In this week's issue of Banter M:
Collateral Damage - Chez Pazienza looks at the tragic life and death of Scott Weiland and draws comparisons to his own painful struggles with drug addiction and the enormous damage he caused not only to himself, but everyone around him.
I Am On Goofballs And I'm Not Getting Off Of Them - Jamie Frevele argues that despite the fear mongering, anti-depressants are fucking wonderful if you suffer really badly from depression.
The Generation of Fear - by Tommy Christopher says goodbye to his children's grandfather, a man who lived through the Battle of Britain and the threat of real invasion, and never gave way to fear.
by Chez Pazienza
The death of Scott Weiland surprised absolutely no one. From his closest friends to the family that lived through his stratospheric rises and crushing falls, which came at regular intervals again and again, it seems like everyone knew that one day the news they all dreaded would come. Even his long-time fans understood that Weiland was likely a done deal and that while he managed to escape what seemed to be an inevitable slide into oblivion more than once, he always rebounded only to the very edge of the abyss where he'd continue to teeter indefinitely. Weiland was always in danger, even if the general public didn't know it because his days of being one of the biggest rock stars on the planet were long since past. He'd been kicked out of Stone Temple Pilots -- more than once -- then had seen the tumultuous end of the supergroup of which he was a part, Velvet Revolver, and even watched as his old bandmates in STP had gone on to regroup with Linkin Park's Chester Bennington on vocals. In the end, he played out with a new band, the Wildabouts, but his former glory was likely never to return. He was one of alt's most iconic frontmen for years but his addiction to drugs, which he simply couldn't seem to kick, doomed him from almost the very beginning.
In the wake of Weiland's death two weeks ago, a lot's been said and written about him. Most of what you've been able to read in his aftermath are pieces that reminisce about the days he was on top and reminders of just what a powerful voice and presence he was in rock-and-roll. But two articles really stand out, one being a republished piece that originally ran in Esquire ten years ago -- a lengthy, rambling opus told by Weiland himself to the author that lays out his entire life as a drug addict -- and the second being a seemingly complimentary piece that appeared in Rolling Stone and was penned by Weiland's ex-wife, Mary. In the former, Weiland describes losing days at a time to various benders, being arrested, sinking deeper and deeper into the drug lifestyle and, finally, finding some redemption through his wife and children. But in the latter, that very former wife and mother to those children seethes with anger and ultimate resignation at Weiland's wasted life and the impact that it had on those closest to him. She pleads with all who are reading not to glamorize Weiland's life or death, because both were tragic. Weiland wasn't some glorious disaster to her, a tortured artist worthy of canonization, he was simply -- despite his immense talent -- a disaster. As she says at one point, she understands that Weiland's two children will likely have to spend their entire lives saying, "That mess was our father. We loved him, but a deep-rooted mix of love and disappointment made up the majority of our relationship with him."
And that's the thing about drug addiction: it's an intensely selfish condition. It not only destroys the person directly suffering from it, it destroys everyone around that person -- everyone unfortunate enough to love that person. This is what I couldn't help but remember, again and again, as I read both of those pieces and contemplated the catastrophe that was the life of a guy whose music I'd loved for so long.
For all intents and purposes, I seem to have survived drugs. I say seem because I have no idea what kind of long-term damage I may have done to myself during all those years I spent fucked-up. The thing about doing drugs for a substantial portion of your adult life is that it can lead to your dying of "natural causes" in your 40s. Drugs eat up your body and certainly your soul and generally ruin your health; extended use can create permanent issues, even if you manage to ultimately kick your habit. But I can't really break my arm patting myself on the back for finally coming out of the darkness when it was my decision to enter into it to begin with. As I used to say when I finally put drugs aside, hopefully for good, you don't get to pompously call yourself a survivor when the only thing you've survived is your own stupidity. I am glad I'm not a slave to heroin, cocaine, ecstasy -- any of it -- anymore, but meditating on the death of Scott Weiland and reading that piece by his ex-wife dredged up a lot old thoughts that used to swirl around in my head about what my addiction was doing to those around me. It made me wonder just how much damage I did not to myself but to those I loved and who loved me.
I wrote an entire memoir about my experiences with heroin in the early 2000s, an addiction that destroyed my marriage at the time and which I finally chose to confront by checking into rehab. The twist of fate that allowed me to find a bit of redemption as I rebuilt my life was, of all things, 9/11: The attacks on the World Trade Center happened less than two weeks after I got out of rehab and I was able to move north to New York City and resume my news career in the wake of it. The story I wrote, in a book called Dead Star Twilight, was written in present tense so it didn't have the benefit of any hindsight, which I think worked in terms of keeping things moving along immediately and cinematically but the fact is those who suffered along with me probably deserved a little more consideration. Even in those first months out of my heroin hell, in spite of the perspective I gained working around a broken city and people who'd lost loved ones, I was so overwhelmed that I didn't really take the time to consider how badly my time in the dark had hurt the woman I loved and the parents who'd rescued me. My book goes into great detail about the troubled relationship I had with my ex, even before I descended into drug addiction, but that's no excuse for the way I treated her when I was in the grip of an addiction to junk. I lied to her over and over again, gaslighting her and insulting her intelligence, and my desperation dragged the both of us into the gutter.
Now that years have passed I realize just how devastating it was for her to have to realize that her new husband was smashing their dreams to pieces right in front of her. Granted, again, we had problems before I began turning to drugs and I still live with the question of whether the former led to the latter, but it's still no excuse. I could've been decent and responsible and instead I was an asshole spending hundreds of dollars a day on smack and driving downtown over and over again to buy. I was a disaster, just like Scott Weiland, no matter how respectable my job might have been and my life might have seemed to those on the outside looking in. The same goes for my parents, who felt they were left with no choice but to come to LA from Miami and basically save me. I boarded a plane upon finally realizing just how bad things were -- when I hit absolute bottom -- and checked myself into rehab for a month but then my father flew back out with me to help me gather up my life (now minus my wife) which meant immersing him in every detail I'd kept secret from everyone for months. We had to buy back valuables I'd sold to pawn shops, drive into terrifying areas I'd treated like a second home, pack up everything I owned from my now otherwise empty apartment. It was the most shameful experience of my life, but to this day I'm still not sure just what it was like for him. He's the strong, silent type who's always done whatever is necessary and maybe because of this we've never really talked about it.
My mother, on the other hand, I have spoken to about my fall from grace. I know that what I did to myself during that period and my struggles with drugs in general devastated her. I'm her only child and to see me as a mere shell of myself kept her up at night, frightened of the phone call that might eventually come. She's still held on to that fear, particularly since I now once again live in Los Angeles. I haven't touched drugs in years, but there's no denying that they're somewhere out there in LA, maybe even at the very place I once used to get them. What stops me from even investigating is the knowledge of what that life feels like, what it does to you. I don't want that again -- and I don't want to put my fiancee through it or my mother and father through it again. I'm not sure they could handle it this time, at their age. Besides, I'm older and I simply can't wrap my head around the notion of actively destroying myself in my mid-40s. I'd be a sad, embarrassing cliche to go out like that. There's always the possibility that my past drug use can still hurt me but to relapse and assure that hurt -- it just sounds like the worst possible way to go out. I have people I love, including a young daughter, and I won't abandon them so that I can sink into the abyss again.
Scott Weiland did that. Maybe he never really rose out of the abyss. Either way, what he left behind, the people he crushed while he was crushing himself, will never be the same. His ex-wife is right -- it's just tragic.
I Am On Goofballs And I'm Not Getting Off Of Them
by Jamie Frevele
The holiday season means many different things to many different people. As an adult, I've come to value the emotional and sentimental aspects of the season over the materialistic, commercial parts, so I spend the season trying to be the best thing I can be to others: not an asshole. I don't really think I am an asshole, but sometimes I feel like I could be a better person. Fortunately, there is one thing I've been doing for myself that helps me be the best not-an-asshole I can be: medication.
Since last summer, I've been on Effexor. Why? Because I spent a solid chunk of time -- more than a year and a half, nearly two -- wanting to kill myself. I didn't make any attempts, but my depression got so bad that I didn't even realize that suicide ideation wasn't normal. After a series of setbacks, I just spiraled further and further down a hole, wondering why I was even waking up in the morning and isolating myself from my friends. None of this was fun. So I went on medication. And it was the best thing I could have done.
For those who have suffered depression, medication can sometimes be the only option`
It wasn't the first time I went on medication, so it's not as if I made this decision lightly. Eight years earlier, after blowing several opportunities due to frequent panic attacks and constant anxiety, I'd gone on Lexapro. I'd struggled for years and suddenly, I was physically incapable of feeling as bad as I did before. And it was liberating as hell. I stayed on for a year and a half then went off, equipped with some new tools for handling my janky brain chemistry.
This time around was obviously a swing in the opposite direction, but I'd been dealing with every point on the anxiety-depression spectrum since I was about 10 years old. (The first time I ever thought about killing myself was over a fifth grade book report. Precious, right?) So last year, when I'd hit a really, really rough patch again, I knew there was a way out.
And I haven't been happier! Not because I'm on a medication, but because I feel able to handle anything without my bad wiring getting the best of me. My mother -- who could use some chemical assistance herself but prefers the reliable comfort of voluntary misery -- thinks this is terrible, that I'm "dependent" on a pill to make me happy. But I couldn't care less what she thinks. I've been able to accomplish more while feeling like a normal person in the past year or so, and if something trying comes up, I can deal with it with fucking aplomb.
Including the time I went two days without medication because of an insurance mixup. I can skip one dose without feeling anything. But after two, I felt like my skull was leaving my brain behind every time I turned my head. I was dizzy and nauseated and having flop sweats. The next thing to come was the storied "electric shock" inside my brain. But I knew I was going to be fine. Not because I was eventually going to obtain my medication -- because I'd conditioned myself to deal with all kinds of bullshit and this was merely another bump in my long and winding road of a life. Because that's what the goofballs allowed my body to do by regulating my brain. (One thing I was able to keep in mind was that this withdrawal was small potatoes compared to real drugs. I still don't know how these recovered junkies do it, but they have my eternal admiration for getting through that ride.)
This is how I feel with chemical assistance
Being on Effexor is fucking wonderful and right now, during this very emotional holiday season, I am so grateful to have something that lets me function and get incredibly important work done. Am I dependent on a medication? Yes. For the moment, I depend on a chemical assist. And I'm fine with that, the same way anyone with a dysfunctional body part should feel if they take a medication. I won't be on something forever, but I will be on this for a while because I know how far deep and high I can go. And I am more than happy to avoid suicidal thoughts and panic attacks, thank you very fucking much.
So from the edge of the brink
While we bounce off a wall
Happy Holidays to you
And to all you goofballs!
The Generation of Fear
by Tommy Christopher
The Greatest Generation lost one of its great souls last night, and my kids lost a great-grandfather. His name was John Brown, or Jock, a moniker that, according to family lore, was met with comical skepticism by his wife-to-be upon their first meeting. He was a pilot in the Royal Air Force, and when he told the young lady that his name was the Scottish equivalent of "Joe Smith," she figured he was just another flyboy on the make.
This was one of a handful of Jock Brown stories I've heard an enjoyed over and over again, but one which resonates especially clearly today. Mr. Brown married that young woman after the war, and they remained married for 70 years and a handful of weeks, until last night. He was 96 when he died.
Separated by the Atlantic Ocean, I only had the honor of meeting Jock Brown a couple of times, even though his life loomed large in our family. He was a solid, strong man with a lilting Scottish accent that sounded like music compared to the Groundskeeper Willie burr we're accustomed to. Maybe it'because I knew what he'd been through, but even as he sat and let his wife do most of the talking, he emanated a quiet gravity.
Mr. Brown was a decorated Squadron Leader who had flown in the Battle of Britain, a fierce and terrifying campaign that staggers the modern imagination. The RAF lost most of their planes defending British cities, and over 1500 pilots and crew. British civilian casualties topped 90,000, with about 40,000 fatalities. It was as existential a struggle as existential struggles get.
The Battle of Britain caused unimaginable devastation.
To look at Jock Brown, you'd never know he had endured such horror, but I once saw him interviewed for a documentary about the Battle of Britain in which he spoke quietly about the things he had seen, the brothers he had lost. There was a slight twinge in his voice, but you could see in his eyes the weight that he carried. They were haunted, but not hollow, and remarkably human.
We got the news of Mr. Brown's death this morning, and after it sank in, I though about how I had spent most of last night watching the Republican presidential candidates completely losing their minds over Islamic terrorists coming to America. This is not necessarily to pick on them because in just a few short weeks, a handful of radical Islamic terrorists have frightened most of the country into considering barring muslims from entering America, creating internment camps, and demanding muslims register with the government. But the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California have turned this presidential campaign into a competitive bidding process to see who is best able to turn America into a giant Panic Room. So far, the Democrats have managed to stay out of this territory, but with the current mood of the country, it is a safe bet that whoever wins the nomination will need to show some talons if she's going to compete with the Republicans' fear mongering and insistence that ISIS is coming here to kill us all.
It is not that Americans have nothing to be afraid of -- fear is understandable, particularly when confronted with the reality of just how awful ISIS is. Those who pull out annoying facts like"bees or lightning kill many more Americans than ISIS" are missing the point of terrorism and asymmetrical threats entirely -- which is their psychological multiplier effect -- the same multiplier effect that fuels the very real anxiety behind the Black Lives Matter movement.
To those who think that the political fear-mongering is all cynical exploitation, bear in mind that a lot of these leaders are genuinely terrified along with the rest of the American public. Terrorism is like that -- it is designed to confuse and frighten you into thinking you run a very real risk of being killed while going shopping, even if the chances are infinitesimally small. Blaming Donald Trump for stoking fear lets the rest of America off the hook, as surely as blaming Americans for being afraid lets Trump off the hook.
I honestly do not know what could possibly move the needle, because it's hard to be passionately, persuasively reasonable in this day and age.
While in many ways, the Greatest Generation is overly romanticized -- particularly as recent recollections of internment camps illustrate -- there is one thing I know for sure. Even though I only ever met him a couple of times, Jock Brown never, ever gave way to fear. It just was not an option for someone like him -- a fact etched into the expressions I saw in him when we met. I am sure he had fear, as did everyone who lived through the most violent episode in human history, but he and others like him could not give way to it if they wanted to survive.
This morning, I wish we had several hundred-million more just like him, although I'd settle for just the one.