Intoxicated States and Literature - Intoxication Week


By Tanya Silverman

Photo courtesy of gackmc.

Marijuana can engage your creativity and alter your stream of consciousness, but make you lackadaisical and unmotivated. Cocaine allows you to stay up all night, but also brings out your shady and greedy attributes. Furthermore, speed can help you stay up a whole week, but eventually your teeth might fall out. Heroin calms you into a lovely somber, but entails a lowly fiending base.

Despite all of the high, low, beautiful, and ugly factors involving drug use, assuming an altered state of mind can sometimes spark ideas that translate into an expressive array of music, art, and writing.

“Looking at music, literature, and visual arts, the impact of alcohol and drugs is pretty much undeniable. For better or for worse–that’s for the audience to judge,” says Johnny Temple, the publisher of Akashic Books’ The Drug Chronicles series.

The Drug Chronicles‘ short stories currently consists of the aforementioned substances: heroin, cocaine, marijuana, and speed. Temple says that these contemporary books offer readers an “explicit” yet “playful” drug experience. Authors Joyce Carol Oates and Lee Child have contributed tales of weed, while Laura Lippman and Susan Straight have written for the cocaine edition.

Johnny Temple explains that while there is no covert agenda encouraging or accepting drug use, these chronicles represent further evidence to the fact that “you can’t divorce drugs from the history of contemporary music, literature and visual arts.” (He makes an exception of this statement for dance.)

Akashic Books is open to expanding the series to incorporate other drugs such as alcohol, ecstasy, caffeine, or nicotine. But first they would need to choose the right editor.

As for previously determined editors, Akashic Books nominated author, journalist, and screenwriter Jerry Stahl for the Heroin Chronicles. Stahl has been sober for years, but there is no doubt that his experience with drugs is residual in his work. He’s contributed several stories in the Drug Chronicles series and has also published books like Bad Sex on Speed and Painkillers, not to mention Permanent Midnight, a memoir made into a movie with Ben Stiller.

In terms of going about compiling the Heroin Chronicles, Stahl tells BTR that he sought out individuals who would approach the subject from a different angle, avoiding the repetitive perspective of a “clichéd, ‘gnarlier-than-thou’ dope-fiend.”

Published in January 2013, the book’s short stories portray flaring accounts with clashing personalities. Lydia Lunch’s recount, “Ghost Town”, recalls a disparate perspective from more cold, austere pieces, like the portrait of bleak AA meetings followed by dingy drug-deal scenery in Tony O’Neill’s piece, “Fragments of Joe”. Throughout the Heroin Chronicles, the characters often undergo instances of shattered personal relationships and decrepit bodily states.

“In some form or another, they’re all about need,” says Stahl about the stories. “They’re all about that desperate situation of, even if you were comfortable in that moment, you know the clock is ticking and you’re going to be uncomfortable very soon.”

He adds how the Heroin Chronicles highlights a “scalded” form of very basic humanity:

“To some degree, what these stories share, I think, is a basic commonality of desperation. And it’s really just a human condition magnified. We’re all going to die: we just know the junkies are going to do it first.”

That definitely sounds like a downer, but beyond the reality of humiliation and hopelessness, the idea of heroin, at one point, seemed uplifting to Jerry Stahl.

“When I was a kid, all my heroes were dope fiends, from Miles Davis to Lenny Bruce, Charlie Parker, to Keith Richards,” he reflects. “But what they don’t tell you in the junkie hand book, is when you kick, Keith isn’t going to be there with a warm towel for the comedown. But I don’t blame those guys. It’s just that when you’re a kid, you need a myth, and that was my myth.”

Jerry Stahl’s new novel, Happy Baby Mutant Pills, will be released in November; the story will not only feature trials of a junkie and his self-induced highs, but further explore more involuntary aspects of substance consumption in America – through means like prescription pills, genetically-altered edibles and drugs dispersed in drinking water.

“For instance, in Jacksonville, they naturally have a non-depressed populace because they’re getting so much lithium in the water,” Stahl exemplifies.

As for further drug reads, Akashic has organized an online flash-fiction series called Thurzdaze, in which authors have written about anything from an eerie juvenile experiment with peyote to a French-induced linguistic illustration of indulgent edibles to a banal episode of a child being perscribed Zarotin for epilepsy.

So if you’ve ever wondered about certain drugs and aren’t ready to try them, you can live vicariously through the stories of those who have.