My Fellow Inebriates,
I’m a young bear, so I missed the whole Whitney Houston thing, but so did my parents. By the time she was making hits, they were old enough to have dismissed Top 40 pop in favor of the 1980s underbelly counterculture. By the time she was snorting her riches, they’d settled into middle age and were being exposed to her songs, sometimes for the first time, by watching teenage wannabes covering them on American Idol.
Public speculation about Houston’s death is cycling through cocaine overdose, pills, drowning, and suicide as the media feast on her death and the unhappiness that must have preceded it. There’s something about an addict that makes him/her fair game—perhaps a perceived choice to follow the highway all the way to hell despite the obvious turnoffs and advisories. Particularly when the addicted are also the rich and spoilt.
It was on this note (wishing I were spoilt) that I appealed to my parents for a little taste of the Bowmore 12 that our friend Robert left behind (unknown to me) after his visit last weekend. Although I sampled it then, I had no idea any remained, both because I passed out ahead of everyone and because I’d assumed Robert would have taken the bottle with him when he left.
But when I was skulking around the cupboards this afternoon I espied the bottle. Water in the desert! I had to hang on to the walls; my fur was standing on end. The only mildly cautionary twinge holding me back was the song rattling away between my furry ears: “and Iiiiiiiii—Iii—Iiiii–Iii will always looo—ooooo—ve yoooo—ouuuuuu…” It seemed a little tasteless to go hunting for a fix after reading about Whitney Houston being found dead in her bathtub. Although songs like these typically send me running for aspirin and/or alcohol because they pierce my sensitive bear eardrums, I felt bad that she was dead and sad that everything had gone to hell for her.
Nevertheless, I mentioned to my mum that I wouldn’t mind some Bowmore 12 right away, which she ignored because she was putting Shake ‘n’ Bake on some chicken. We are all addicted to something, and that gloopy, cornstarch-laden teriyaki flavoring, she knew, would entice the kids to ingest some protein simply because it contained so much sugar.
In that sense, addiction is a bit of a continuum. Plenty of people have difficulty functioning without their morning coffee, or a chocolate bar during the afternoon slump, or a glass of wine in the evening to help them sleep. My mum has probably never gone a day without chocolate, and my dad devours tubes of Pringles at a time in the car. Are they addicts?
Not really—I mean, unless my dad’s hoovering Pringle crumbs off the car floor in desperation to suck up every last atom of their mashed-potatoey junkiness, or unless my mum’s packing a gun to protect her stash of KitKats. Don’t get me wrong, my parents have their assholish moments, but their dependencies are “lite” compared to the raging coke addiction that reportedly held Whitney Houston in its grip.
Cocaine is an asshole drug like no other. We’ve all met asshole alcoholics—lurching around their homes with tumblers full of wine, operating under the permanent delusion that no one sees their weakness; cloaking themselves in legal sanction as proof that they’re just fine the way they are; even endangering others with their cars. Alcohol has a tragic side, there is no doubt, and even though we joke about it at LBHQ, we don’t endorse carrying it to asshole proportions.
A drug like alcohol, if abused, can destroy an individual or a family over a span of years. A drug like cocaine (which arguably can’t be simply “used” as opposed to “abused”) can destroy lives in a relative blink. My parents had a coworker who discovered crack cocaine and within six weeks spent his family’s life savings; he asphyxiated himself in his garage, leaving a wife and two young children. Another acquaintance of my mother’s, casually introduced to cocaine, ended up dead six months later on the street where she’d started hooking after leaving her husband and children.
It trips me out that these were real people and not movie characters. Their lives went out of control before anybody even knew what had happened, what they were into, and how lost they were.
So it’s hard to work up too much sadness about Whitney Houston. She had glamour, she had talent, she had money, she had minions to do her bidding and get her whatever she wanted—even if what she wanted was coke.
If you think my jones for Bowmore 12 is hypocritical, you’re absolutely right. But I’m a bear, and I don’t know any better. All I can do is say—helplessly and perhaps unconvincingly—that alcohol, at least for the majority of the population, is something we can handle responsibly and controllably. We can at least contain it, confine it to our homes and keep it off the roads, and adhere to sensible laws that minimize its ill effects.
Cocaine cannot be used sensibly, controllably, responsibly, or safely. Its defining characteristic is the change it brings about in personality: the way it ratchets up the ego, then plunges the user into desolation. Cocaine users will snort spilled product off a dirty hotel-room rug or a filthy cohort’s body parts, because the high it produces subjugates every other consideration. It is the consummate asshole substance, because it changes normal people into self-serving egomaniacs who will do anything to find more of it once the last traces have been snorted. When people use cocaine, they do not get happier, or tipsier, or nicer, or become more fun. They get razor-sharp, obsessive, angry, ugly, and blind to anyone but themselves.
Anonymous put it better in 2002’s Open Letter to a Cokehead:
…My parents were cocaine addicts, back when people believed there was no such thing. Some of my earliest memories are accompanied by a soundtrack of scrapes and snorts, wild parties, and bitter tears. The memory catalog also includes hysterical arguments, bankruptcy, and firearms. They both came out the other side, as most people eventually do. All they lost was their marriage, their 30s, their house, and their dignity. All I lost was my ability to trust happiness, my childhood, and my willingness to see cocaine as just another drug. To me, it’s a virus that sucks all the interesting out of people.
The problem isn’t the drug. It’s the culture that surrounds it, the fashion—because fashion is always the problem. Dear cokehead, you aren’t glamorous. You aren’t Mick Jagger. You’re not even Mick Fleetwood. You’re Jackson Browne. You’re Charlie Sheen. You’re George W. Bush. You’re my parents.
And I can’t wait for you to grow up.
I visited Dan Lacey’s site this morning to see if he had any Whitney Houston stuff. Not that it’s my thing—I was just curious if he’d ever depicted her before. Although he is working on a memorial painting, much more interesting things are in the works: a painting of “current Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard slathering pancake syrup on previous PM Kevin Rudd while riding a kangaroo.” This is much more to my taste, and I can’t wait to see it.
As for the Bowmore 12, that review is coming. I feel okay about drinking and reviewing Bowmore 12 because the four of us who shared it the other night did so in a friendly manner, nobody drove afterwards, everybody was sober in the morning, and… I really do try not to be an asshole.