A Musical Generation Explores How to Cope With the Consequences of Drugs
In the wake of several rockers' recent deaths, the fight against drugs has taken a proactive turn
BOSTON — Tall, unassuming, and somewhat awkward, Roger Stevens seems to make no effort to look different or glamorous. Although he was the guitarist for Blind Melon - a band most high-schoolers and college students can recognize on hearing a few notes - he assumes no airs of stardom.
He is not a star in the 1980s, Michael Jackson style. He, like his music, is earthy, common, and direct.
But in other, unfortunate ways, Stevens is a poster boy for his musical generation: He has had to deal with a friend's drug addiction and its devastating consequences.
In October 1995, Shannon Hoon, Stevens's close friend and the lead singer of Blind Melon, died of a cocaine overdose. Other bands like the Smashing Pumpkins and Sublime have had band members die from heroin overdoses as well.
The lead singers of Stone Temple Pilots and Depeche Mode, Scott Weiland and David Gahan, have been arrested for drug possession; and Kurt Cobain, the lead singer and guitarist for Nirvana, committed suicide after a long battle with heroin addiction.
Drugs have long been connected to the darker side of rock-and-roll. But these recent events have spurred many to try to make the fight against drugs proactive instead of reactive - and bands have found themselves caught in the middle.
The most prominent and maligned voice in this self-searching is Michael Greene, president of the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences and its nonprofit arm, MusiCares. MusiCares is dedicated to attacking drug problems openly in the music industry and providing everyone in the industry access to rehabilitation.
"This is something we as an industry have to face," Mr. Greene says. "We have to face it publicly, and we have to prove that we're capable of setting up a benevolent support system for everyone in our business so it's not a stigma if you have an addiction."
But not everyone is jumping on the bandwagon. Regardless of its intentions, some say, taking such a public effort creates media pressure, which turns it into a crusade and creates counterproductive pressure that backs the people who need treatment into a corner.
"They should provide access to the treatment that's there if someone wants it.... Beyond that, it's a personal choice," Stevens says.
Stevens points to the Musicians Assistance Program (MAP) as an example of effective drug treatment. Blind Melon is donating a portion of the money they make from their final album, "Nico," to MAP. In fact, MAP works closely with MusiCares. Musicians who turn to MusiCares for help are often turned to the arms of Buddy Arnold, head of MAP.
"My job is to get [the musicians] to take as much responsibility for [their] own recovery as possible," he says.
Despite differences of opinion on how best to cut drug use in the music industry, Greene, Stevens, and Arnold all agree that drugs destroy lives. Each has been touched by their harmful effects.
For Stevens, the energy created by playing with his band for more than six years vanished when Hoon died, leaving him to ponder a new direction for his life.
When Jonathan Melvoin of the Smashing Pumpkins overdosed, the band responded by throwing out its drummer, who had a history of drug problems. Nirvana chose to disband when Cobain committed suicide.
Stevens and Blind Melon, however, decided to continue on.
"The day Shannon died, the four of us sat down together in a room and talked," Stevens recalls. "I was really surprised at what came out of the meeting - that we're moving on."
But not as Blind Melon.
"We're going to change the name, we're going to do all new songs.... It's going to be different," Stevens says.
The going has been tough. The search for a new singer has progressed slowly, and perhaps even more important, the band members have had to search for their own answers to their friend's death.
Two members of the band reside in Seattle, one in New Orleans. Neither speaks to the media much about Hoon's death.
But Stevens, who lives in New York, sees a positive opportunity in talking about Hoon.
"It's not an easy thing to talk about ... but I deal with it in the late hours of the morning with myself - not in the press," Stevens says. "I feel obligated to stand up and tell people this guy was a great songwriter. I lived with him for six years and it was a tremendous experience. It was like standing next to the sun."