Tag Archive: drugs


Naughtiness

As I’ve mentioned before, I was a pretty good child. Behaviorally, I never did anything that was really dangerous; never smoked, never did drugs, never snuck out at night, was (almost) never disrespectful to my parents, and didn’t run with a bad crowd.

The biggest bone of contention between me and my parents was my musical choices. As I entered the second decade of my life, they started furrowing their brows. Bands like Aerosmith and Green Day caused them some grief, and they weren’t crazy about Smashing Pumpkins either. And it really started when I was in 4th grade and liked Vanilla Ice enough to ask for To the Extreme for Christmas. I got it, too.

But for whatever reason (fate, luck, God, circumstance, maybe all of them), I never discovered true naughtiness in music in my youth. The most I got was Steven Tyler quoting Frank Zappa (which I didn’t know at the time) singing “Buns up and kneelin’ / I was a’ wheelin’ and a dealin’.” And while that was more than enough for my parents, there were MUCH worse things out there at the time. 2 Live Crew caused quite a stir with “Me So Horny” and their entire As Nasty As They Wanna Be album, and it echoed in the church youth group my parents headed. Likewise, Digital Underground and “The Humpty Dance” crossed the consciousnesses of the teens in my parents’ youth group. They tried to play a cassette of it on a youth group road trip in my dad’s motor home stereo; he promptly threw it out the window.

Those two groups were on the periphery of my vision growing up, but Onyx wasn’t. When I was in 6th grade, there was a kid that went to my older sister’s school (Harkness Road, my own high school) that we gave a ride to in the mornings. We also took him to church for youth group on Wednesday nights (I went to the kids’ program at our church). His name was Luke, and he was what most adults would classify as a “bad influence.” My parents were friends with his mother, and I guess they were hoping good company would redeem bad character, the opposite of the way it typically works. It was through him that I experienced a number of different “naughty” things, Onyx being one of them.

Onyx were an early ‘90s rap group and a key figure in the gangtsa rap movement, a cluster of black artists that used incredibly violent imagery and profuse profanity. Since gangsta rap was meant to present an exaggerated glimpse into the black urban lifestyle and mindset, this also included rampant misogyny. Luke played me Onyx’s debut album on headphones one time, and I was particularly disturbed by the song “Blac Vagina Finda,” which essentially describes an interracial gang rape. I expressed my discomfort and distaste, and Luke laughed derisively and called me a pussy.

Loathe as I am to admit it, my desire to fit in with Luke and other people I was around caused me to wade into the sludge-teeming waters of gangsta rap for a while. It didn’t last long, since the overwhelming waves of stinking immorality bowled me over and were too much for me. It’s not that people like Onyx and Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre were simply talking about sex and violence and the bad things of the world; I have no problem with that. It’s the way they talked about them. That way was extremely vulgar and obvious, which insulted the wordsmith in me, but looming largest in my mind was that it was celebratory. In their verbage, the bad things of the world weren’t bad at all. Gun violence was to be celebrated. Misogyny was to be celebrated. Illegal drugs were to be celebrated. Law and order were to be disrespected, insulted and ultimately destroyed. Love is weakness, attachment to your sexual partner is weakness, and your entire ethos is to be dictated by taking what you can get and not caring about how much damage you are causing to the people around you. Simply put, this was the opposite of everything I was brought up to believe.

So luckily, I went back to my Genesis and Phil Collins, and was on the verge of discovering R.E.M. and a world of other delights. And in the end, it worked out.

AC/DC probably would have been on that list of bands my parents were hoping I would NOT be into when I was younger. Like a few others I’ve talked about, my fandom of AC/DC is relatively recent. I was 9 when The Razors Edge came out, and I remember thinking “Thunderstruck” was pretty groovy, but the guy’s voice was like grinding gravel between two sheets of corrugated steel. And at that time, I didn’t have a clue that Back In Black even existed, let alone Bon Scott. A decade and a half later when the Jack Black extravaganza School of Rock was released, I found a liking for “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock and Roll),” which led me into Bon-era deliciousness. From there, I was hooked.

Music has always been the centerpiece of my life, the language through which I speak and am spoken to, but it’s better for certain music to enter your life at certain stages of your life than others. Gangsta rap, while it was a horrible experience for me, came around at just the right time. It taught me a very stark lesson about where my musical boundaries were, what I could take and what I couldn’t. AC/DC, likewise, came around at just the right time. Had I waded into their music at a younger age, I might have not only drawn the ire of my parents (even more than I did anyway), but I might have become a different, more depraved person. It’s because AC/DC came around when I was mature enough to deal with them that their bawdy talk and low-brow subject matter can hit me at the angle it does. If it were from a different, younger angle, it would probably be a lot more harmful.

Next: always a bridesmaid, never the best-selling album of all time.

Aerosmith - Toys In the Attic - 4/8/1975

Aerosmith – Toys In the Attic – 4/8/1975

Jon Bon Jovi once said that when he bought a copy of Toys In the Attic and was reading the lyrics to “Walk This Way,” he was like Beavis and Butt-head combined. There wasn’t really anything shocking or new about them. They were raunchy and crude, no doubt, but similar sentiments had been expressed in rock music since its inception. “Walk This Way” is basically about the sexual exploits of a young man at the mercy of both his appetites and the women he encounters, a young man who very well could be Tyler himself. There are tales of threesomes, deflowerings, high school locker rooms and cougars on the hunt.

Steven Tyler had obviously learned his lessons well from the Rolling Stones, because Stones influence is all over that track. But when you actually listen to the song, rather than just read the lyrics, he reveals that he’s a more careful and clever songwriter than Mick. The music is happy and celebratory, fast-paced and hard-charging. And the lyrics are delivered at a breakneck speed, words spilling out of Steven’s mouth like an avalanche. Lead singers the world over look at “Walk This Way” as a challenge because the words-per-minute is just so high. But Steven does it the best, probably because of his big, elastic lips.

Steven Tyler

Steven Tyler

The speed with which the lyrics tumble out is the real genius of the song. As filthy and lust-filled as the lyrics are, one word spills over onto the previous one so your brain can’t really keep up. Parents listening casually couldn’t figure out what the hell Steven was saying. It was only kids like Jon Bon Jovi that really got it. The airplay and publicity of “Walk This Way” didn’t cause nearly as much uproar as “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” or “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” even though it’s 3x as sexually overt as either of those songs. See, Mick? All you had to do was sing faster!

Quick words and quick wit are even more the domain of early hip-hop artists, before the art form became the domain of profanity and violence thanks to gangster rap. Run-DMC, pioneers of the hip-hop field, were voracious consumers of all forms of popular music through the ages. Their teaming with rock producer Rick Rubin led them to discover “Walk This Way,” and they liked it before they even knew who performed it.

Run-DMC

Run-DMC

The year was 1985, ten years after “Walk This Way” came out. Aerosmith had already soared high and crashed hard in the fame realm, victims of drugs and dementia. They were as good as dead despite a reunion record, the lackluster Done With Mirrors. Then Run-DMC came along and resurrected “Walk This Way” into a rap-rock hybrid. Rather than using the original track, they brought Aerosmith in to play while they rapped over it. They not only resuscitated Aerosmith’s dying-for-the-2nd-time career, but they created something brilliantly new: the fusion of rock and rap.

I don’t like rap music, but the marriage of Aerosmith’s dirty groove with Run-DMC’s streetwise smoothness is simply beautiful. It transcends rock music or rap music, making those definitions not really matter anymore. Aerosmith and Run-DMC were united because they both loved music, and that commonality was more important that their differences.

It’s the same thing that brought Steven Tyler and Joe Perry back together after so much crap had built up between them. Girlfriends and wives got in the way, posturing and pride widened the divide, and they came to the point of fist-fights and hate. Joe left the band in ’79, and for all intents and purposes took the heart of Aerosmith with him. But they couldn’t escape their musical brotherhood.

Next: speaking of wives and girlfriends…

Carl Jung

In the 1920s, psychologist Carl Jung coined the phrase “synchronicity,” to refer to two things which are causally unrelated but seem to be connected. The two things don’t have causality; one does not lead to the other, nor does the second happen because the first did before it. Yet even so, the two share a relationship that defies logic and is purely coincidental.

According to Jung, the synchronistic events must reveal a larger pattern or conceptual framework. We’ve all had the experience of a song coming on the radio that’s been stuck in our heads (or at least all of us old enough to know what a radio is…). The framework would be the genre of music that is both what we listen to and what the radio station normally plays. If the events don’t reveal a framework, they’re merely random and don’t really have any relationship, not even a synchronistic one.

So what’s the most banal, idiotic and inconsequential way to test the concept of synchronicity?

… … … I’m thinking… … …

I’ve got it! How about we play the movie The Wizard of Oz, put it on mute, and use Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon as a soundtrack?

I kid; I’m not the first person to think of this. It’s not certain how it actually came about, but it can be traced back to a group on Usenet, in the toddler days of the internet. Later, a DJ in Boston brought it to big attention in 1997, even prompting a segment on MTV News. But the biggest culprit of the suggestion of synchronicity between The Wizard of Oz and The Dark Side of the Moon (commonly called Dark Side of the Rainbow) is drugs – lots and lots of drugs. Legitimate as it may seem, Dark Side of the Rainbow is merely the product of music geeks without a job (like me…) sitting around with nothing to do and being hopelessly stoned. How else do you explain the shotgun wedding of two pieces of media separated by 34 years?

Throw into the mix the idea of confirmation bias and you’ve got yourself a stew. Confirmation bias is the human tendency to interpret new information in a way that supports a preconceived notion. Examples would be citing the exact position of the Earth (any closer to the sun and we would burn up, any further and we would freeze) as evidence for creationism, or citing tsunamis and other things that senselessly take life as evidence for the non-existence of God. It also comes in the form of finding patterns where they may or may not exist, like in Dark Side of the Rainbow.

Unbelievably, this idea has been kept alive for almost 20 years. So like a good musical scholar and a curious critical thinker, I tested it out myself. I initially tried to do it old school – I borrowed a DVD copy of The Wizard of Oz from our local library, plugged in a boombox, and played my CD copy of Dark Side. Technological difficulties (like our near-broken DVD player that lets no disc play unmolested) prevented me from getting very far, but my frustrations were soothed by the glories of the Interwebs. One search on YouTube led me to a video of the whole thing, and I didn’t even have to worry about synching the CD with the movie.

I’ll admit there were a few things I couldn’t explain, but they fell under the category of “that’s pretty cool” instead of “THIS MEANS SOMETHING!!! THIS IS IMPORTANT!!!” About 4 minutes into the film, Dorothy is balancing on a fence while David Gilmour is singing “balanced on the biggest wave” in “Breathe.” A little later, the clocks all start sounding off in “Time” at the exact moment Miss Gulch appears on her bicycle. The musical timbre of “The Great Gig In the Sky” shifts from loud to soft at the moment Dorothy hits her head and passes out on her bed during the tornado; however, there’s nothing during the song’s previous timbre shift from soft to loud. The Wicked Witch of the West makes her first appearance right when David Gilmour is singing “black” during “Us and Them”; she’s wearing black robes. The exact beginning of “Any Colour You Like” comes at a scene change – Dorothy is faced with a divergence in the path of the Yellow Brick Road, one where she could choose any path she likes. The Scarecrow begins dancing uncontrollably to “If I Only Had a Brain” during “Brain Damage.” And perhaps most eerily, the changeover in the film from sepia tones to full color comes at the exact moment of the vinyl flip and the beginning of “Money.”

But do these things suggest actual synchronicity? Not according to the classical definition of the term. If you suggested to Carl Jung that his beloved theory of synchronicity applied to The Wizard of Oz and The Dark Side of the Moon, he would at best laugh derisively and at worst smack you upside the head. That is, if he had actually survived long enough to have a clue what Dark Side was; he died in 1961.

Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory calls things which seem legitimate but have no scientific basis “hokum.” Dark Side of the Rainbow is hokum. I’m astounded that this ridiculous idea has survived for more than 30 years. I’m even more astounded that I had a hand in its survival; in fact, I’m having a hand right now by talking about it. So in the interest of not beating a dead horse, I’m gonna move on.

Next: how does Genesis top “Supper’s Ready?”

The Rolling Stones – Exile On Main St. – 5/12/1972

A breaking point came for the Rolling Stones in 1970, when they finally broke free from Decca Records and label bigwig Allen Klein. The severing of that business relationship was messy, both parties fighting tooth and nail for what they considered “mine.” It was like a divorce and the push-and-pull over custody rights for the kids.

They followed in the footsteps of the Beatles, forming their own record label, conveniently called Rolling Stones Records. Sticky Fingers was released under their new label, but the freedom that brought would soon turn to license as they fled England under the threat of the British government turning their liberty into prison time. The British police didn’t try to bust them on drugs, their tactic in the 60s, but unpaid taxes. It licked Al Capone, but not the Rolling Stones.

They relocated to Paris, and Keith rented a villa near Nice called Nellcôte. There they sank into drugs, chaos, and all sorts of debauchery. Bassist Bill Wyman recalls this as the most frustrating period of his entire time with the Stones. They couldn’t find the right studio space, so they recorded in Nellcôte’s basement, as well as the Rolling Stones’ mobile studio parked outside. Not everyone would show up most days, no one listened to long-time producer Jimmy Miller who had earned his stripes, and there was an attitude of frenetic lack of direction. Their productivity, however, was top-notch. Somebody was working on something every day from 8 in the morning ‘til 3 the next morning.

The capstone, however, was the drugs. Millions of dollars worth of drugs flowed through Nellcôte on a weekly basis like a diamond-studded sewer. Heroin, cocaine, pot, hashish, angel dust, LSD, you name it. There were no limits to the Stones’ excess or lack of control. Keith Richards in particular was using heroin on a daily basis; his system didn’t know how to function without drugs anymore, so he kept it stocked. I really don’t know how in the world he’s still alive.

While the Stones were breaking down, though, their music was reaching a fever pitch of quality, depth, soulfulness and greatness. It seemed as though their heights of glory and musical triumph were matched by the descent of their personal lives, and as one got higher, the other got lower at an equal speed. They eventually reached rock bottom/heavens high, and that moment is captured on the entirety of Exile On Main St.

Robert Johnson, King of the Delta Blues

The song “Stop Breaking Down” is the entire thing in miniature, I think. Yet another Robert Johnson cover, this song explains in simple and exquisite terms the basic problem with drugs. The Stones’ cover of it is simply dripping with irony. “Stop Breaking Down” is like the pebble at the center of Jupiter, with the cloud surrounding it being the irony (the red spot is Mick’s voice).

The Robert Johnson original is about a drug dealer who deals to “Saturday night women,” or prostitutes, and how they’re completely enslaved to the drugs he sells them. His main tactic is hyperbole, something used by not just dealers but salesmen in general. The refrain goes like this:

The stuff I got’ll bust your brains out, baby / It’ll make you lose your mind

This song has been covered many times, most notably by Eric Clapton, ZZ Top, Lucinda Williams and the White Stripes, but the Rolling Stones’ version changes the lyrics just a tiny bit. Some people won’t even notice. The effect, however, is extremely significant as it turns the hyperbole into a cautionary statement, and turns the meaning of the whole song.

The stuff is gonna bust your brains out, baby / It’s gonna make you lose your mind

…shudder…

Take it from your Uncle Mick, kids: don’t do drugs. They’ll tear your soul out and make you a slave. And you don’t wanna look like your Uncle Keith, do you? No one wants that…

Next: Balls-to-the-wall Stones like never before (and never again).

A rather unfortunate truth: the descent into drugs by the Stones is equaled by the greatness of their music. This rendition of “Loving Cup” is proof that the Stones were at their best AND worst in 1972.

I’ve never done a drug that wasn’t prescribed to me. While I realize that doesn’t really reduce my chances of death from drugs (just ask Michael Jackson…), it indicates my lack of reference points about drugs. I never did pot as a kid, even though some friends of mine and people I knew definitely did. I don’t even know where you’d get pot. They don’t sell it at Target, and no stores have signs out that say “we have pot,” so I’m at a loss.

The same is true for other, harder drugs. Being into rock and roll for a while, I know that drugs are simply rampant in that culture, but I have no idea where they come from. How do people get them? I’ve seen pictures of ecstasy tablets with little smiley faces on them, or stars, or question marks, even doves. That means they’re manufactured, but they’re illegal in the US. Is there some ecstasy factory in Bolivia or something? What the heck?

Suffice to say, my understanding of the drug culture is pretty small. I’ve never been tempted to try them, and I’ve never even had the opportunity. I guess I just wasn’t cool enough as a teenager. The Rolling Stones do a lot of songs about drugs, more than any other band I’m into next to Velvet Underground. As such, I’m only able to enter into a song like “Sister Morphine” so far before I’m in foreign territory.

Marianne Faithfull

“Sister Morphine” was first recorded in 1969 by British pop singer Marianne Faithfull, who was another of Mick Jagger’s romantic entanglements during the late 60s. That guy just couldn’t keep his pecker in his pants. Faithfull was a smalltime singer who rode the Rolling Stones wave until it hit the shore. She was part of the London social scene in ’66, at latched herself onto the Stones after being “discovered” by Andrew Loog Oldham, the Stones’ manager. Her version of “Sister Morphine” sold drearily, not helped by that only 500 copies of the single were pressed. Its writing was credited to the Jagger/Richards team, though Marianne helped pen the lyrics, receiving no credit until 1994. The Stones did their own version in 1971 on Sticky Fingers.

It’s a pretty haunting song, though I didn’t think much of it the first few times I heard it. But when I actually paid attention to the lyrics, I found it to be fairly terrifying. Particularly creepy is the way the narrator refers to drugs as “sister” and “cousin.” Other songs about cocaine and the like that are cautionary tales tell their stories from a high and mighty perspective, accidental though it may be. This is different because the terror of drug addiction feels lived in.

At the cap is “Moonlight Mile,” a hidden gem in the Stones’ discography. After all the posturing of songs like “Under My Thumb” and “Miss Amanda Jones,” the raunchy philandering of “Honky Tonk Women” and “Stray Cat Blues,” and the plastic emotion of “Ruby Tuesday” and “As Tears Go By,” we’ve come to expect a certain character from the Rolling Stones. We think we know them, but they surprise us here on Sticky Fingers. It starts on “Wild Horses,” but “Moonlight Mile is where we truly meet them, and find out they have throbbing hearts and actual vulnerability.

“Moonlight Mile,” unlike any Stones song to come before it, is free of any contrivance, sexuality, or smirking humor. It comes from a place of naked honesty. Through the lyrics, we see that the singer may be a rock and roll superstar, having all the sex and drugs a guy could want, but he’s still, at the end of the day, just lonely. But there’s more. The song is not mired in melancholy and despair, but instead gives a hint of steadfast hope. That hope exists because there’s a girl, and the singer’s “just about a moonlight mile on down the road” from her. He’ll get to her soon, and things will be better.

While Sticky Fingers might have been preparation for the glorious blast of blues, drugs and freedom that is the winner-take-all opus Exile On Main St., to think of it as a mere intro for something greater is to do Sticky Fingers a disservice. It’s a great achievement just on its own merits, and has a definition and form that not many albums have anymore. You can see the Stones letting down the walls here. While they would be completely gone with the next album, Sticky Fingers is a very important step on the journey, one that makes the trip complete.

Paranoid deals chiefly with three subjects: depression, drugs, and social issues relevant to the day. Two songs out of eight don’t fit the pattern, those being “Iron Man” and “Planet Caravan.” The latter doesn’t fit any pattern established by the rest of Paranoid, and is a very odd duck amidst the heaviest album ever, coming right before the two most metal songs on here.

“Planet Caravan” is a quiet, ethereal dreamscape. Its’ lyrics speak of the moon, the skies, starlight, and even the planet/Greek god Mars, supposedly being about a journey through the universe with your loved one. The one pattern this sets up is metal artists having one quiet, subdued, or sensitive number on their albums. Black Sabbath was consistent, having “Solitude” on their next record Master of Reality, “Changes” on Vol. 4, and “Fluff” on Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.  While I think metal musicians generally suffer from insecurity about the size of their male organs, a lack of a “Planet Caravan” track somewhere in their catalog seals the deal.

The peaceful calm of “Planet Caravan” only lasts a few minutes before it’s utterly shattered by the stomping inevitability of “Iron Man” in what’s one of the most famous riffs in all of rock and roll. But “Iron an” arguably isn’t the heaviest track on here. In my estimation, that honor goes to the opening song of the vinyl flip, “Electric Funeral.”

Loud, doomy and quivering, “Electric Funeral” has the same element of impending destruction “Iron Man” does so well. Like “War Pigs” does with war, it deals with the topic of nuclear holocaust through horrifying imagery. Musically, this is even more terror-inducing than their Satan opus “Black Sabbath.” It’s not enough to tip me over into actually believing this, but “Electric Funeral” makes a pretty strong case for some music (regardless of lyrics) being inherently evil.

It’s also an example of a motif that’s present in much of Black Sabbath’s early output; the heaviest songs are often the slowest. Heavy metal acts from the 80s onwards took the approach that faster is better, more notes equals more awesome.  Metallica in particular developed early on a hard-charging musical personality. For them, it came out of playing in L.A. clubs where no one was listening to them, so they decided to play louder and faster in order to get the crowd’s attention. More and more, I’m realizing that while fast songs translate anger better, slow songs have much more doom. Doom is the most dangerous weapon in the heavy metal arsenal.

hey, fairies DO wear boots!

I mentioned drugs as a subject of Paranoid, and it gets two songs as well. “Hand of Doom” is a fairly straightforward song about the dangers of hard drugs, particularly heroin. It’s long and meandering, featuring an extended solo in the middle that has Tony self-indulging, like “Warning” from the previous album. At the cap, there’s “Fairies Wear Boots,” a more subtle treatment of hallucinogens. The fabled story goes that Geezer wrote the lyrics to this after he and Ozzy encountered some skinheads wearing combat boots. Geezer mocks them in the song calling them “fairies.” BS had a tendency to sensationalize themselves, and I have a feeling the skinhead story is simply that. Even a cursory analysis of “Fairies Wear Boots” tells me it’s about drugs, particularly the last 3 lines. “So I went to the doctor to see what he could give me / He said ‘son, son, you’ve gone too far / ‘Cause smokin’ and trippin’ is all that you do.’”

Two of my closest friends are practicing psychologists. One of the things in the shrink’s bag of tricks is the word association game. If a psychologist played that game with me and they said “Metal,” I would have to respond with “Paranoid.” Led Zeppelin are responsible for the genesis of the genre with II, but Black Sabbath wear the metal crown by having the single greatest and most influential statement in metal’s entire history, even to this day. Paranoid did 90% of the work that was started by II and brought it to full fruition by perfectly capturing what it means to be heavy metal, defining that term in a way that’s lasting through the ages. When musical scholars talk about heavy metal, they’re talking about Paranoid.

Let It Bleed – The Rolling Stones – 12/5/1969

With Beggars Banquet, the Stones stripped down their music until they were left with a basic, elemental sound. With Let It Bleed, they continued that reductionism with their lyrics. While the lyrics of Beggars Banquet deal with much more mature topics than previously touched upon, that album still hides behind contrivance in some places. Let It Bleed, on the other hand drops the walls a little and starts to let the listener know what it’s like to be a Rolling Stone. And what’s it like to be a Rolling Stone? Well, you do a lot of drugs.

Drugs, too, are laid bare on Let It Bleed, though not completely. It wouldn’t be a Stones record if it weren’t filled with layers of subtext and innuendo, and this time it’s directed towards powders and pills of all kinds instead of sex. At this point in their career, drugs probably took up more of their attention than girls; the shine and glamor of both things wear off fairly quickly, but drugs has a killer hangover. I think the Rolling Stones were just entering that hangover in late ’69.

The first place the drug lifestyle’s weariness can be heard is “Love In Vain.” Written and first made famous by bluesman Robert Johnson (whose deal with the devil is now a piece of rock and roll mythos), the Stones’ interpretation staggers and sways like a drunken bum. It bears more resemblances to classic country western than the blues. The fact that this comes so early in the album should ring a tiny bell in the listener’s head; the Stones have aged a little, and time has not been kind.

forget the bogeyman; if you really want to frighten children, tell them about Keith Richards

Consider this: if they started aging in 1969, how old must they be by 2012? No wonder Keith Richards looks like a corpse that’s been reanimated about 7 times.

Then comes “Country Honk,” a version of “Honky Tonk Women,” a single from a few months before. “Honky Tonk Women” is a rock and roll stomper, but “Country Honk” takes a more acoustic and country western tack (there’s that term again). Mick sings it with a slight wink to it, and the listener buys the song both at face value and with the wink. “Country Honk” is just a small piece of the evidence of Mick being one of the most charismatic lead singers of all time. He’s like a mega-church preacher in his complete sway over his audience.

“Honk” (both versions), talk about a tried and true image of the rock lifestyle: whores. Speaking about them fondly and non-judgmentally, I find its drunken, you’re-so-awesome aesthetic kinda charming. “This foxy broad gives me sex and drugs, and her words are kind and cheerful. What’s not to love?”

Later in the record comes “Monkey Man,” which takes a pretty direct approach to drugs and the social effects they have. “A monkey on my back” has long been a common term for an addiction. Most of the time it’s drugs of any kind, but a monkey doesn’t care exactly what addiction gets it on your back. Mick works that image and manipulates it like a good poet does. In this song, the narrator is celebrating his unhealthy, co-dependent relationship to his subject; he has a monkey on his back (drugs), while he becomes a monkey on her back. Don’t they make a cute couple?

However, the best song that follows this theme is the title track. The swaying, drunken happiness of the vocals, the quivering guitar and the sloppy, relaxed drumming make a perfect drinking song for seedy bar in the poorest segment of London at 3am. “Let It Bleed” also features the simultaneous hopelessness and ecstasy of addiction to the strongest degree in the Stones’ entire catalog.

The Rolling Stones’ legal troubles with drugs (they are actually illegal, after all) are well documented, but at the turn of the decade, they would only get worse – a lot worse. I heard an unsubstantiated story that by the time of Exile on Main St. in late 1972, when the Stones wanted to go out on tour, Keith Richards went to a clinic in Switzerland first, paid them a boatload of money, and had his entire blood supply completely replaced. His blood was so filled with heroin and cocaine that he was literally incapable of doing a tour; he was barely capable of leaving the house. Getting all new blood was the most efficient option. This story is almost definitely false, though I haven’t read Keith Richards’ autobiography to find out. But the fact remains that Richards and the rest of the Stones were headed for a very dark place. Let It Bleed isn’t the first indicator; it isn’t even the most glaring. But it is one of the best records of the entire 60s.

The first track of Sgt. Pepper is bookended by a reprise near the end of the record, and this makes a nice circle. The reprise is harder and faster than the original; while the rest of the record sounds new and groundbreaking, this is straight-up rock and roll. When I talk about an album having definition, purpose and unity, this pair of songs is precisely what I mean. Sgt. Pepper doesn’t just meet all those conditions; it helps to define those parameters in the first place. Without this album, they don’t really exist. The fact that it begins and ends with a matching pair of songs is the entire thing in miniature.

Okay, I lied; it doesn’t quite end there. It caps off with what is my favorite song on the record, “A Day In the Life.” After the madcap journey of Sgt. Pepper is complete, we’re left with one last image, and “A Day In the Life” contemplates nothing less that the cycle of life and death. A news story tells of a man dying in an automobile accident (Tara Browne, an actual acquaintance of John), but John also peppers this account with references to his own life, particularly his role in the movie How I Won the War. The first section ends with the line, “I’d love to turn you on,” invoking the phrase popularized by LSD guru Timothy Leary, “tune in, turn on, drop out.” Paul later confirmed in an interview that this was, in fact, a reference to drugs.

On to the second section: an orchestral swell, and the song shifts emotional colors. Paul’s voice tells a rather ordinary story of a student getting out of bed, running to the bus, and then smoking in the school hallway. After the serious account of someone’s death, life goes on. We’re really only very small, and life flows on within us and without us. Sound familiar?

I’ll admit that the third section is a mystery to me. It’s based on another news story about the potholes in a British town, and I can’t figure out what it has to do with the rest of the song. If you can, good for you.

About forty seconds after “A Day In the Life” fades out, there is a quiet, high-pitched tone. It’s almost imperceptible to humans, but dogs would find it very annoying. John apparently liked the idea of more than just humans reacting to his music. The final moment of the album is another innovation that has lasted even to this day. The first secret song ever is a collection of voices and nonsense. It’s located on the absolute inner ring of the vinyl. When the needle reaches that point, it repeats in an endless loop until the needle is picked up. There is normally silence in this part, but not on Sgt. Pepper.

When I played the album for Ruthanne, her face during this secret song was priceless. She was confused, discombobulated, and a little disturbed.

The influence and impact of Sgt. Pepper can’t be overstated. Were it to never exist, popular music would look incredibly different. Nearly every artist has been influenced by it in some way, even if they don’t realize it. I can see shades and shadows of it in almost every album that comes after it. But all of that only matters because of one thing: it’s good. If Sgt. Pepper weren’t excellent in the formalist sense, it certainly wouldn’t have the amazing trickle-down effect that it does. Because of this, Sgt. Pepper can be enjoyed on two levels: its game-changing effect on every future aspect of the popular music industry, and its own multifaceted merits.

Move Over, Rover

While most of Are You Experienced is very heavy and forceful, it’s a thick, plodding heaviness. It is mid-tempo, enveloping the listener in a cloud. “Fire” is the one song that breaks out of that mold and goes for the fast-paced, youthful energy that gave rise to late 70’s and late 90’s punk. One of Jimi’s great strengths is contrast over the course of an album, and again, this song’s frantic pace is made even more frantic by the comparison to more stately tracks on the record. There are even hints of rap music in the “move over, Rover, and let Jimi take over!” line. He shouts and howls interjections of “get on with it, baby!” and “aw yes, it’s Jimi talkin’, baby!” like only a black man can; if he were white and saying those things, he’d look like a moron.

“Third Stone From the Sun” is a spacey near-instrumental. The only lyrics are Jimi doing spoken-word about aliens discovering Earth, or some crap like that. The first time I heard of this song (before I actually heard it, mind you), I was watching Pop Up Video on VH1, back in the day. The video in question was Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy,” and I learned that the guitar solo in “I’m Too Sexy,” was lifted from “Third Stone From the Sun.” Something occurred

Right Said Fred, perfecting the one hit wonder

to me then: why don’t I check out the Jimi Hendrix song instead of this cheap knock-off? It was just a few weeks later that my dad came home with that box of LPs from the tag sale. When I looked through them and came across Are You Experienced, low and behold, one of the tracks was “Third Stone From the Sun.” Fate, I tell you!

Finally, the backwards guitar and symbol crashes open up the title track. For this last song, Jimi puts on his drug dealer hat; the first one’s free. The term “experienced” which he throws around might refer to sex (if you listen to my mother, an “experienced” girl was a girl who “slept around”), but maybe not. He follows the question “are you experienced?” with “have you ever been experienced? Well, I have.” Maybe he’s talking about another aspect of the counter-cultural lifestyle. Later, he intones, “not necessarily stoned but… beautiful…” With that, he simultaneously says he IS and ISN’T talking about drugs, which the listener must have suspected all along.

If you want my opinion (and it stands to reason you do else you wouldn’t be reading this), he’s really talking about something bigger than drugs or sex or any particular thing. “Experienced” is a state of being, a space where ordinary humans transcend their temporal nature for a second and glimpse something unknowable. I can’t describe it any more than that. It’s like an old saying about blues music: if you have to ask, you’ll never know.

Jimi Hendrix was a flame that blazed brightly for 5 years, and then burned out. I had heard stories when I was little that before he went on stage he would smash a bottle of liquor on his forehead, and then cover the bleeding from the broken glass with his bandana. He died in late 1970 in what is one of the worst ways to go – choking on his own vomit. But this remains: rock and roll is forever changed (and for the better) because Jimi was part of it.