Anyone who has experimented with mind-altering substances will tell you that most of them enhance (or at least affect) the experience of listening to music.  Those who play music well enough to do so under the influence will often tell you that drugs enhance your creativity and ability to dream up new music, too.  In particular, you often see bands or people who write incredibly inventive music during periods of drug abuse, and then become incredibly boring and stale when they sober up (although there are a lot of reasons that might happen).  At any rate, I don’t think many people will argue that drugs have no affect whatsoever on making music, or on your experience listening to it.

What’s more interesting, though, is that certain types of drugs enhance certain types of music.  Anyone who has ever done “shrooms” will tell you that listening to aggressive music while on them is no fun at all because “a bad trip”, or one in which your mood is anxious or angry, is no fun.  Reggae and the Grateful Dead, though, can be particularly enjoyable when you’re “tripping” because they’re often lighthearted, fun and calming.  Meanwhile, it’s no secret that raves tend to attract more synthetic drugs like Extacy, and the music tends to be more synthesized, too – ranging from trance and techno to dubstep and house.  Alcohol, on the other hand, goes with everything.

A lot of people will trace the history of music from one genre to the next, saying that the blues “naturally” lead to rock, and rock lead to metal, while jazz inspired funk, and so on.  But is it also possible that the popular drugs of each generation and culture had an even bigger impact on the shape that music took?  After all, if cocaine is an upper that makes bright lights and dancing more fun, it’s no wonder that disco blew up in the mid- to late-70’s when recreational use of cocaine became more widespread.  Meanwhile, it’s easy to argue that electronic music is exploding thanks to lower and lower technology costs, but isn’t it also likely that it’s because the synthetic drugs that are most popular today enhance the experience of electronic music more than other types?

If you pay close attention to what substances artists use, and what genres they play, you’ll find that certain drugs seem to correspond with certain genres of music in much higher frequency.  If a drug makes something about music cooler, let’s say a particular rhythm or synthesized noise has an enhanced affect on opium, artists who do opium during the creative process are going to write music that sounds better on opium.  You’ll also notice that artists like Amy Winehouse and Alice in Chains had darker lyrical content, having been users of harsher drugs like heroine, while 80’s glam bands were known more for drinking and cocaine use, and they played party music with songs about slutty groupies.

So, the question is, of course the genres that came first influenced and lead to those that came after, but how much did the drugs of each generation affect the shape that their music took?

And, what kind of drugs do we need to bring the original Guns N’ Roses back together?

Joey Flores
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