For how much longer are we going to mix up drugs and genius?

I was reading the Pete Doherty feature in The Observer detailing the sad death of talented young film maker Robin Whitehead and the seedy, dark underbelly of druggy rock n roll excess.

It’s a dark tale of drugs and the desperate lifestyle of Pete Doherty – the man who has managed to completely obliterate his talent with drug lore. When he dies people will forget that he was actually a talented songwriter and will talk about the junkie excess like it’s a fascinating world.

There can’t be many people left in this country who have not taken drugs. Even some of the people running the country snort coke and you can’t get any less rock n roll than that. This weird myth that genius is somehow entwined with drugs seems to drag on for ever. There is this ongoing belief in the shamanic power of the powder when all you can see is teeth grinding, coked up media types in London with puff powder confidence and musicians cranking up in grotty bedsits.

There are bands who think rock n roll is copying the moves from the latest Rolling Stones biog. I’ve seen it, bands of grown men who start taking drugs because they believe it makes them cooler. It can also the be the loner who drifts into a whole mountain of problems. Instead of helping out society does this schizophrenic thing of criminalising and then celebrating the junkie. A confusing set of signals that helps no-one.

Of course there can be interesting moments on drugs but as a lifestyle choice it’s pretty dull and the bumbling junkie and their grubby hangers on are hardly the world’s most thrilling people. The Doherty story is now a tragedy; a tale of wasted young lives and sickness, because junkiedom is an illness, a can’t cope mechanism with an added lifestyle.

They are not to be celebrated for their sickness just their talent.

Taking drugs is your choice but like the New York bands waving needles in the faces of the young British punks telling them to take hard drugs in 1977 there is this pathetic swagger around them. It doesn’t make you better/more interesting/more talented/sexy/more shamanic/more bohemian if you are off your head – it just makes you a dribbling bore until you somehow create something else new.

I am not anti drugs. I believe they should be legalised. And I also believe it’s time the mystique was kicked into touch. This fascination with junkies is bizarre. What’s so interesting about musicians who take drugs? I’m interested in Doherty’s art not his chemicals. I can find you five smackheads asleep in my life stinking of piss, rotting away – they take loads of drugs and they can’t write a song between them!

There are no happy endings in rock n roll and this story just gets darker and darker.

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. Genius is a very over used word and if its possible we need to seperate the song writing Pete Doherty from the junkie Doherty , but is it possible or is that the way he wants it to be.In my opinion the song writing part of him often achieves genius and I dont use the term lightly.
    His shambolic squalid lifestyle is far removed from the glitzy junkie excesses of Keith Richard if anything it is more typical of the scummy stinking lifestyle choice and I suppose by virtue more honest. All this makes him easy fodder for the tabloid hounds the Piers Morgans of this world who if you left them in an empty room for a million years would never come up with something as beautiful as Peter Doherty could do in ten minutes.Its a shame that some not everyone by all means take in the whole package, they go the whole way they might not be able to aspire to Cheryl Coles cos I deserve it lifestyle, but they can without little effort become a boring begging junkie and join the ranks of the Fucking wasters and Crumb begging bagheads, and the sister, brothers , mums dads, don’t have to pay twenty five quid a throw to watch them blow their one chance at life. GB

  2. OTOH there are a lot of artists who’ve done their best work under the influence, n’est-ce pas? “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan” and all that.

  3. It’s far too easy to get holier than thou when discussing ‘drugs’ and to get sucked into a ‘pro’ or ‘anti’ stance – too many mixed messages, too much at stake… witness politicians who now coyly admit to drug use in their youth to demonstrate they are down with the kids (usually pot and they never inhaled, of course). The ‘creative scene’ (musicians, writers, poets) has always been associated with drugs, going back to the use of laudanum and opium and beyond and that’s unlikely to change.
    Anyone with an obsessive/compulsive streak in their body can find themselves in the position where their drug of choice controls them rather than the other way around. The trouble is – as John rightly points out – the idiots who glamourise the habit.

  4. […] of the great myths in rock n roll is that the most important /talented/exciting musicians must have taken […]

  5. […] faces looking for a sign that a young life was being changed by the song – but there was none. The Libertinettes looked bemused, baffled and braindead – like Nathan Barley extras. The air was suddenly […]

    • Apparently I was once a genius the I gave it up for err detroit spinning…that saddle feels so good.
      Clearly I am being fac etious…measured article xx


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