February 4, 2009 | Comments ()

By TK | Music | February 4, 2009 |


There was a hilarious moment in November 2007 when, for about ten minutes, my mother harboured the suspicion that I was a junkie. And who can blame her: I’m really quite thin, and always short of money — good work picking up on those tell-tale danger signs, Mum! What she flatteringly neglected to factor in, though, is how much of a geek her son is. I would have no idea where to get hold of heroin, and I’m not good with needles. Hell, I don’t even know how or where to procure any weed, and even if I did just find some on the ground somewhere, there isn’t a hope in hell that I could roll it into an even half-way presentable doob.

But I’ve seen Trainspotting and “The Wire,” and listened to some pretty, pretty, pretty dangerous music, so I know everything there is to know - and can often be heard at parties disserting wisely on the subject of ‘dope fiends, yo’ or ‘that cruel mistress, Mary-Jane’. And, having so firmly established my credentials, here are my top ten drug songs.

memphisjug.jpgThe Memphis Jug Band recorded their take on the traditional “Cocaine Habit Blues” — also known as “Take A Whiff On Me” — in 1930, and I love their really jovial take on it, with sweet harmonies, kazoo and harmonica. It’s a popular old blues, and one also recorded by the great Leadbelly around the same time. In 2006, country band Old Crow Medicine Show produced a riotous cover of it for their album Big Iron Worldocms2.jpg; it fits very snugly into their pantheon of drug songs.

On their latest album, Tennessee Pusher, the song “Methamphetamine” is one of the stand-out tracks: it has urgency to it, and the lyrics are deceptively harsh - the song warns ‘It’s gonna rock you ‘til you’re out of a job’. Not very rocking, then.


wainwright.jpgRufus Wainwright’s struggles with the same drug are well charted — his song “Go or Go Ahead” deals with crystal meth, in particular — and on the elegant “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk” (my pick of the bunch) he addresses his problems with addiction in more general terms, saying “Everything it seems I like/ Is a little bit sweeter/ A little bit fatter/ A little bit harmful for me”. That verse starts cute, and ends with a deadly euphemism: typical Wainwright sucker-punch.


velvetunderground.jpgI’ve got two songs about heroin, here: the classic Velvet Underground number “Heroin” — so dark and woozy and hard to listen to — and Bert Jansch’s beautiful warning song, “Needle of Death”, on which the guitar hero plucks a delicate, simple tune on the ol’ acoustic. Needless to say, from these songs you really get the sense of what a difficult bitch heroin is: how overpowering, and how dangerous.


thea.jpgTwo folky female singers talk of drugs as if in a relationship - in Thea Gilmore’s “Benzedrine” it’s almost a love song, set to a thumping, violin-backed guitar workout. Gillian Welch in “My Morphine” talks of a relationship going awry, saying ‘my morphine’ll be the death of me’. This almost tender yet co-dependent relation seems very evocative to me.


And so to something happier: the Magnetic Fields deliver a typically wry, pop-inflected ode to E in the charmingella.jpg “Take Ecstasy With Me”.

Also, here’s Ella Fitzgerald’s gloriously sassy “When I Get Low, I Get High” - like the Memphis Jug Band song, recorded in the Depression — is a fighting song about getting through life with a little help from your drugs. It’s just a really fun, swinging song, and therefore the one my mix ends with.


ghostface.jpgBut before that we have Ghostface Killah, whose brilliant song “Kilo” - from the brilliant Fishscale, which is practically all about cocaine - gently reminds us that drugs are first and foremost a trade, and a symptom of poverty and social inequality. His writing is spare and straight to the point, and this is a fantastic song.


The Playlist:

Old Crow Medicine Show - Methamphetamine


(ed. note - for whatever reason, we couldn’t add this to the actual playlist below. -TK)


Caspar likes book, music and films, and would never be described as “enigmatic.” Read more about him at his blog, Straigh Outta Crouch End.

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Music | February 4, 2009 | Comments ()




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