It was quite interesting that as I happened to be reading Keith Richards’ autobiography Life, the news was all about actor Charlie Sheen’s ongoing personal meltdown – not that I cared to hear about it, but how can you not notice it when the headlines – even in the mainstream media – are screaming in your face? It is impossible not to draw parallels here – Richards, in the 70s, had the same attitude of saying that as long as his addictions did not interfere with the job, everything was OK.
These stories (plus the recent excerpt of Sammy Hagar’s memoirs on Rolling Stone) reminded me that many creative types have a tendency of going through a self-destructive phase, regardless if they’re famous or not. Some never escape it and end up dead too soon, but many others emerge from it at least wiser for the wear.
Reading all of this reminded me of my own self-destructive phase, which took place over a decade ago over the last few years I spent in Fortaleza, Brazil.
In 1995, I went through the end of a long-term relationship, and found myself at loose ends on a personal level. Shortly after that I found myself hanging out with a crowd of hard rock fans who also had a penchant for overindulging in booze and other excesses. They were a lively group, and their companionship helped ease the pain I was feeling at the time. Before you knew it, I was downing entire bottles of booze every weekend when they organized ‘just because’ parties where the point was to listen to rock and roll and drink until the cows came home. Some of them often ended up in drunken tanks in local hospitals taking glucose shots in order to recover from all the drinking they did. I was lucky not to have gone through that – but boy, did I have a few close shaves in between.
I don’t really remember who introduced me to them. As memory serves, a co-worker’s brother hung out with them, and I one day I was invited to someone’s birthday party – when they all became my instant friends. Or booze buddies. Whatever.
Incredibly, I did not allow any of that to interfere with my work. I dutifully (and soberly) showed up to work six days a week, but as soon as that was over, it was party time – some of the crew even showed up at the school where I taught to pick me up for the night’s craziness. Thankfully, I was young enough to take it – can you imagine partying until 2 AM and being up at 7 to teach an English class? I really don’t think I could have pulled that off today – not that I would even try.
So it was that I was always surrounded by those types – all wearing all-black clothing and educating me on the latest in heavy rock, punk and metal (that did serve a purpose – I never would have heard of Offspring or Green Day if it weren’t for them) as we went along, while I introduced them to my own British favorites like Black Sabbath, early Queen and other bands I can no longer remember.
I don’t think there was a wake-up moment for me. In August 1995, I (belatedly) started studying for my B.A. in English, and found myself spending less and less time with them. I still attended a handful of remarkable parties, including one on New Years’ Eve 1995/96 in which one guy somehow fell over a glass table and badly cut himself. I had been thrown in a pool with all my clothes on, and had hung my gray polo shirt to dry a little, and before I knew it they used it to wrap the guy’s hand while they took him to the hospital for stitches – leaving me to walk about 15 blocks back home without a shirt, because I knew no cabbie in the neighborhood would ever pick me up in that state. At least I had nice company during that walk back, but that is, well, another story.
I have no idea what happened to that crowd. I do know that the two that were related to my co-worker are doing quite well (one became a doctor) now. I often find myself thinking about the others, who I have lost touch with over the years. They were a fun group – even if they almost killed me in the process.
I still drink today, but I hardly ever over-indulge (the last time was last November, when I had a bit too much wine on an empty stomach), and it’s nothing like those days. But I am glad I lived through it – at least I have a story to tell.