Heroin Is the Most Dangerous Way to Increase Your Creativity
The thing about heroin is that you can’t say anything good about it—at least not in public. That’s what gangly Brit pop singer Damon Albarn discovered when, in a recent interview, he admitted that his experience on the H-train was “incredibly creative” and “very agreeable.” This caused a mild media furor, with various publications crying foul, and commenters completely flabbergasted by how he could think using heroin is anything but the worst thing that could ever happen to a human being ever in the history of horrible things. It’s the same sort of public discomfort that arises when discussing supervised injection sites or doctors being able to prescribe heroin to help addicts lead a somewhat normal life. Heroin = bad, right? For the most part, I see where this comes from—a heroin addiction is a terrible thing. Heroin is an all-consuming drug that can destroy your life, and the lives of people around you.
But my reaction to Albarn’s surprisingly candid admission was more curiosity than shock and outrage. Can heroin really make people creative?
In the echelon of narcotics, heroin has always seemed to me the least creative of drugs. I understand cocaine: You’ve got a ton of ideas—all of which you think are awesome (even though they are not)—and weed makes everything funny. LSD is basically creativity incarnate. But heroin? Based on my admittedly limited knowledge of the drug (i.e., watching Trainspotting and visiting Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside), the only thing I really knew for sure was that heroin addicts often walk around looking super sleepy and itchy. Where’s the artistic genius in that?
I wanted to know more, so I called up Dr. Alain Dagher, neurologist at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital (a.k.a. the Neuro) to find how, if at all, drugs like heroin can help with creativity.
VICE: What can you tell me about the link between drugs and creativity?
Dr. Alain Dagher: There’s a long history of people using drugs for creativity, and different drugs act in different ways. The most obvious example of the way a drug can help creativity is that most of us are, for the most part, inhibited in many ways. Many drugs, especially in small doses, can relieve that inhibition. The best example being alcohol. Low doses of certain drugs like alcohol can cause just enough disinhibition that you can become, in a way, more creative.
What about heroin specifically?
There’s another way drugs can make you more creative, which is going beyond disinhibition. That is, making conceptual links in your brain between things that you may not normally link. So, to a certain extent, this relates to madness—there are many artists whose creativity is almost like madness, but not quite. In conditions like schizophrenia, you have thoughts that are jumbled together that don’t necessarily belong together—you have tangential thinking, and thoughts go in bizarre directions, which might be helpful with coming up with bizarre ideas. Part of creativity is being original. So drugs like cocaine, and perhaps heroin, have that ability to make you have original thoughts.
Owning Porno Used to Mean Something, Damnit
1. When I was in high school I kept my porn in a white box. Inside the box was a stack of magazines—almost entirely Playboys, because I liked the clean stuff—as well as a purple folder full of the images I liked best, so that I could spread them out on my bedroom floor and sit in the middle of them, kind of like a crude manual version of Tumblr.
2. The internet really changed the way people masturbate. Today, if you want to see someone naked you just press the buttons and poof, there’s a boob. But as a teenager I remember thinking of pictures of naked women as a kind of secret relic, something you had to search out, anticipate and covet, which made them that much better when you got them.
3. I saw my first porn magazine in fourth grade when some kids in my class were passing one around under the lunch table. I remember feeling a weird sense of doom, like I was going to get caught the second I touched the paper, even though everyone else was laughing about it. I’m not sure what magazine it was, but the pictures were of naked women holding automatic weapons, dressed up like military personnel. I remember the feeling of seeing more than I actually saw.
4. The kid who owned that magazine briefly ran a business where you could buy a page out of other, similar magazines for a dollar. He carried them around in a duffel bag with a padlock on it. They were his dad’s magazines, he said, and there were more where those came from, if you had the money. I never bought one. Eventually he was caught and suspended.
5. I used to occasionally go to work with my dad. I remember feeling an insane sense of agency whenever he would stop at this one gas station that had a rack of tattoo magazines with tits in them. I would stand in front of the rack and wait until I knew I had half a second with no one watching, and then I would open the magazine as if I didn’t mean to, in case someone caught me. So instead of full visions, I caught flashes and tried to embed them deep in my memory so that I would be able to see them for a long time afterward whenever I shut my eyes.
6. A very brief, insanely vivid memory from when I was probably four or five, of picking up a magazine my dad’s friends were passing around at a camp in the woods, and the men laughing as my dad took it away from me before I could see. I remember my uncle saying something to the effect of, “one day you can have that,” and everyone laughing. I don’t remember many other things from that early stage in my life.
Bruce Pavitt Was There, Man
You may not know who Bruce Pavitt is, but you know all about what the indie label he pioneered in the 90s, Sub Pop Records. Sub Pop didn’t birth “grunge”—the media did. Bands like Mudhoney, Soundgarden, Nirvana (duh), and the other heavy hitters on Sub Pop’s roster just made the music.
These days, Bruce has retired from running the label full time, but he recently released a photo book with Bazillion Points called Experiencing Nirvana: Grunge in Europe 1989. The book follows Nirvana, Tad, and Mudhoney through their first European tour, and if you’ve been keeping up with VICE you probably saw the exclusive photos we published a few months back. Nearly three decades later, grunge has become a cultural phenomenon and bounced by into a retro-trend for younger musicians. Reduce, reuse, recycle.
So why put this book out now? I called up Bruce because he’s extremely cool and I wanted to talk about the 90s, the label, and why this book needed to get out into the world.
VICE: Hi Bruce. So first off, why do this book?
Bruce Pavitt: Essentially, the Seattle scene in the late 80s was a revolutionary time. The level of emotional intensity that those bands was expressing was incredible. I thought it was time to share some of those memories.
What did you think of The Oral History of Grunge?
Honestly, I didn’t read it.
Really? I mean, I don’t see why you would have to as you were kind of… there.
Yep. I actually took a very long time off from thinking about the scene, after Kurt’s passing. It was just last year when I started revisiting those times.
Fashion in the 90s - Kate Carraway’s Li’l Thinks
Illustration by Penelope Gazin
The 90s were perfect. That’s objective. Not even “the 90s,” really, but particular neon-gilded chambers of time within the 90s (like, super-ur-90s Sassy magazine before it began its slow death in 1995-ish) were perfect. This isn’t to privilege one set of nostalgics over another; the 1990s reverence felt by three small, semidiscrete generations (X, Y, Millennial) is, of course, no different from anyone else’s nostalgia for what came before, but seriously, the 90s were good for us. They were great sometimes.
I don’t even care about “better.” What’s better? Does better matter, is better relevant, is better possible? But one particular aspect of the culture that is definitely not better right now, and will be no better, is the translation of fashion to film, to video, to TV, to the internet.
I guess I mean this in an abstract and personal sense of “better”: There are a zillion dedicated segments and shows about fashion, on real TV and online, on blogs and the rest of it, that are doing what they set out to do, achieving everything they want to achieve. Every website I’ve ever been to (ever? Ever!) has featured a closet tour with some emerging or expiring It girl. Like the 90s, this is good and even great sometimes. And the epitome of 90s-fashion television, MTV’s House of Style, was revived last year, with ace model hosts and the familiar and correct cross-genre/high-low/daydreamy approach.