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Popular Substances by Music Genre

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Music drug culture has long been a topic of interest, both for those socially involved in taking substances and for those researching such lifestyles. Drugs are used by people who seek to achieve different mind-altering effects, and this use often varies by lifestyle. It should not come as a surprise then that for those who do drugs, drug use also varies by genre, as genre is heavily fueled by different sound and lighting effects. Music is a universal outlet for creative expression and thus a divided culture where varying drug use often comes into play.

“Why drugs? Well, as the saying goes, no sex, no drugs, no rock and roll.”Why drugs? Well, as the saying goes, no sex, no drugs, no rock and roll. In fact, it’s probably hard to think of names such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, or Jimi Hendrix without a passing thought of LSD or some other psychedelic. As Rock World Magazine explains in terms of Beatles’ albums, “If Revolver were a marijuana high, then 1967’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was a full-blown acid trip.”

Music and Drug Culture

It’s safe to say the link between music and drug culture really took off in the 60s with the rise of psychedelic rock. Albums by such bands as The Grateful Dead, The Doors, and Pink Floyd aimed to replicate the mind-altering experiences of psychedelic drugs. LSD’s auditory and visual hallucinations offered a surreal sonic experience when mixed with psychedelic rock’s extended instrumental solos, complex song structures, and esoterically inspired lyrics. With these “special effects” available and rock stars’ hard lifestyles constantly making the underground rock tabloids, recreational drug use became more popular than ever. Whether as a way to expand consciousness, make art, or escape everyday life, “whatever the Beatles did was acceptable, especially for young people,” wrote journalist Al Aronowitz.

Rock concerts of the era took music drug culture to a full-blown high. Still one of the largest music festivals in history, 1969’s Woodstock culminated in a mix of love, peace, music, and of course, drugs. The crash came in the early 70s, when hard drug use wreaked havoc in the music scene, first with the death of Jimi Hendrix-a fatal accident caused by sleeping pills-and later the same year with Janis Joplin’s heroin overdose. It is suspected Jim Morrison had the same fate as Joplin.

Drug Influence on Music Genre

With heroin having found its way into mainstream music culture, the 70s were a darker and more destructive period of music history. Although drug use seemed less inspiring to some, rock megastars like Ozzy Osbourne, Black Sabbath, and Led Zeppelin continued to play hard. Meanwhile, other drugs became linked to other genres. Cocaine was perhaps the biggest drug of the era, with its links to disco and 80s glam metal rock bands such as Van Halen, Motley Crue, and many more. The quick euphoric feeling gained from cocaine was also popular among punk rock enthusiasts, as their genre with stripped-down instrumentals and short, aggressive songs matches the drug’s hyper-stimulation effects. Meanwhile, while crack use was heavy on the streets in the 80s and a popular influence on hip hop, reggae leader Bob Marley’s heavy cannabis use remains a huge music/drug influence today.

Genre-related heroin use rose again in the early 90s with the rise of grunge rock bands such as Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains-no doubt for its transcendent relaxation and intense euphoric effects that matched the music’s mellow madness. Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain and his wife Courtney Love’s custody battle was infused by the drug and quickly culminated in a tragic ending with Cobain’s suicide. Alice in Chains’ singer Layne Staley fatally overdosed on heroin and cocaine in 2002.

Alternatively, MDMA, more commonly known as ecstasy, became popular in the mid-1990s and practically created the rave culture that has stayed strong for the past two decades. There is no doubt why the high-energy electronic, house, and techno dance music played at all-night raves is linked to the psychoactive drug, especially with the feelings of euphoria, increased energy, and perception distortions it produces. This is not to say that raves brought the drug into youth culture. According to a study on rave culture by Michela Fossati-Bellani, “Ecstasy made today’s youth culture/rave culture what it is-Peace, Love, Unity, Respect (P.L.U.R.).” However, as with any drug, too much ecstasy can have fatal consequences.

While music itself is not to blame, creative potential, the stresses of fame, and peer pressure are all factors that can come into play and cause people to do drugs. With the variety of drugs out on the market and their popularity, there is no doubt that musicians and fans of different genres can easily get caught up in using different substances to enhance their music and entertainment experiences. If you know a musician or music fan who may be falling into the drug trap, encourage them to seek help because their talent is much more worth their time.