I always liked the idea of being a musician. I think listening to music made me survive my adolescence. I remember being about 14 and playing along to “Fire”— drumming along to Mitch Mitchell in the Hendrix 3 piece with a make-shift drumstick on boxes etc.
At school, I hung around people who also loved music. I went to see bands at halls etc and saw great 60s bands like the Masters Apprentices and more. I must have started that around the age of 12. when I first when out and saw great bands. But it wasn’t until I met some friends at high school I seriously thought I should try to play.
I met some guys who challenged the status quo called Chris Bailey and Ed Kuepper. I was in a class with Ivor Hay. Ed always wanted to form a band. They had formed a band called Kid Galahad and the Eternals, but had trouble getting a drummer. Ivor could play a bit of drums, a bit of bass, and a bit of keyboards. Ed said, why don’t you play drums, Ivor can play bass. Ivor had a van, too perfect I thought. I could play but wasn’t very confident.
To this day Ed and I disagree why I left The Saints. We have very different memories of that time. Looking back I have to accept that not staying with The Saints was the first of my really stupid career moves.
But then I started getting lessons and that’s when a lot changed for me. I had been playing punk rock but my teacher was into swing bands and jazz and that opened up a whole new world to me. Later I would get influenced by Elvin Jones, Max Roach, and early drummers like Baby Dodds who played with Louis Armstrong. I saw the Art Ensemble of Chicago, they changed my life musically. Discovering the music of John Coltrane and that genre was a revelation.
I am originally from Brisbane, growing up I used to drink a lot, and I was quite badly behaved. Inside I was insecure I covered it up with the punk rebellion, kicking things up etc. It was a good excuse to behave like ratbag. But I did have a sense of political conviction – that also stemmed from growing up in Qld. I got punched by a cop when I was ten at the Ipswich speedway, for nothing. I marched in moratorium marches in my school uniform.
The idea of taking drugs for me was enticing and exciting, it was the opposite to the boredom of my early suburban life. On my 20th birthday I ended up in a neighbour’s flat and he was mixing up, and asked me if I wanted some. I did, but didn’t think much about drugs for years. I was quite naive about drugs. I found out much later, when I had lived in the inner-city Sydney there were at least 3 dealers in my street, but I never knew at the time. I remember wondering why one guy was always so dopey looking. I did use heroin recreationally but it didn’t play a large part in my life until I got to England.
I was now playing with The Laughing Clowns, and they were doing quite well in Australia, but we knew we needed some kind of a breakthrough in order to get some attention from the mainstream media. We had made a little bit of money, enough to get us all to England. Unfortunately, once there we all lived in poverty, like a lot of other expatriate Australian bands trying to make it big. That really brought out the tensions in the band.
In London, I met up with a group of people I knew from Melbourne who were sharing a large house in West London. One night we had a party and I ended up with this girl from Brisbane. I said to her “I hear there’s some heroin around?” Of course, there was – many of the people I knew from home were using, but I didn’t really get why people couldn’t use recreationally. We scored that morning and stayed together for months. It was actually really lovely and a time I remember fondly. Shit cold, broke, but we had each other and drugs to beat the cold. It wasn’t seedy or anything. I remember we used to have sex and laugh, it was really sweet. The gear was very strong, Afghani brown, and very cheap.
During this time I was still playing with the Laughing Clowns, and there have been things said and written about drug use destroying the Laughing Clowns and that is rubbish. My drug use was never a problem in terms of playing though, I can understand some people not understanding it. I never missed a gig, rehearsal or played badly because of gear. Still on the other hand it never made me play better. Maybe it was a big distraction, but times were hard and tensions were high in the Laughing Clowns regardless. Money was tight, Ed’s wife was pregnant, and deeper bigger problems emerged. We all made the decision to have a break.
Shortly after moving to London I become good friends with Nick Cave, who I knew from Melbourne when I played in a band called the Young Charlatans with the late Rowland Howland. Shit, there are only two of us are left from the band. Rowland died cause of his liver years and Janine the bass player died far too young with a relapse related accident. Terrible avoidable deaths.
Awhile later I was asked to join a band called the Blow Monkeys. They were huge fans of the Clowns, and Robert the singer said they would not only give me normal royalties but published. I declined – shortly after they had a No 1 record in the UK and Europe, I would have been set for life. Instead I decided to go back to Australia and become a junkie – another brilliant career move.
Once the Laughing Clowns decided to take a break, I was in limbo so when Nick asked me to join his band I did. I joined The Birthday Party, as we had been hanging out, playing up together in London. The Birthday Party were probably the wildest band I have even played in or have seen. Nick would jump off stage in the first song. Rowland and I would time how long it be before he jumped off the stage. Tracy would do this wild thing and bend over backward so far, he would fall over, the roadies would lift him back – he never missed a note, of course. Amazing band and they were really nice to me. No dramas about money or anything. But I think my lack of confidence was getting to me.
We went on tour under-rehearsed which was cool for them, but I was the only who rehearsed. When we moved to Berlin I didn’t use but I really drank heavily – as everyone did. But I don’t think it was good for me, and I think I was becoming a nut. Though the band were amazing we all saw the writing on the wall that the band would break up. I could have stayed with them, but in yet another of the brilliant career destroying decisions I made, I left and went to live in Paris with my girlfriend and kids who had arrived from Australia. There have been many. When I came back to Australia after a few years I couldn’t believe how many people I knew were using heroin. It was the mid-1980s and it seemed like everyone I knew was using. It was ubiquitous through the music and arts scene.
I remember hearing about AIDS and I was like – what the fuck is that? I really didn’t understand anything about it and I wasn’t alone. I went to a doctor and was told I probably had HIV because I had injected. In Europe we were sharing fits, especially on tour. It was about getting fits to start with, only one chemist I knew of sold fits. One fit had to last a long time. But it was also about transporting fits. I mean you can’t take fits across borders into other countries in Europe, especially the likes of East Germany (which we did). You can take one, but you can’t hide a box. Not that I had ever seen a box. Fits were really hard to get. There were no 1ml fits to start with, they were all 2 1/2 mls, huge things. I can remember touring and the whole band would use the one fit. And not just once.
It wasn’t really til the late 1980s that I can remember even thinking about sharing as a thing that you’d try to not do. Later people started marking fits as their own so they didn’t get mixed up, and so if we had to reuse we would reuse our own fit.
I am amazed that none of my friends got HIV from drugs. But a lot overdosed, and most people I know who ever looked at a fit got HEP C. I had a gay friend too and the majority died – a community almost destroyed but people fought back. I too remember first hearing about Hep C. I was terrified. Of course, I was antibody positive, but for some reason I cleared it naturally. Luck I guess.
In Sydney, I knew doctors who used and they gave me Narcan. With the Narcan I got, I used it on several occasions, always successfully. I brought back lots and lots of people with that Narcan. But I couldn’t always do it. I woke up beside a friend of mine and she was dead. We had both used – me first and I passed out first. But I woke up and she didn’t. I feel that I should have protected her. I lost it for a while and it was the worst thing in my life and still it haunts me deeply. It always will.
Luckily friends supported me – if not for that I think I would have gone totally insane. But still so sad and a needless death caused by the war on drugs. And recently I had a good mate die. It still breaks my heart that my sweet kind friend died. Christian was a person who couldn’t be nasty he if tried. A rare person.
Society has the ability to change this. It’s about power and marginalisation. When people are forced underground so to speak, they are not dealt with kindly. And the vast majority of people who have never used drugs believe the rubbish the media sprouts. Its fucking obvious. Read the book ‘Chasing the Scream’. The shit has been going down for too long. It is amazing since working in harm reduction I have read a lot of evidence based research. Every knee jerk reaction from the trash media et al is becomes misdirected policy which actually achieves the opposite of what it supposedly set out to do. It’s uncanny.
I don’t believe in conspiracies but what William Burroughs quotes in the film Drugstore Cowboy about a right-wing conspiracy does have a ring to it. I think while there is not conspiracy per se, the forces that act together to fuck up people do so in a way that it might as well be a conspiracy. I recently got anti-drug propaganda in my mail box, from forces connected to Drug Free Australia. How dare they?
When I was living in Brisbane and I had heard about QUIVVA in Brisbane [Qld’s drug user organisation, sister to NUAA], but I always thought that the police were watching them. I went there once in ten years of living in Brisbane. If I knew then what I know now I would have got involved because I was pretty unhappy and at least QUIVVA, like NUAA, tried to engender a sense of community and support to people who use drugs – apart from the pragmatics of equipment provision etc. I eventually moved back to Sydney and got involved with old friends who were involved with NUAA.
I am politically motivated (who isn’t?) and also I think an organisation like NUAA is really important. I think there are things that the governments do about drugs that are just plain wrong, that do more damage than good, have a negative effect on people’s lives. There are things being done that shouldn’t be done and things not done that should be.
In Australia, we got NSP hence not many people who injected got HIV. Generally, though criminalisation is a really useless way of dealing with people who use drugs. Where it started for me was thinking about how to deal with something that is as horrid as my friend overdosing in my bed. Should that just make you think, bam, drugs are bad? When you’ve seen bad stuff happen. You can’t ignore that. You can’t ignore that we’ve all seen bad shit. Friends die.
But if you got out the calculator and look at things, I have learnt a lot working in the “sector”. Nowadays the whole scene is different from when I first got into gear. You see really marginalised people with little access to health care and welfare and it’s a mess. At the same time there has been a lot of good evidence-based thought and some policy and some really cool people who are in the system and doing great work. But even those saints are limited due to political horror which ends up dehumanising and marginalising drug users.
I’ve made very little money from music. No royalty cheques from records, even though I’ve made a few. The last one I did I got a small upfront amount. Going on tour is different, that is wonderful. Five star hotels, great restaurants, per diems, everything laid on. But in general, I haven’t made money from music. But it has been fun. And being in a situation when you can be creative is wonderful, though everyone deserves to be there. I love being able to lose myself in music. It can be transcendent and a million other things too.
I have often wondered if my life would be so different if I hadn’t used drugs. The temptation is to say yes, because that makes an easy solution to blame everything on that, but that’s bullshitting. I don’t think you can answer that question with a straight yes or no. I think you just have to accept that this is your life and be as honest as you can about what is right and what is wrong.
I think there are some cases where I shouldn’t have used drugs and others where it wouldn’t have made any difference, where the decisions I made weren’t based on anything to do with my drug taking. That is not say that drug use has had a negative effect on my life. It has, at times. But I wonder exactly sometimes what the reason behind that is. At present, I am bored with the drug user I used to be. I am not judging others. I would be the last to do that. But we have choices and I have had a good run. Drug use just doesn’t have the appeal it used to – simple as that. I almost hate saying that because it could fall into endless repeated mindless narrative blathered by many.
You can’t say drugs are fabulous full stop. You can’t say they’re dreadful full stop. They’re almost innate. Even when people die, sometimes one has to wonder why when it is so preventable. I think pathologising people is an awful thing, saying that people use drugs because they have some sort of illness. At the same time, I have to admit I have used drugs to self-medicate anxiety and so forth. That stuff is tricky, because you don’t know if the drugs are making you crazy or you are crazy and using drugs to feel better. But still, there can be a connection between mental health and drug use, but it is far from a given. And the sense of shame they try to make us feel as drug users is really unhelpful.
Capitalism is based on winners and losers, and there is obvious advantage within that system for one group of people to make another group of people feel like losers. But I refuse to buy into it. I’m certainly no loser. I’m having a really interesting life. I am working in an area that helps people and I am still playing music. There is always another challenge but that can be fun.