The music of substance abuse

2008-10-08

As you will know if you’re the person that said it to me, my music collection is full of “wailing bints”. I was listening to the archetype Cerys Matthews wail persuasively and passionately about her true love: Chardonnay. It’s in parts charming and in parts disturbing to hear of those intimate moments she shared with the bottle. It occurred to me that even amongst my meagre music collection there is a great deal said about various addictive substances.

Bob Dylan wails (most unlike a bint) about having just “One More Cup Of Coffee”. Is he engaging in shared family bonding before he goes out to battle? Hard to say. Coffee is a substance of importance to most hackers, and seemingly to musicians too. Kate Bush has her “Coffee Homeground”; The Cranberries think you should “Wake Up And Smell The Coffee”.

I’m not even sure I should mention “Brimful of Asha”, because I have no idea what it’s about. Is Asha a singer whose tunes they are in love with, filling theirs cups to the brim with “Asha on the 45″? In which case the substance isn’t tangible, it’s melody. Or perhaps Asha is a toxic liquor that they drink from small glasses that are for some reason left spinning on the deck. I just can’t tell.

For the younger readers: a “45″ refers to a plastic media disc that stored music in an analogue format; the disc has to be spun at a speed of 45 revolutions per minute whilst scraping past a needle made of sapphire in order to reproduce the sound correctly. No, really. Whatever.

The Feeling’s brilliant album “Twelve Stops & Home” manages to capture everything that is good about a British Friday night. Just the title of track 4, “Kettle’s On”, evokes fuggy northern kitchens, late at night, cold hands wrapped around warm mugs. I can’t mention tea without mentioning the insane, brilliant, comical “Cup of Brown Joy“.

The Doors’ “Alabama Song” tells us that Jim Morrison obviously spends his Friday nights crawling from bar to bar, pleading with his friends to show him “the way to the next whisky bar”.

For The Stranglers everything seems “Golden Brown”, and I know they’re not talking about sepia prints. I find it a pleasantly mellow celebration of relaxing on endless warm summer evenings. Perhaps relaxing in The Beatles “Strawberry Fields Forever”, where “nothing is real” (of course their “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” must remain one of the archetypal substance abuse songs).

When Crowded House ask for another piece of “Chocolate Cake”, they’re not talking about a delicious confection, but about the gross and conspicuous over-consumption in modern consumer society. A collective substance abuse that we all (in the developed world) suffer from; addicted to food, sugar, fat, stuff. Mmm, more cake.

It’s a bit of a leap to the stronger stuff, but surely I have to mention Slowhand’s “Cocaine”, and Neil Young’s “The Needle And The Damage Done”. Both of them chilling and haunting. Happily, I’m not haunted by my ghosts, but by the ones that they create for me.

Better go, lest I forget how to program or something.

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8 Responses to “The music of substance abuse”


  1. 45 revolutions per second? Wow, I’m too young to remember that …

  2. drj11 Says:

    Oopsie. Fixed. How my head spins.


  3. Jim Morrison obviously spends his Friday nights crawling from bar to bar, pleading with his friends to show him “the way to the next whisky bar”

    It sounds as if he’s been taking a leaf out of the book of Bertolt Brecht (and perhaps Kurt Weill), who asked just the same favour in Alabama song in their opera The rise and fall of the city of Mahagonny.

  4. Nick Barnes Says:

    Brimful of Asha is about a Bollywood singer, Asha Bhonsle.

  5. Nick Barnes Says:

    I don’t know why ‘brimful’, but it always made me think of one of those old record players where you could stack up a number of singles which would then play one after the other.
    And, indeed, there is such a record player featured in the video of the song.

  6. mathew Says:

    So does this mean you’re a big Amy Crackhouse fan?

  7. Gareth Rees Says:

    I don’t think that someone who can sing an E3 can be described as a “wailing bint”.

  8. drj11 Says:

    @mathew: Actually I’m not.

    @maw: That explains a lot.

    Hmm, it was a bit mean of me to open with “wailing bint” and then only mention two of them.


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