Tom Petty, Another Victim of the Opioid Crisis.
Was just forwarded this via NPR (apologies, I'm loathe to support those Neoliberal hucksters pretending to be journalists).
The death of rocker Tom Petty in October 2017 came as a result of an accidental drug overdose with a toxic mix of drugs taken for several ailments, including a fractured hip.
The results of an autopsy were released Friday by Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner Jonathan Lucas.
Petty died at 66 of "multisystem organ failure due to resuscitated cardiopulmonary arrest due to mixed drug toxicity," according to a brief statement.
The drugs listed included "fentanyl, oxycodone, temazepam, alprazolam, citalopram, acetylfentanyl, and despropionyl fentanyl."
Fetanyl is often mentioned in the public discussion of the opioid crisis and so too in the Petty family's statement:
"As a family we recognize this report may spark a further discussion on the opioid crisis and we feel that it is a healthy and necessary discussion and we hope in some way this report can save lives. Many people who overdose begin with a legitimate injury or simply do not understand the potency and deadly nature of these medications."
This news was bittersweet. In some ways I was relieved it wasn't a heart attack. But grieved that again yet another star was so dependent on prescription drugs that a concoction of them was powerful enough to overwhelm then shut down his organs.
Seems to me it's high time that we have a national (even international) discussion about the opioid crisis, especially specifically with regard to the accomplices who have brought it on and continue to hold us hostage, Big Pharma. And by extension in a larger sense, one about the extremely destructive and racist War on Drugs, which Nixon advisor John Erlichmann admitted on his deathbed was a kill-two-birds-with-one-stone ploy to crush both the Black Power movement and hippie anti-war movement. Then there's Gary Webb's very courageous par excellance reporting on the collusion between the CIA and Nicaraguan drug trafficking lords to bring cocaine into the States and use the proceeds to prop up a fascist American puppet government, evidence of yet another shady operation in the bogus "war" on drugs. While most C99ers may know this stuff, the vast majority of the country still dreams in stars and stripes. They're slow and loathe to believe that their government could conduct such covert operations and allow toxic chemicals to be openly pushed onto the market. After all that's not what the Greatest Country In The World™, land of liberty, freedom and the hallowed American Dream™ would do to its people, right?
What we see is white collar Big Pharma and insurance co. CEO's, shareholders and executives (and their sales reps who ubiquitously occupy doctor's offices across America, jockeying to position their latest highly addictive, minimally-tested "products") getting filthy rich and adding new keys to their keychains for 2nd homes and cars, greased by bloody hands to open the keyholes.
Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of black and brown men languish in jails. Churned up in a degrading, dystopian, medieval system of punitive Puritanism, the majority of whom are in on the most minor, flimsiest or completely fabricated drug offenses, having been preyed upon by a corrupt and racist Broken Windows policing. This has laid the basis for the pernicious "School to Prison Pipeline" that Michelle Alexander details in her seminal "The New Jim Crow" book.
I've been having recurring dreams with not only Petty in them, but Chris Cornell and David Bowie too (who had no fatal bout with opiods). Cornell, however, also died with a concoction of prescription drugs in him. Each of the three were completely different artists in the rock idiom. Each had rare, impressive abilities.
So with this essay I also hoped to celebrate the lives of these three alchemists. For me it's personal. These three super-gifted/imaginative songwriters and musicians have been lodged in my pantheon of all-time favorites for years. It was hard to hear each time another one of them passed away, like a chunk being taken out of you. I dream most of Petty for some reason. Probably because there's something I find still so magical and transformative about a concise 3-4 minute R&R pop song. The craftsmanship to create a great hook, melody, arrangement, is an art that Petty mastered.
Petty truly embodies the spirit of Americana. And if that sort of heartland genre includes other rockers such as Springsteen, Bob Segar and John Mellencamp whom all belong to the same era, I believe Petty stands above them all - by a country mile. His sweet, lazy drawl spread out over songs like a warm summer grassland upon which to lay your bare back, and had impeccably cool meter, emotional depth and an uncanny penchant for melody. Everybody probably has at least a handful of favorite Petty songs. But the album tracks were just as good. I don't think he's ever made a bad record. Would love to know what some of yours are.
Here's the opening track,"American Dream Plan B," from his last album "Hypnotic Eye":
"Full Grown Boy" from the same:
I was impressed that the only song he played live on his last tour from his last album was the Bo Diddley rave up "Forgotten Man," with onscreen images of the dispossessed and protest signs with anti-banking sentiments:
Bowie was such an artigiano that it's awe-striking to even approach his entire, diverse and amazing oeuvre. He was not only comfortable but excessively amazing in so many different genres (and a calling card of his was that when he played live he would frequently stylistically change versions of his own songs to fit where he was at that time). Always exploring, pushing barriers and interacting with artists across the board. There is so much to cover in his incredibly diverse, ever-expanding career that it would be unfair to his legacy to try to cram it in here. But I would just say that that succession of albums, from 1971's Hunky Dory through 1976's Station To Station, are a stunning string of masterpieces. About his political views, found this an interesting piece in libcom.org "Bowie’s Bow: 6 Ways David Bowie Is Connected to the Spanish Civil War."
Cornell and his band Soundgarden are probably more of my generation and may not be as well known here (given that C99 skews a bit older). Their first few records were mid-late 80's and generally seen as one of the progenitors of the last great musical scenes (imo) of this country, the Seattle grunge scene. Along with the more famous Nirvana (and to a lesser extent Pearl Jam) they really helped squash the cheesy hair metal scene of the 80's, with a hyrbid combination of punk rock and goth with heavy metal, many times payed in odd time. He was the reluctant Rock God, chiseled head to toe in the Adonis/Dionysian mold but in black cut off shorts with duct tape and Doc Martens. Chris Cornell's first solo album "Euphoria Morning" in 1999 showed what he hinted at on the Singles soundtrack and the dark heavy psychadelic stuff he was doing with SG before they split in the late 90's (only to reform a decade later): a mature songwriter with a knack for dark, beautiful tunes. At the time of his too early death at 53 he was taking an anti-depression drug that, get this, had a side effect that "may cause suicidal thoughts." Can you get more of a fucking Orwellian world, than the one we're living now in a myriad of ways?
Soundgarden's biggest hit was Black Hole Sun. But for those unfamiliar with what they were/he was about I offer these:
from 1989's Louder Than Love, "Hands All Over":
"Seasons" from the Singles soundtrack:
"Rusty Cage," the tour de force that opens the 1991 masterpiece album "Badmotorfinger" and put them on the map.
"Jesus Christ Pose" from the same:
Then the Lennon-influenced phase, with "Down On The Upside":
Another side of him reveals why he was considered by many to be the greatest rock singer of his generation.
With his daughter singing Bob Marley's "Redemption Song"
In the immediate pall of their deaths, I haven't been able to watch many of the onslaught of videos that invariably spring up for the occasion. I'm not one for the gratuitous binge-watching anyway, but particularly of a just-deceased hero's work. Would much rather simply commune with the music and talk to friends to share memories about the artist and our interactions with the music.
With the sadness of reflecting on this revelation about Petty's death I'm also left wondering how much of the drug crisis is due to life in America, in an increasingly alienating capitalist society that commodifies almost all of our interactions, that praises profit over people?
Author Johann Hari spoke with Naomi Klein about his book that puts forth that drug addiction has more to do with a deficiency in human contact and the endorphins that come with community, acknowledgement and interaction with friends and loved ones, than it does addictive qualities of the drugs themselves. In other words, people are in pain who take drugs and capitalism quite literally kills people by creating a lonely environment (see the interview about an experiment called "Rat Park," in which, when given the choice between more cocaine and a place to play with their friends, they choose their friends).
If in fact it’s not the chemicals, if in fact it’s isolation and pain that cause the addiction, then it suddenly throws into sharp contrast the idea that we need to impose more isolation and pain on addicts in order to make them stop, which is what we currently do....
We’ve created a society where significant numbers of our fellow citizens cannot bear to be present in their lives without being drugged, right? We’ve created a hyperconsumerist, hyperindividualist, isolated world that is, for a lot of people, much more like that first cage than it is like the bonded, connected cages that we need. The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection. And our whole society, the engine of our society, is geared towards making us connect with things. If you are not a good consumer capitalist citizen, if you’re spending your time bonding with the people around you and not buying stuff—in fact, we are trained from a very young age to focus our hopes and our dreams and our ambitions on things we can buy and consume. And drug addiction is really a subset of that.
Portugal has put forward a very successful decriminalized drug policy that has dramatically reduced addiction, medical care, homelessness and fatalities of drug users.
Punishing drug users is not the answer. Neither is writing prescriptions for a fusillade of drugs, pushed by these corporate drug cartels (residing in your local, green-lined corporate park. Now, that's a protest I'd like to see). Huxley, Owsley and Leary all spoke of the enlightenment of LSD and power of self-realization through hallucinatory drugs. George Carlin talked about the pivotal role smoking pot played in opening his perceptions, that led to a career change he was already contemplating. He also said it was "self-limiting," admitting that while a catalyst it was ultimately an impediment. Drugs are not inherently bad. Mind-altering substances have always been found in every culture from the beginning of time. Moderation.
One of the many peculiarities of this country perhaps the one I dislike the most is how in so many ways into adulthood we're treated like children. It's a schizophrenic American culture that likes to present itself like a pious puritanical, the public and private face that $hills explained to her Wall St donors. No public drinking, not until 21 and "illicit" drugs are decried as evil. But just turn on a football game or go to a movie and watch the titilation come fast and furious, with ads for new drugs, the multi-million $ beer campaigns, shoot-em-up law enforcement pr flicks and more ads encouraging the purchase of the glut of cheap disposable consumer goods made by slave labor in SE Asia so we furiously fill up our garages and attics in an attempt at a vacant happiness to offset the numbing from working dead-end jobs. But if you want insurance-company sponsored, Big Pharma pumped-out addictive prescriptions you're in the right place for a bonanza. Again, greedy white collar corporate drug cartels live a life of luxury with no accountability, despite the mounting evidence of coverup and insufficient testing. Black and brown recreational drug users spend years in prison.
Tom Petty was a driven man at the time of his death, in excruciating pain determined to have gotten through a rigorous (no matter how rich you are) 53 date tour celebrating the 40 year release of his first album. I keep thinking of how many songs he had left to write.
A good part of his fan base is experiencing an epidemic of people dying in the suburbs and small town America from prescription drugs hawked by Big Pharma. For more than a decade now the Economic Terrorism of Wall St has had its boot on the neck of the middle and working class (which is one and the same now). With no relief in sight people have seen their and their friends' losing jobs, overworked and underpaid, pensions gambled away and lost, fretting about a future. People need a release and the displacement and alienation of capitalism ain't cutting it. Music has always been a salve in this regard. But at some point even music can't do it alone.
We have to come clean with a better approach to drug addiction, while seriously reeling in the Big Pharma cartel and examining our national conscience about the kind of society were going to be in terms of honestly facing the role drugs can and do play.
If you made it this far, thanks for reading. As usual these days I'll only be around in spurts here and there.