I was sick the other day. A strange type of sick.
I had a pounding headache, pressure behind my eyes like I have never experienced before. With the exception of the headache I had no other symptoms.
The world seemed to be running slow, when I moved I could only move at a snail’s pace, and I had to have serious conscious thought to sit up and get a drink.
I took some tablets, a mixture of Paracetemol, Codeine and Aspirin. After dinner, I lay down, and lapsed in and out of sleep for the next 2 hours.
Frequently during that period I would wake up from a vivid dream, which took me from digging in the Arctic, a fishing boat in a storm, kids in a swing park and needing the toilet at the doctors. I can remember those, because after the first few, I kept my phone beside me and jotted them down each time I woke up.
Some of those ideas were pretty cool and I thought I could somehow meld them into a story. I just wish I did it from the start, because they were equally as bizarre.
But it got me thinking.
Was it the painkillers that caused them?
If it was the painkillers, then it was a pretty creative 2 hours, with over the counter drugs.
And so led me on to today’s blog….
Do Drugs Fuel Creativity?
Drugs have been demonized in society. Perhaps quite rightly. But when looking at the influence drugs have had on creativity, should we be so quick to jump on the bandwagon?
The tale of The Beatles visiting Buckingham Palace to collect their MBE from the Queen, where they holed up in one of the bathrooms and smoked a joint is infamous.
The Beatles had many LSD fuelled experiences which later became inspiration for some of their most critically acclaimed work (Day Tripper, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds).
In an article, Francis Crick who discovered DNA is alleged to have had the revelation, while on Acid.
Dock Ellis, pitcher with the Pittsburgh Pirates famously threw a “No Hitter” game (Arguably the highlight of his career) while on an LSD trip.
Even Steve Jobs described his time on LSD as “One of the best things I have done in my life”
I read a quote somewhere which I can’t find to give kudos but it was something like “Bill Gates didn’t do drugs and we got Windows, Steve Jobs took Acid and We got the IPhone!”
Authors on Drugs
Alcohol is a drug, which many authors have battled internal demons with. James Joyce, Ernest Hemmingway, F Scott Fitzgerald, Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote to name but a few.
Alcohol as it is legal is not considered amongst the “drug” culture, and is considered a normal pursuit. Even though the alcohol related deaths in the UK in 2009 was 8664 compared to drug related deaths which were only 2082 (With 32% of those, alcohol was consumed in addition to the drugs)
I am not going to get on my soapbox about Alcohol in comparison to drugs…. (Although I could!)
Harder drugs have featured heavily on classic authors such as Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allen Poe and their use of Opium, or Aldous Huxley (LSD) and Robert Louis Stevenson (Cocaine).
Ken Kesey has publically said that without LSD he would not have been able to write “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”.
Hunter S Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and in turn his pioneering “Gonzo” fiction would not have occurred without his drug fuelled days.
But why do writers and creative people tend to be more susceptible to drugs?
It Opens the Mind
LSD, Opium and certain prescription hallucinogens have without doubt the ability to expand the normal surroundings, allowing the user to experience an “altered” state, being able to think outside of the boundaries they are normally confined too.
Albert Hoffman, creator of LSD said:
“I think that in human evolution it has never been as necessary to have this substance LSD. It is just a tool to turn us into what we are supposed to be.”
Is this the reason drugs fuel creativity? Does it allow the writer to be able to visualize scenario’s that would normally not occur? Does it (in the case of science fiction) allow us to dream what could happen?
Do Amphetamines and cocaine allow the writer to continue writing for hours and sometimes days on end, keeping them at the edge of the creative peak?
A Demon Distraction.
Hemmingway said “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
If writing is the exorcising of demons, do drugs (and alcohol) keep the demons at bay until the next time you are sitting at a typewriter?
A Case of Spare Time (or Boredom).
Theoretically creative people have a lot of down time. They write or draw or sculpt, when inspiration takes them. They get an idea, form it, mould it and then send it out into the world to be experienced.
Whilst being a writer, painter or sculptor is a profession, it is a case of feast and famine. You might work for 60 hours in 4 days when inspiration hits, then take a week off. You might be in-between projects and as such, have weeks to languish in smoky Parisian gin houses.
Could this free living lifestyle be the reason for drug use?
People who work in an office, have to turn up smartly dressed, working 9-5 (what a way to make a living!), usually work in such a place that open drug use is frowned upon and could be the grounds for dismissal.
The writer/creative may not have that restriction. So they can, if they would like, get involved in drugs. No one is there to stop them, so why wouldn’t they?
Drugs vs. Creativity
Drugs may have helped certain artistic people create finer things, but it is not the sole reason why they have become creative.
The Beatles still would have created fantastic music if they never took drugs. They might not have released Sgt Pepper, but they sure would have had Help! or A Hard Day’s Night. But from Revolver onwards (When the critics started saying they were showing maturity, LSD was an influence)
Robert Louis Stevenson might not have written “A Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” in a 6 day cocaine binge, but would still have produced “Treasure Island”
Council Estates are not teaming with Heroin addled Charles Dickens wannabes, or John Lennon imitators, so the drugs cannot create the flourish of genius.
Perhaps drugs just help the author/painter/songwriter to see through the psychedelic haze and to focus on their target.
They facilitate the journey outside social norms.
They allow the user to see how the world should be, so when they go back to reality, they know the truth.