Of cigarettes, drugs, and inevitability

One day, during my 8th grade art class, Mr. Taylor turned on the television and allowed the students to pick a channel. We ended up on MTV and worked on our projects with music videos playing in the background. (This was back in an era when MTV's focus was still music.) During those forty minutes of class time, a video from Stone Temple Pilots was broadcast. The chorus crooned "I'm half the man I used to be. This I feel as the dawn it fades to gray." It was not the first time I heard the song, but it was the first I had truly paid attention to the lyrics. "I'm half the man I used to be. Half the man I used to be."

If Scott Weiland ever wrote a self-fulfilling prophecy, the song Creep would be it. Recent videos of his performances revealed a different man. He literally became half the man he used to be. Muscle mass withered away, leaving a frame of bone and sinew. Attempting to dance like Jagger but instead looking like the inebriated over-zealous fan who finds their way to the front row of every rock concert ever since The Doors first wooed audiences. In one clip he mumbled his way through Vasoline like a bad karaoke singer who had long forgotten the words he should be singing. Gone was that rich baritone and vicious snarl that made him famous - his voice was replaced with a whiny whimper that inspired pity far more than awe.

The person we have seen over the past couple years is not the rock star and music legend we remember. Not even the Ghost of Weiland Past. These glimpses we have caught through concert stages and YouTube videos were the final appearances of a dying man, a hollowed shell, evidence of addiction's demanding price.

If Scott's death is a surprise to you, you're a fool. This was an inevitable event anyone could see coming. Russell Brand described Amy Winehouse's death with that same sense of inevitability. He said it was "like watching someone for hours through a telescope advance towards you, fist extended with the intention of punching you in the face. Even though I saw it coming it still hurt when it eventually hit me."

Addiction is a terminal disease. You can see the ending approach from miles away, yet still feel powerless to stop the grim finale. For a touring musician, drugs and alcohol are practically an occupational hazard. Scott Weiland indulged in it for a quarter century. Because of his habits, he was forced out of Stone Temple Pilots and fired from Velvet Revolver - the two bands he was most recognized for fronting. Rehab never worked. At one point, a DA testified before a probation judge that Scott was "on the road to killing himself." Seventeen years later, the DA's prediction came true.

The actual cause of Scott's death may or may not have been suicide. We don't yet know if it was an overdose. Regardless, his passing is a direct result of a lifetime of heroin and cocaine addiction. Healthy people that are as skinny as a 2x4 do not have heart attacks at age 48. And 48 is too young to die.

Stories like this shouldn't happen. Drugs have been around long enough that everyone knows their effects. Between scientific studies and real world examples, everyone knows what drugs do to your brain and your body. Sober people should be able to envision their fate with drugs and decline on the overwhelming evidence that such a future will end badly. Yet, drugs ruin countless lives year after year.

This is a quandary that confused my oldest son. He is a smart kid. He knows that smoking is unhealthy. He knows it causes cancer, makes your breath and clothes stink, and turns your teeth yellow. He also has friends and classmates whose parents smoke. After seeing a bunch of cigarette butts in a parking lot, he asked me why people smoked. He said, "If people know it is disgusting and so bad for their health, why do they do it?" I tried to explain how tobacco is addictive and once people are hooked it is hard to quit. That answer didn't satisfy him. "Then why do they start in the first place?"

The answer for Christian's second question is not an easy one to explain. One could talk about peer pressure, the desire to look cool and fit in, nervous habits, or the cultural effect of growing up in environments where everyone else smokes. One could explain the numerous reasons that people light their first cigarette but each of those answers would be grossly inadequate. And they should be.

I could be cynical and say that drugs are just something that people do. That it will always be a part of life. That it will always lead to ruin as it has done for Scott Weiland. But I refuse to be that kind of guy. I choose to take the perspective that my son has with smoking. Drug abuse should not make sense. There should not be an acceptable explanation of why people do it. And if we can't get rid of the cartels and the dealers and the pushers then we need to work harder to make sure our kids don't grow up to be users. We need to make every effort to ensure young artists and musicians eschew the 'sex drugs and rock'n'roll' image of their cultural forefathers.

We need to do better. Because I'm fed up. I don't want to lose any more heroes. Yes, heroes. I don't want to model my life after Scott Weiland. He’s not that kind of hero to me. However, he did influence me and is one of the biggest reasons I started writing. His music helped me get through my awkward teenage years. His songs are still those I crank up the volume and sing along every time I hear them. Now he is gone.


  1. "Then why do they start in the first place?"
    Excellent question!

    1. One I had a difficult time answering.