I’ve been back in New Zealand now from New Jersey for about six weeks. The Air New Zealand flight out of San Francisco was cancelled and in the end I had to take a plane out of Los Angeles. This process meant that I had to call Air New Zealand six times over the course of a day and was put on hold for more than an hour in total. During these assorted times on hold, I heard Six Months in a Leaky Boat eight times. This was a perfectly decent song which has been ruined by excessive air play. It is not the only one.
I read Morrissey’s autobiography over the Pacific and at some point I had to be restrained in my seat as he worked through the thoroughly sad details of his life. I found the book compelling and un-put-down-able as I recognized in full depth the music industry he was describing. Then, on my return to Aotearoa, I read a further article about Morrissey. I was by now intrigued and feeling like I was part of his family bringing him tea, cake and commiserations. “There there…that Johnny Marr he’s just bad chook…here, have a wee slice…let me rub your precious wee tum…that guy from the record company has got you all wrong…” This new article was in the Uncut magazine and noted that Morrissey has had a number of health issues and other miscellaneous hindrances during this last year. I feel kind of sorry for the man because his talent is huge…but maybe that’s what he wants, for us all to feel sorry for him and to somehow act as cake carriers who will understand and be with him on every single little thing he does. Maybe the world just rewards people who have all these obstacles between them and happiness? I’m hopeful this isn’t the case. There is no end of people relaying their illnesses and grievances on Facebook and I too had surgery a month back but I refuse to whine.
I reckon the man who pokes his head up out of the fox hole of life will have all manner of strange and unusual things happening to him. It’s best to not listen to the noise.
We have to remember that Elvis died on the bog back in 1977 trying to work out quite what was happening to him. I think what happened to him was called Doctor Nick.
So, I miss New Jersey: the snowstorms, the river canals, the old book shops, the guys down at the gas station talking like ‘real men’ and the men fixing the road wearing Carharrt from head to toe. The distinct lack of ‘political correctness’ makes the air very fresh. That’s when people appear as being truly equal.
I miss the sound of V8 engines clanking down the streets of Lambertville and then there are the women in the restaurants and cafes calling you ‘hon’ and meaning it and also the row houses and the illegal Mexicans pitching for work outside the 7/11s and wearing big smiles and guitars. I even miss the New Jersey Turnpike. The Garden State is the only place in the world where Bruce Springsteen feels truly authentic and you have to be eating a White Castle burger down in Colt’s Neck to think that. You may even go searching for Southside Johnny on the Jersey Shore.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman died and that threw me a bit. He had 70+ packets of Heroin scattered through his apartment. In this apartment he also had various medications for curtailing addiction and probably among them was Buprenorphine (Temgesic in New Zealand) which has been the ‘drug of choice’ in treating opiate addiction over these last ten years or so. It has come into vogue ever since it had been noted that Methadone often brings people more problems than it solves.
You see the ‘authorities’ want quick answers and they prefer to think that one drug of addiction cures the need for another. There’s also a great deal of money built into this reasoning. From memory, Heroin was developed in the 1870s and part of the thinking was that doctors wanted an answer to Morphine addiction. People have all kinds of ideas and there are myths about this sort of thing, but in the US Civil War Morphine addiction became a big factor, during and after that bloodthirsty conflict. If you gave a soldier a shot of Morphine (the syringe having just been developed or initially in widespread use in medicine) and then left him behind at Antietam, he then looked around and thought he was on Park Avenue. And that’s when it first came to him that he was a truly remarkable, talented and unique human spirit. That’s also how jazz music came to be. Stoned guy looks around and thinks “I can play to this…” Half his body may be missing but he feels fine.
What’s not addictive about that?
My own views on drug addiction tell me that there are no pharmaceutical cures and that true junkies are just the loneliest guys on the planet. I had a shrink back in Christchurch City in about 1974 who was writing my Methadone script and he said to me one day (and it has stuck in my mind): “Jim, there is no chemical nirvana”.
Well, I don’t believe there is.
Complete abstinence can be a very hard thing, but I believe it is the only road to take. Then there are certain factors that make it easier and a 12 Step Program may be one. To me the essential thing is to clear the head and give up the struggle and to plant new seeds. Having good friends matters a lot and physical exercise makes a huge difference. It always helps to have a project through where you can bring out what is at the bottom of your soul and which is ‘true’, something with which you are completely happy and never mind the accolades or awards. You want to find that hallowed place of ‘self acceptance’. It is the only place worth going.
Living in close proximity to Heroin (as Phillip Seymour Hoffman did) is not good for any addict. You might call this ‘The Coca Cola Effect” in that if you have Coca Cola available you will possibly then drink it. Still there is not much of a movie industry in Fairbanks, Alaska to run to and no doubt there is a lot of Oxycontin there as well. Supply and Demand…the same old story. The answer is in self acceptance and turning off your own arse kicking machine.
The most interesting thing I have read about since returning ‘home’ is the conclusion of a trial in Christchurch where Lucille Scollay has just been found not guilty of murder (but guilty of manslaughter) after killing her husband, Guy “Guido” Scollay. Guy used to frequent a venue I booked in Christchurch many years ago (The Gladstone Hotel) and said venue was a meeting point for many people from various backgrounds and the audience was often more interesting than the bands. In fact some of the bands should have paid to watch the audience. I very remotely knew Guido (a lot was happening at the time). I certainly knew many people like him.
These two (‘Guido’ and ‘Lulu’) ended up on Methadone and it seems that they both became very depressed and for a long time (20 years). Guido didn’t usually leave their flat on Edgeware Road (he was agoraphobic) and he stayed in bed and read constantly and lived on coffee and toast. Sometimes he went to the supermarket at 7.30am when there were no people about or he went to collect his Methadone. For two decades he lived this way like an Underground Man.
Guido was once a very bright man and full of spark. Just like Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Winehouse, Jimi Hendrix, Michael Jackson, Kurt Cobain and Elvis Presley. There have been hundreds of thousands of others who have perished and I have a moment of silence for them each and every day.
It seems Lulu got clean and wanted to change their lives, to ‘jump the barrier’ or to ‘leap out of this life in a single bound’ (as is Raskolnikov’s desire in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment). Many people have written about ‘peak experiences’ (Maslow and Colin Wilson) and a ‘super consciousness’ where people’s minds are elevated and they can see a clear road ahead. Guido waited twenty years.
Sometimes an alcoholic or addict manages to get a ‘moment of clarity’ and they must build on these experiences. It is essential to lock out the noise and people banging on Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s door telling him he was the greatest character actor of modern times must have been very difficult indeed.
Lulu came home one night after drinking and sat astride Guido in bed and stabbed him in the heart. As he was dying, and she was sobbing, he forgave her. Wouldn’t you? She cured his misery for him. Of course she will never forget this but I do hope she has a happier life.
I think every junkie is trying to find a way to leap the barrier that comes into place between them and real life. Sometimes a good shake does it but often it takes more than that to leave old and destructive ways behind. William James famously said something that meant that addicts (or alcoholics) need a huge spiritual and mental displacement.Either he said it or it’s in the Alcoholics Anonymous ‘Big Book’ – whichever way, the statement is true. Getting clean from a real drug is hard work.
I got my first big wake-up call in the ‘Pound’ (maximum security punishment block) in Her Majesty’s Prison at Paparua in 1976. I was sentenced to six weeks in the block for possession of Nembutal (the drug that killed Marilyn Monroe) in Rolleston prison. They cut the sentence back to four weeks when they found that was the maximum term applicable.
Rolleston Prison was an interesting place and I was sent there because it was my first time in jail. It was home to NZ’s longest serving prisoner, Stanley Reid the necrophiliac. Stan had served something like 30-something years at this point and his was an ominous figure ambling up and down the wing with his pillowslip full of valuable things across his shoulder. Also in the jail was Alf (‘Cyclops’) Vincent the notoriouskidfucker who was famous for running up and down the food line and yelling, “It was little girls not little boys…I’m not queer!” I think he’s still in there.
Stan Reid was released to a nunnery when he was in his eighties until the day he tried to rape a nun. What he said was, “I’m a real bad bastard.” It must be horrible to live with that. I think addicts, in living a double and illegal life, live with this sort of thing a lot – “I’m a real bad bastard.” They are always surrounded by shame, remorse, disgust and fear. Sooner or later we must let them in out of the cold because they are simply dying out there behind the closed and locked door of moralization.
Anyway, I was sent to the pound at Paparua and one begins to suffer from ‘sensory deprivation’. In other words there are no distractions from the mind. One cannot go out and buy a coffee or a White Castle burger and there is no music playing, nor books to read. There is no one to talk to (My Mate Eru Hall was down the Pound with me at this point and I may have previously written about that). There is certainly no Facebook page in the punishment block, or huge sporting events and getting bigger. There’s no Prozac or alcoholic orgasms stumbling on the streets of Auckland at 3am and getting nasty as well.
There’s just you in those walls and you are more fucked up as each day goes by.
The three screws who primarily ran the Pound were Jimmy Robinson, McGuire, and Paddy Hunt (Mister C’Hunt…). The first two were with the New Zealand Army in Vietnam and one could respect them for being good, staunch men. Jimmy Robinson became quite important to me and he died an alcoholic’s death a few years later. He was a good man who let you know his boundaries a half mile before you came to them. He’d sooner bash you than listen to your crap and I can appreciate that. I think that’s often what people like Morrissey need. They have all the money in the world and unlimited time to moan. The singing is beautiful moaning and it ceases to be real when they have all that acclaim.
Anyway, I needed something to lift me out of my ways which will always (always) lead me back to Heroin/Opiates if I let them. If I get in a certain mood, I become like Guido and I don’t care if I have to wait twenty years in a prison cell…unless I jump the barrier I am going to end up in the wrong place at the wrong time and I will get stoned. That’s just the fact of a life. Junk Addiction is likely to be the biggest thing that has ever happened in your life and it takes a lot of daily work to get over it.
The first big thing that ever helped me to ‘jump the barrier’ happened in that Pound in Paparua. That was the first time I ever knew I could stay clean, the first mere inkling and a glimpse of hope. I got depressed and they called a Justice Department ‘Shrink’ to see me. After three weeks in that cell I wasn’t moving or saying anything. You couldn’t move in there anyway, you could only sit on your concrete shelf all day and stare at the wall. You didn’t know what time it was. After a while the wall starts moving and there are designs and patterns…and then the noise comes…oh there’s no one there to be making that noise, but it all comes of its own accord. It sounds like Six Months on a Leaky Boat over and over and over and you don’t even have to call Air New Zealand or the tax department.
I said to this shrink, “Man I feel like committing suicide but there’s nothing in here to do it with…”
His reply was, “Use your teeth…”
That’s what helped me jump the barricade out of my own self pity that day and put me on the track to a better future. Neither Phillip Seymour Hoffman nor Guido got that. That’s the sad truth of it.
A Tinker’s Cuss started life on the Phantom Billstickers Facebook page – it’s a new feature here at Off The Tracks and we’re repeating the earliest posts before carrying on with new words from Jim Wilson.