I've seen the needle and the damage done,
a little part of it in everyone ...
— Neil Young
I'm reading Neil Young's autobiography Waging Heavy Peace. Or, I should say, I was reading it. I've stopped now, about 250 pages in. I'm a fan of Young's music, but he writes like a ninth-grader — self-absorbed and obsessed with his "cool stuff" — elaborate train sets, rebuilt cars, vintage guitars, his ranch. It's written in a stream-of-consciousness fashion that interweaves what he's doing at the moment with what he did in 1972 with what he plans to do next week (which, since the book came out a couple years after he wrote it, is sort of absurd).
It's an informal, naïve sort of book, and I stuck with it for a while because Buffalo Springfield, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, and Crazy Horse made music I love and Young was in the middle of all of it. But Young writes more about his possessions and his friends — including those who fell prey to hard drugs — than he does about music. Bandmate David Crosby was a junkie; Young's close friends Danny Whitten and Bruce Berry both died from heroin overdoses (inspiring The Needle and the Damage Done).
It's an object lesson in how lots of money, easy access to dope, and an addictive personality can be a lethal combo — as we saw again this week with the death of the fine actor Philip Seymour Hoffman.
I'm always amazed that someone as famous as Hoffman, someone surrounded by admirers and caretakers, someone with a longtime relationship, three small children, and a fulfilling career, can somehow find a way to destroy himself, to find the crack in the facade and slip into a lonely, private hell. But it happens — over and over.
It's important, however, that we not let the sensationalism surrounding this very public heroin death impact another drug-related discussion that's going in Nashville this week (cover story, p. 17). Marijuana isn't heroin. Marijuana, as the cover story makes clear, can have very specific medicinal purposes, including treatment of glaucoma, cancer, Alzheimer's, siezures, and a host of other diseases and conditions. The proposed Tennessee statute is not the kind of sham law introduced in California 20 years ago. It will be one of the strictest in the country and will provide a real benefit for many Tennesseans who are suffering.
Unfortunately, it's difficult to imagine the legislators we now have in the General Assembly making anything but a knee-jerk decision. Marijuana scares them and the false, decades-long conflation of pot with hard drugs is a difficult perception to overcome.
But there is a difference — a big one. At 66, Neil Young has basically been stoned on pot for almost 50 years and is gaining on Willie Nelson. At 46, Philip Seymour Hoffman is dead.