Lance Armstrong's recent fall from grace has got me thinking. He used to date Sheryl Crow. A relationship which neatly represents the two side of societies ambivalent attitudes towards drugs. On the one hand you have Lance Armstrong whom we now known to be a lying, bullying, DRUGS CHEAT! He is now persona non grata and will probably be sued by every American who ever looked up to him, or put into a Findus beef lasagna along with the rest of the failed race horses. On the other hand you have Sheryl Crow, who for all I know is a clean living child of light who welcomes the rising sun every morning with yogic love, but for this illustration she represents the music industry where a much more permissive attitude towards drug use is common.
Now this raises an obvious question, why the difference? Of course we all know the usual arguments about drug use in sport. That it should be about the ability of the athlete and not their ability to take drugs, and taking drugs is a shortcut for just doing more training. I am inclined to agree, seeing people shorten their lives for a blaze of transient glory on the sport field is a bit tragic. There are those who suggest, only half joking, that there should be some divisions of sport where there is a drugs free for all, and I have to confess that I would be curious to see what the human body could achieve with an unlimited supply of pharmaceutical assistance.
The interesting thing is that the attitude of many people, myself included, is very different when it comes to the the music industry. Now you might say this is not a fair comparison. In the world of sport drugs are used to enhance performance in quite clinical and indeed cynical ways, whereas in the world of music, drugs are recreational and it is not a competition. These drugs will not make you run faster. They are taken in a haphazard way to expand perception, relax, stimulate, or heighten experiences and emotions. Not similar at all. But what is it that musicians do? They sing, compose and play about their perceptions, experiences and emotions. They get hyped up to give manic performances and then need help to relax afterwards. So are the drugs they use not performance enhancing? Its just a different kind of performance. If you don't believe me, look at the clean living musicians such as Coldplay or Westlife. It is theoretically possible that their music could make me more bored, but I would have to be prevented from turning it off to experience that level of boredom.
Of course you can point to drug addled wastrels who produce rubbish music. But then the equivalent would be true in sport. It wouldn't matter how much EPO and steroids you pushed into me, I wouldn't keep up with Bradley Wiggins unless he was pulling me in a bike trailer. Drugs can only assist so far, and after that it just down to what you had to start with.
All this musing leads me to some final questions. With the correct prescription of recreational drugs would Coldplay and Westlife stop producing drivel that can put strong men into a catatonic torpor? On the other hand, what have we got to lose?