Taylor Hawkins: Do Drugs Help Music?
April 8, 2022
In the shadow of Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins’ unfortunate passing in March of 2022, we’re forced to revisit the question: do drugs or alcohol help artists make good music?
It’s an old question, but it never gets tired or irrelevant because:
- Ozzy Osbourne
- Kurt Cobain
- Britney Spears
- Snoop Dogg
- Amy Winehouse
- Anthony Kiedis
- Whitney Houston
- Macy Gray
- Natalie Cole
- Michael Jackson
- Yoko Ono
- David Bowie
- Keith Urban
- Syd Barrett
- Neil Young
- Elton John
- Izzy Stradlin
- Jerry Garcia
- George Harrison
- Louis Armstrong
- Notorious B.I.G.
- Aaron Carter
- Ray Charles
- Adam Clayton
- Brian Wilson
- Brian Jones
- Flava Flav
- John Lennon
- Bob Marley
- Miles Davis
- Artie Shaw
- Sid Vicious
- Frank Sinatra
- Janis Joplin
- Nick Drake
- Dee Dee Ramone
- Tim Buckley
- Elliott Smith
- Iggy Pop … etc, etc, et al
And of course nearly the entire graduating class of grunge rock leaders with whom Taylor Hawkins was totally acquainted — almost all of whom have died — including:
Andrew Wood (Mother Love Bone, RIP 1990)
Kurt Cobain (Nirvana, 1994)
Layne Staley (Alice in Chains, 2002)
Scott Weiland (Stone Temple Pilots, 2015)
Chris Cornell (Soundgarden, 2017)
Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees, 2022, just weeks before Hawkins, himself)
But if drugs really were to help the artistic process in music, we would see their use outside of rock, blues, jazz, hip hop and the like, right? Yes, we would. And dig it, there it is among classical composers, too:
Berlioz — opium
Stravinsky — behavior modification drugs
Beethoven — alcohol
Schumann — mercury, quinine, arsenic
Leonard Bernstein — painkillers
Mozart — alcohol
Terry Riley — LSD, marijuana
Hildegard Von Bingen — various herbs
Alban Berg — prescription drugs
Chopin — opium
Erik Satie — alcohol
Therefore, we want to know whether drugs and alcohol help artists write good music or not. This list isn’t hard evidence that it does. It’s possible some other source of inspiration aids songwriting which also leads to drugs and alcohol abuse.
In any case, we know it’s not necessary to change your head to make great music. The list of sober music legends
Let’s see what the experts have to say.
Taylor Hawkins: Do Drugs Make Good Music? Experts Say…
Taylor Hawkins used drugs, yes, for better or worse depending on how you look at it. Authorities say he had 10 substances in him at time of death. We don’t need to talk about what those were, how he got them, why he used them or for how long. We’re interested in whether or not drug use can help write music.
BUT FIRST, NEITHER THIS ARTICLE, NOR ITS AUTHOR, NOR ITS PUBLISHER, NOR ITS HOST SUGGEST YOU OR ANYONE SHOULD TAKE DRUGS, MEDICATION, OR SUBSTANCES. CONTINUING TO READ MEANS YOU UNDERSTAND DRUGS CAN BE DEADLY AND SHOULD NOT BE TAKEN WITHOUT THE GUIDANCE AND DIRECTION OF A LICENSED MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL.
You can learn about the 841,000 people who have died of overdose since 1999, approximately 28,000 annually and about 105 daily in the USA alone, at the CDC website here.
Now, with no further ado, let’s talk to the experts about whether drugs make art better.
Dr. Alain Dagher, neurologist specializing in movement disorders and functional brain imaging, told Vice in 2014:
"[drugs] mak[e] conceptual links in your brain between things that you may not normally link … part of creativity is being original. So drugs like cocaine, and perhaps heroin, have that ability to make you have original thoughts."
This is short-lived, though, as Mic pointed out the same year, saying:
“Like all drugs, though, it's easy to build up a resistance and, in the meantime, lose your ability to experience other kinds of pleasure of the sort that artistic inspiration is built on. So the distinction between this truth and the romantic notion of the drug is a question of longevity.”
Not to mention, scientific studies on drugs often find that they don’t help and can even hurt. As NeurologyLive cites, when researchers studied the effects of marijuana on creative thought:
“They found that the lower dose and placebo groups did not experience any impact on their level of creativity or divergent thinking, while the high-dose group experienced a decrease in divergent thinking.”
What about LSD? From that same article we learn that:
“LSD induces decreased restraint in the brain, but it also decreased the ability to appreciate cause and effect and to ‘organize, categorize, and differentiate the constituents of conscious experience.’ This suggests that perceptions caused by brain activity may be novel, but the ability to apply the novel sensory perceptions to create something original is impaired.”
Not exactly a winning combination, then.
Can Drugs Help Create Good Music?
So is it conclusive? Do drugs harm ability to create music? Does drug use make art harder? Not always.
Two entirely different studies in 2018, this one and this one, found that subjects performed significantly better on both convergent and divergent thinking tests after taking microdoses of psilocybin, or “magic” mushrooms.
Artsy’s Michelle Santiago Cortés has an entire argument from 2018 here for the use of psychedelics to “boost” creative output, and she’s far from the only one. She suggests that the only reason microdosing is becoming OK with society is because it’s just a wee bit of drugs.
“Some suspect that the recent surge in microdosing is born out of the fear and misinformation around the potential dangers of psychedelics. It may be an attempt at negotiating the social implications of ‘dropping out’ at work; in other words, if it’s only a fraction of a dose, maybe it’s a fraction of the taboo, too.”
She notes that lots of artists throughout history have said their craft all but depends on much more than a small amount of their particular drug of choice. She notes, too, that studies on substantial amounts of substances are either illegal to begin with or interrupted before results can be researched.
The National Library of Medicine even has a comprehensive collection of evidence that LSD has all kinds of uses as a kind of mind sharpener.
But a hundred years of scientific history is too much to chew on for our purposes here now as we reflect in the shadow of the death of drummer Taylor Hawkins as a direct result of his battle with drug addiction.
So what can we conclude with all the above? Do drugs make good music?
Taylor Hawkins: Drugs Might Make Good Music, But Only Until They Kill You
Drugs can help an artist create or even just help relax the creative mind enough to loosen up and get the writing down. But the evidence that these substances — all of the aforementioned drugs — can be extremely dangerous is concrete. None of them are safe in the wrong context, at the wrong time, at the wrong amount, for the wrong duration, and for some people any one of them may be wrong all of the time.
Some of the drugs in Taylor Hawkins’ system were prescribed. He was supposed to be on them. Others were not. The amounts he was taking were much more than a person can withstand, even in the physical shape one must keep in order to play drums as hard and as consistently as he did for a living, all the time.
So we know that there is some evidence that some substances taken in some ways at some times by some persons may help an artist create good art. But we also know that artists don’t need drugs to create art because there are so many who can do it stone sober. And we also also know that substances kill artists all the time (see massive, tragically sad list above).
Not to mention, even if drugs help artists create great music, they still rob us of all the art they would make if their lives weren’t ended early by substance abuse.
…And we don’t have much more to say on that score.
Stay safe! And stay creative!