Musical Space: Opioids And Music

Nov 20, 2018

It was just announced that the late rapper Mac Miller’s death a few months ago was due to an overdose of the opioid fentanyl. I’ll admit I’d never heard of him before his death, didn’t know about his hitting No. 1 in the charts or his relationship with Ariana Grande. But, to be fair, he was only 26.

Since musicians are role models and trend setters, I think it’s important to talk about how opioid abuse has been killing our musical heroes.

Let’s separate opioid use from any romantic ideas about using drugs for musical inspiration or being cool. Recent victims were just musicians trying to manage pain so that they could get through a gig: Prince, Tom Petty, Wilco guitarist Jay Bennett, all fell into using fentanyl to manage hip pain. There are victims from every generation and genre. Even in the classical music world — a third of all orchestral musicians use some chemical to outlast performances.

And let’s not imagine that these drugs come from the culture of the artistic bohemian. Opioids are being supplied by pharmacies, and here’s where a lot of people fall through the cracks. The bassist for Slipknot was prescribed opioids even though he was a known addict; Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell got them despite his suicidal depression.

And let’s drop the fallacy that prescription drugs are less dangerous than street drugs. Fentanyl is 50 times more powerful than heroin. Similar drugs killed Elvis and Michael Jackson.

Awareness of the problem seems to be important. There needs to be a better understanding by our cultural icons, as well as their doctors and fans, before we lose any more of them.

Elvis Presley, “Way Down,” (Elvis' last single, 1977)



Listening list (in memoriam):

Wilco, “Kamera,” Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)

Guitarist Jay Bennett co-wrote most of the songs on this album.

Mudcrutch, “Scare Easy” (Tom Petty), Mudcrutch (2008)

Mudcrutch was Tom Petty’s first band, which broke up in 1975 but reunited to record this album 32 years later.

Mac Miller, “Kool Aid & Frozen Pizza,” 2010 (mixtape)

Young and innocent - just self-congratulatory, nothing earth-shattering
Talks about weed

Soundgarden, “Been Away Too Long,” King Animal (2012)

The late Chris Cornell co-wrote this tune from Soundgarden’s last release.

Prince, “Look At Me, Look At U,” Hit n Run, Phase Two (2015)

From Prince’s thirty-ninth studio album, the last release during his lifetime.