What Mike Todd’s Pre-Show Robbery Reminds Us About Artist Addiction

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We’ve wondered before about the impact of drug abuse and addiction on the live music experience. And with the recent news about Coheed and Cambria bassist Mike Todd robbing a Walgreens pharmacy before their show in Mass, I wanted to revisit some of those questions and explorations.

And in doing so I also wanted to pass along some info about drug addiction and somethings we’ve learned this year about how artists are overcoming and coping with the anxieties of live performance.

Mike Todd’s Story

First, is the story of Mike Todd and what happened when he tried to hold up a pharmacy to get Oxycontin.

According to the NY Times arts beats blog and the Associated Press,

The police said the bassist, Mike Todd, entered the Walgreens pharmacy in Attleboro, Mass., on Sunday afternoon and showed the pharmacists a note on his telephone claiming he had a bomb. Mr. Todd, who is 30, was said to have demanded six bottles of OxyContin and then caught a cab to the Comcast Center in Mansfield, Mass., where his band was to play the opening set before Soundgarden took the stage. He was arrested at the concert hall before the show and charged with armed robbery and possession of a controlled substance, the police said. The band played without him.

Now, when I first read this story my heart sank as I began to think more about the situation.

Eminem’s Story

Then I began to I thought about our exploration in to Eminem’s recovery and what Eminem said about why he took drugs before the show and what it was like now that he has been sober and how he can now actually see his fans during the show.

What To Do When Your Artist Is Addicted

Then I thought back to our time in SXSW 2011 when listened to the “What To Do If Your Artist Is Addicted” panel that boldly discussed artist addiction and sobriety.

As the panel developed it was sad to think that only a few folks besides us were there to listen and learn about such a vital topic, especially in the wake of the unfortunate death of Alice in Chains bassist Mike Starr who overdosed just a couple weeks earlier.

Moderating the artist addiction panel was Harold Owens of MusicCares foundation with guests British singer and actor Michael Des Barres, Amy Blackman of Cookman management and Ozomatli bassist Will Abers.

As an artist in recovery Des Barres and Abers told candid stores of why and how they got sober and how their choice has not only saved their lives but also forever changed the dynamic of their bands and careers.

What stuck me as the most profound and was I keep thinking about when I think about Todd’s story, was when Abers, after being asked about the impact of his sobriety on the band dynamics, said emphatically with wide eyes and a massive smile of gratification and confidence, that his daily journey of sobriety has created a deeper intimacy among the band members, which as a result has allowed his band to make better music in the studio and perform more emotionally present and memorable live shows than when the band was using drugs.

Why We Explore Addiction

Here at Live Fix we feel strongly about understanding addiction on many levels —  from the fan to the artist experience.

And like we did during our recent Live Fix Radio episodes on emotions and how women experience live music,  we examine the complexities of addiction and human emotion.

And during these explorations sometimes we see addiction in a lighter less life-threatening situations and other times, like Mike Todd, Eminem and the artist’s from the SXSW 2011 panel situation, we take a long serious look at how addiction is a life-or-death situation, and how it has a direct and profound impact on the live music experience.

And what amazes me the most about exploring emotions and addictions is realizing how far we’ve come in understanding the truth about addiction, but also realizing how far we still have to go.

And I hope that Mike Todd, like Eminem and Will Abers, gets the help he needs to recover, live sober and get back to playing live music again very soon.

Addiction Resources

That said, I’d like to pass along a few resources and articles that I’ve a found helpful when learning how to help artists who are addicted. As I find more article and resources, I’ll continue to add to this list so you can reference it in the future too.

And I invite you to post your our resources and ask questions about addiction in the comments below, so we can discuss them in future episode of Live Fix Radio.

 

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3 Ways To Improve The Lollapalooza Fan Experience

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There are a lot of moments I will never forget about Lollapalooza 2010. As I told you earlier this week a lot of great performances lifted me off my feet and dropped my jaw.

But on the flipside, there are a few things that could make Lollapalooza better for fans, bands and everyone in between. And this is how we can take the 2011 festival experience to the next level.

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Eminem Gives Detroit "One of His Best Concerts Ever"

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According to Billboard magazine, Eminem seems to be already benefiting from his new found sobriety. And his hometown fans are the first to feel the positive affects.

During a free show in Detroit last week to promote his newly released Relapse album, Mr. Mathers had this to say about his recent recovery stint as he plans to get more out of his live performances. 

 

 

“How many motherfuckers are gonna get fucked up tonight?,” he queried. “Get fucked up for me, ’cause, goddamn it, I can’t anymore.” He then added that, “This might actually be one of the best shows I’ve ever done, ’cause when I get offstage I’m actually gonna remember it.”

Now, this is one of the best quotes about the live music experience I’ve heard in a long time. And who better to say it than Eminem. One of pop music’s most articulate and entertaining documentors of the struggles that come with having an addiction to drugs and alcohol.  Though in the past, he’s leaned more on the glorifying side, Relapse finds him telling more of the how’s and why’s as he struggles to understand his addictions.  Relapse fails in it’s attempt to tell a completely fresh or unique story of Eminem’s struggle but it was the album’s two best songs “3am” and “My Mom” that sent me down a trail wondering about the impact of drug and alcohol addiction on the live music experience.

 What’s Exactly Behind The Curtain?

I’m all for artists taking hold of their lives and their art in positive ways, and I’ve had to cringe my way through plenty of awkward live shows, such as seeing Amy Winehouse perform under the influence at Lollapalooza 2007.

But sometimes the addiction is not so obvious.

Sometimes an artist can do a great job of hiding it.

But then, if that’s the case, I start to wonder if the abuse they’re hiding is really helping their performance. And if their “hiding” it well, would I be able to tell the difference between a performance not “under the influence” verses one that is? Would a show minus the drugs and alcohol make their anxieties and fears come racing to the surface?

While I’m at it, I’ll crack Pandora’s box wide open by asking whether we would enjoy an “under-the-influence” show more than a “clean” or “sober” show.  And would the music be better or worse? And would we be able to even tell the difference?

I’ve also wondered many times if artists really need to use or abuse drugs and alcohol to put on a great show? 

I decided to rattle off all those questions because all to often the abuse of alcohol and drugs are looked at as necessary evils to loosen up before a show, allowing artists to “relax and get in their creative zone.”  This may be true to a certain extent. But there have been many cases throughout rock n roll history that make this so-called practice of necessary and regular abuse seem more like a myth than truth. 

Eminem’s quote was amazing to read because I had a hard time thinking back to when I heard an artist speak so boldly and honestly against the myth to “need drugs and alcohol to relax and be creative”.  Now, we all know Mr. Mathers is known to joke around, but I think his dead serious when he said it. And I’m glad he was, even though his return to music with Relapse left me a bit disappointed, doubtful and wondering if he’s really back at all.

In any case, for now, I’m holding on to Eminem’s live quote because it provided far more insight than Relapse  has at this point.

In short, the truth is that drugs and alcohol are, and will always be, a part of music making. I don’t see that changing any time soon.

And just like the myriad genres of music, each artist is unique in their ability to handle the substance.

To a point, that is.

Then what usually happens is that their use becomes abuse, and their music begins to eventually suffer. And the unravelling begins.

That said, I don’t believe that the use of drugs to get creative is beneficial for anyone for several reasons. One reason is that I’ve seen it destroy families and friends and ruin musical abilities that could’ve changed the world. But I also don’t judge any artist if that’s what they choose to do.  And if Eminem is genuine in his quest to live a clean and sober life then I fully support and salute him. 

Musician or not, the ability to live a sober life and actively battle and recover from your addictions is to have the ultimate power to change your life, make great music, and put on a great show that you can remember and cherish long after the performance is over. 

So let’s think about that for a moment. 

Think back to the last few concerts you’ve been to and tell me if you’ve ever wondered if the performance quality was influenced by the artist’s use or abuse of drugs and alcohol. Was the performance better or worse?   

Of course, there’s the other side to this discussion: the fan’s use of drugs and alcohol during a show, and whether or not drugs and alcohol can make an average show great or a bad show good. 

But we’ll talk about that in a future post. 

Here are a few links to where you can get more information on drug and alcohol abuse.

(SAMHSA) Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

(NIDA) National Institute On Drug Abuse  

Sober Musicians

 

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