The Unwitting Victims of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Culture (Op-Ed)

The Australian music industry is currently in a process of self-examination, catalyzed by years of issues, serious allegations and cases of sexual assault, workplace harassment, bullying, substance abuse and mental health. In this article, Dr. Brendan Magee and Joseph Humphreys discuss the impact that creating a “marketable image” of sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll can have on the amateur music scene and on an audience. wider.

In Part 2 of the series spotlighting culture change in the music industry, we examined the issues surrounding the music industry’s reputation, noting that it has, in part, gone the best part of a century cultivating a “hard life”. brand based on sex, drugs and rock and roll.

“How can you begin to dismantle the very reputation that not only generated some of the greatest music of all time, but also allowed some really bad behavior to masquerade as culture?”

The article further noted that the rock ‘n’ roll brand is creating an unattainable, unsustainable, yet hugely enticing version of what it’s like to be a music legend, with fans and media contributing to interest. and the appetite for more.

This myth extends to the idea that authenticity and art are somehow also linked to this image. But artists like Jimmy Barnes, Slash, and bands through documentaries like Metallica’s “Some Kind of Monster” have ripped the lid off, making it clear they’re in a lot of pain and need help with their mental health and addictions. . This has led to research and questions about musicians and an industry that has promoted — and in some cases exploited — these artists.

Research has shown a higher than normal prevalence of mental health disorders among artists and musicians (Smalley & McIntosh, 2011). However, in his book “Musicians and Addictions: Stories of Research and Healing”, Paul Saintilan noted that: “In musicians, as in any human being, there can be a number of contributing factors to the creation of an addiction problem, which may be present before someone enters a professional environment such as the music industry. These factors include: genetic predisposition, personality traits, childhood trauma, and mental health issues such as clinical depression and anxiety. These can be linked. »

Other research has claimed that personality traits can influence a musician’s risk of developing problems. Punk musician Keith Morris thinks the music industry attracts “extreme” personalities.

“I think that’s why so many musicians end up with drug and alcohol problems. But if you’re lucky and you go through your dark days and deal with these issues, you meet all the people who’ve been through what you’ve been through and found a way to do what they love everything by being clean and sober. And there are many of us,” Morris said.

In a positive culture shift, musicians have begun to share their stories, and books such as Saintilan’s “Musicians and Addiction” are breaking the myth around rock ‘n’ roll culture.

Reuben Styles recently started working on a new project, separate from his work with Adam Hyde as Peking Duk. Styles discusses the project, “‘You’re Only Great Always’ was pretty much my daily reminder to everyone because I wanted the project to be about mental health, and I think a lot of mental health issues come from of this lack of daily reminder that, you, you are brilliant.

There’s a byproduct of this rock ‘n’ roll culture that has also suffered in silence – literally. Young and amateur musicians also exhibit behaviors similar to “label” musicians with the negative effects of alcohol and drug addiction. For them, music is also an escape from the challenges of childhood, and both “label” and “amateur” musicians follow the same dangerous path.

Saintilan has recorded many stories and famous ska-punk musician Dave Smith told how it all started for him: “The powerful music and destructive lyrics fueled by anger were the outward manifestation of how I felt on the inside. I was inspired and determined to become a rock star. Living within the constructs of this fantasy provided a great distraction from the world, school, parents, and the daily dissatisfaction with life that was driven by the pain I felt in my heart and mind.

Kenny Gormly is the former bassist for Australian bands The Cruel Sea and Sekret Sekret.

“For me, music was my best friend. It lifted me into a world of mystery, of longing and hope, of excitement and promise of things to come. I deeply empathize in the songs. The words and the melody gave meaning to my raw feelings of loneliness and anxiety, my abandonment and the trauma of my childhood, which I understand today,” he explains in the book.

While music empowers disengaged or marginalized youth seeking expression and refuge, many are misled by the intoxicating cultural appeal that associates substance abuse with excitement, status and creative genius.

Photo by Mike Beaumont on Unsplash

Brisbane artist Sam Geddes shares his addiction recovery story to advocate for raising awareness and fighting the stigma surrounding drug addiction in the industry through his project, SAMMM.

In a 2022 interview with Joseph Humphreys, Geddes gave candid insight into the world of a young musician using drug addiction as a way to escape a difficult and sometimes dysfunctional childhood.

Connecting to music from an early age, Geddes joined an elementary school rock band and fell in love with the “live fast, die young” ethos endemic in popular media representations of rock and roll and alternative music.

Suffering throughout his school years from undiagnosed ADHD, Geddes found an outlet in music into which he could channel all his energy.

However, he was also drawn to the near mythical status of musicians such as Kurt Cobain and the infamous “27 club”.

“That was the idea in my head as a musician from a young age; alcohol and drugs were a very solid part of that,” he said.

“I started missing a lot of school. I was already playing a lot. I spent a lot of time suspended.

“We started drinking before school from time to time, eventually it turned into a high before school, lunch break. Right after school that turned into getting high in the morning, not going to school.

After dropping out of high school, Geddes’ substance use escalated to include hard drugs which quickly took over his life, with serious effects on his personal well-being and his musical career. .

“Music became less of a priority and drugs started to become the only priority. It was like being in a video game, just going from A to B, constantly running. It was quite traumatic. I was not equipped with the coping mechanisms at such a young age.”

Geddes’ musical output would later become a cathartic mode of expression, with his discography filled with anecdotes recounting his journey through addiction and recovery.

The descriptive lyricism of tracks like “Holes in Walls (Bathroom Stalls)” from Geddes’ 2018 EP “Mandarin Season” offers the listener direct insight into the thoughts and episodes of an adolescence lost to addiction. .

Her 2020 single “Four Eyes” goes further, sharing a documentary-like account of her struggle, overcoming the universal tendency to keep the darkest parts of our lives a secret.

Geddes emphasizes the need for artists to have a sense of social responsibility and recognize the effect their music and lifestyle can have on the community.

“It’s important to send a message that can’t be encouraged or interpreted as ‘let’s go and do this’. People will always write about how they feel, but the industry as a whole needs to take responsibility for the themes and the messages they send,” he said.

“You have a social responsibility to a generation that you don’t really understand yet.”

Geddes also reflects on the importance of acknowledging your issues and asking for help, but noted that the industry isn’t quite ready to fully embrace raw honesty – especially from emerging artists. .

“There still needs to be a change in the industry to support people in the industry. It is an industry that is built on your “face”, your reputation or your perception. People may have problems, but they can’t talk about it honestly because they’re afraid that if the industry finds out, they’ll permanently damage their reputation.”

Society increasingly recognizes the importance of mental health support. Advocacy for artists and projects such as Geddes and SAMMM, Styles and YOGA, and Saintilan’s essential work to shed light on the struggles of so many artists, helps reduce the stigma and fear of asking for help. assistance. Within the industry, Support Act is a great resource for artists and musicians.

Achieving positive cultural change need not involve “sterilizing” the music industry.

Sharing the stories of artists and musicians, increasing dialogue and education about the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse, and providing support networks to overcome this addiction, changes the perception of behavior that was previously considered “hardcore rock”. On a macro level, this change can only have a positive effect, as we try to move forward as an industry and on society as a whole.