Sunday 25 February 2018

Drugs cool only in a fantasy world

In real life, for most junkies, the story ends tragically, not happily, writes Victoria Mary Clarke

IN THIS world in which we live, we are constantly, surreptitiously and very cleverly being sold stuff. The more successful ads rely on us aspiring to a lifestyle, or wanting to feel happier with who we are, by acquiring a car or a handbag or whatever.

I am as easily sold as the next person. But one thing I never dreamed anyone could sell me on was heroin. Until the other day, when I happened to read an extract from Keith Richards's memoir.

I should say, before I go any further, that I have always regarded Keith Richards as the coolest person on earth, the person I would most like to swap places with. And, having met him in person and read the various interviews with him, I am still enamoured. His description of his job -- playing guitar with the Rolling Stones -- as being like taking off in a Lear jet every night and feeling like his feet don't touch the ground made me extremely jealous. It has also made me seriously wonder if it's too late for me to quit writing and be a guitarist instead. More worryingly, his descriptions of the many and varied drugs that he took, particularly heroin, left me wondering if perhaps I should reconsider that too.

I am very health conscious and rather careful, but even though Shane MacGowan has more than made up for my caution, I came away from the experience feeling that perhaps my life has been rather tame and suburban and I need to be a lot more daring and really push the boundaries. After all, Keith has survived, and not just survived, but come out smiling and looking cool.

OK, so he points out that you can easily get hooked on heroin, but he reckons you can get away with it for a month and only have flu-like symptoms. And when asked if he were to live his life again, would he still do heroin, his answer was unequivocally yes, that if he had not done it, he would have missed out on the 'different takes on life that you're not going to find if you don't go there'.

A day or so later, I read Jerry Hall's criticism of Keith's memoir: she accused him of glorifying drugs, and of having penis envy where Mick Jagger's mickey was concerned, because he called it a 'tiny todger' that Marianne could not possibly have had fun with. Both of these things got me thinking very seriously about my glorification of Keith Richards. Just this year, Sebastian Horsley, one of my best friends, overdosed on heroin and died. Over the years, Shane and I watched many other friends battle addiction to heroin and many of them have not survived the drug. Not only that, Shane struggled for years to get off heroin himself and it was most definitely not fun and not cool when he was taking it. It was endlessly grim and tedious, and stressful, watching him nodding off and setting fire to himself and endlessly worrying that he would die.

So what the hell happened to make me think it could be cool, if Keith did it? As I was considering the possibility that I might be certifiably suggestible, I noticed that Shane had borrowed my black eye liner and was wearing a bandana on his head. Which made me even more worried.

It also reminded me of the pirate that Keith plays in Pirates of the Caribbean. A fantasy character that children love. Maybe the Keith Richards that I had always adored was just a teenage fantasy that I haven't yet grown out of? After all, it's more than a bit teenaged to idolise someone based on the fact that they play in a rock band and get away with things that one's parents and teachers and the establishment have forbidden. And to think someone is cool because of how they look and the way they dress and how witty they are.

And it is also rather childish to look up to someone because they don't live in the 'real' world, and they never travel on public transport, but exist in a bubble of private jets and an entourage of assistants. The world that Keith Richards lives in is an adult fairy tale, and no matter what outrageous pranks he pulls, he always gets away with it in the end. But, for most aspiring rock guitarists, that level of success is never going to be achieved, which means the insulation from nasty, everyday stuff does not happen, either. And, for most junkies, the story ends tragically, instead of happily.

I don't honestly know if Keith's life is as fabulous as it appears to be, because I don't really know him, and even though I would like to get to know him, a part of me wants him to stay where he belongs, in the realm of fantasy. I wouldn't mind knowing if Mick's mickey really is a tiny todger, though. Or whether that's a fantasy, too.

Sunday Independent

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