklist based not even on lyrics but on private behavior.

No one can deny that drug use is epidemic in the rock world, as it is in the rest of society (Sony A&R exec Liz Brooks told Entertainment Weekly that she believes 10 percent of all the musicians she meets are addicted). But what Greene and his cohorts propose would only make things much worse. In the first place, intervention is of dubious value in treating drug addicts: The 1993 annual bulletin of Alcoholics Anonymous estimates that the average addict goes into rehab eight times before kicking. (This presumably does not factor in those who die in the meantime, or who lack insurance or a large income and so are denied any rehab at all.) Second, Greene's approach is riddled with self-contradiction. The premise of rehab, intervention and AA is that drug addiction is a disease. Would Greene try to "hold people accountable" for having cancer or AIDS? Would he attempt to punish them economically?

Greene's economically driven solutions are ludicrous to anyone who's spent time around junkies. As Steven Tyler recently told Rolling Stone, "You'll drag yourself through hell to get it and because you have no veins left, you're shooting up into your neck." Mick Jagger put it even more succinctly, "Anyone taking heroin is thinking about taking heroin more than they're thinking about anything else." Merely not having money never stopped anyone from taking drugs. The majority of addicts, after all, live in abject poverty. Most musicians see their skills deteriorate after even brief periods of addiction, but they don't stop. Even if they want to, most of them find it nearly impossible--that's the nature of the disease.

Worse, threatening a person's livelihood can also threaten their health. At the end of June, Scott Weiland left rehab (to which he had been sent under court order) because Spin reported that STP were looking into replacing him. Weiland returned to the treatment center after learning that Spin had, as usual, gotten the story wrong. What may be more important is that he is being treated at the facility run by Bob Timmons, who works with Collins and Greene, which indicates that the intervention / punishment plan fails even at home.

There are, perhaps, as many reasons for becoming interested in and addicted to drugs as there are addicts. I've watched too many people with immense talent, from Lester Bangs and Johnny Thunders onward, destroy themselves to believe that it is a simple problem, or that impoverishing junkies will help them one little bit. The idea that some blowhard like Greene, who can't even stage a decent TV show once a year, can bring the addicted to their senses is as ridiculous as the idea that seeing an egg frying on your TV screen is going to remind you not to snort cocaine.

Does this mean that nothing should be done to help addicts? Of course not. Clearing up the conditions that make people desperate enough to use addictive drugs--whether that means Kurt Cobain or the kid down the block or those imprisoned in ghetto housing--requires and deserves immense effort. Getting rid of the worship of glamorous decadence that kills kids like Thunders would be of enormous value.

Although even then, we'd have to be more careful and specific about our terminology than Greene and company have been: Talking about "drugs" amounts to categorizing marijuana with heroin and cocaine, which is preposterous and ruinous to credibility. So is excluding from the list of addictive problems tobacco and alcohol. (Good luck getting industry-wide agreement on an anti-alcohol plan, despite the dozens of alcohol-addicted musicians and executives. MCA is owned by Seagram's.)

For individual addicts, though, the fact remains that the AA idea of reaching a personal "bottom" before getting a grip is almost always true. David Dodd's fine new book, Playing It Straight: Personal Conversations of Recovery, Transformation and Success (Health Communications Inc., $12.95), presents the addiction and recovery stories of more than a dozen rockers, among them Tyler, Ozzy Osbourne, Anthony Kiedis, Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Hiatt, Mitch Ryder and Nils Lofgren. Every one of them talks about reaching a profound personal crisis that led them to ask for help--from God, from fellow addicts (Dodd actually asked Tyler for help during an interview!), from AA, from loved ones. What's really significant is that not one of those crises was the result of intervention. Certainly, not from intervention from a self-appointed posse emerging from an industry that is, as Tim Collins says, "addicted to money and power... addicted to being in the club." When Mike Greene and company figure out a way to deal with that problem, which has everything to do with what impels stars to addiction, they ought to make a public statement.


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