My last column for The Japan Times came in response to the news that Aska from 80s/90s pop duo Chage & Aska had been arrested for drugs. Here’s the article, so have a read.
There are basically two poles when talking about drugs, and which you have the greater sympathy with often depends on who the most annoying people you have around you are. One is the Japanese position which is that all drugs are bad, and they’re illegal, and that you’ll die if you take them. On the other side is the Bill Hicks-worshipping side that says drugs are great and the font of all creativity. Obviously most people are somewhere between these poles, but with the angle I was working, I wanted to approach it slightly askance from that whole sliding scale in the first place.
With the drugs=bad question, it’s pretty clear that a great amount of great music has been made with massive amounts of drugs influencing at least the form it takes (the quality I’m inclined to put mostly down to the talent of the musicians) — there are ideas and sounds that we simply would not have without drugs, and they add colour to the musical landscape. The question I have with the drugs=good position is that if that’s the case, why are the Japanese musicians who get busted usually so dreary and bland? Indeed, just a week or two after the Aska scandal, an international brouhaha blew up over members of One Direction smoking a joint.
What it comes down to then is that it’s not so much the drugs themselves that matter as the visible influence of the drugs: the colour and life that their influence can blow into the music scene. And you don’t actually need drugs to do that. Once you’ve listened to a bit of psychedelic music, it’s not that hard to simulate the musical results, as anyone who’s heard Status Quo’s Pictures of Matchstick Men could tell you. On a less superficial level, once drugs have shown the way and musicians have mapped the path, other artists use different vehicles to follow that path. Acid Mothers Temple have done lots of drugs, but having done it, they have found other ways of reaching that state. Again, it’s not the drugs that are important so much as the place they can take you. The drugs took Aska nowhere, and very rarely take any J-Pop musicians anywhere, because J-Pop itself isn’t structured in a way that would allow that to happen. American pop is heading in the same direction, although the influence of hip hop and dance music suggests at least that the influence of drugs and their associated cultures operates at slightly fewer layers of remove from the mainstream — whether the quality follows suit is debatable and something would prefer not to get involved in. Anyway, here’s Rolly:Rolly: Love Machine