Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


High times yield life experience, not true aesthetic enlightenment

I’ve had a long career of late-night conversations about art and love and life with all sorts of different people. We may or may not have known each other well, and we may or may not have consumed food and intoxicants.

We end the talks with the pouring of another beer, the packing of another bowl, venturing out into the night or going home to sleep through the day.

But for me, nothing ends a conversation about art and love and life faster than someone saying, “Whoever thought that up must’ve smoked some serious s—.”


Not only is the conversation over, the speaker is now nominated for the Biggest Douche in the Universe Award. The artist or musician or philosopher who came up with the Big Idea or most incendiary piece of art did not create thanks to a silver bullet, magic mushroom drug, and you ought to know better.

The Big Idea is so unfathomable for these people they cannot believe any ordinary human could conceive of it without help. They do not believe in the boundless potential of human minds because their own are quite limited.

The truly inspired minds agree there is no easy path to genius.

Social revolutionary and dorm room poster icon Bob Marley sang, “All them drugs gonna make you slow” in the song “Burnin’ and Lootin’.”

Last year, The New York Times contacted American literary giant and activist Norman Mailer for comment on his son, John Buffalo Mailer, becoming editor of “High Times” magazine.

“I used to be a heavy marijuana smoker in the ’50s,” Mailer said. “I loved it, but one paid a heavy price for it. It could leave you good for nothing for two days afterwards.”

Former Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio addressed the artistic implications of drugs in a 2003 interview with Playboy.

“Clearly, we’ve all done our share of drugs,” Anastasio said. “I would never say that it fuels creativity…If there’s one f—- thing and one thing only that fuels creativity, its discipline. There’s no substitution for sitting down and working your ass off.”

Those who cannot grasp the Big Idea may not be stupid, but rather just lazy. They hope their own genius will come to them through pharmaceuticals and not painful hard work, like athletes using steroids. It is an easy way out. It is a way to get results without work.

If you have natural ability, take steroids and keep training, you can hit 700 home runs or run a record 100 meters. But natural ability, training and drugs might not be as effective for creating fine works.

Smoking pot can increase your perception of reality and make you understand intense sensations and emotions simultaneously on multiple levels. But then there’s always “Wait, dude, what were we talking about? Um…damn. Oh man, I could go for some Ben and Jerry’s.”

Everyone knows the urban legend about the kid who took a final on acid. He came home and told his roommates how he wrote and wrote and made genius cognitive connections. But he failed the course because he had scribbled all the revelations into an inkblot on a single page of blue book.

I’m not saying no great art was created under the influence. American jazz pioneers frequently held marathon jam sessions coked out of their minds. But it was their musical chops and creative powers creating the music. They just took fearlessness and energy from the drug.

Of course, artists have created on hallucinogens, but I would argue those cases are nearly a study in randomness, like attaching paintbrushes to a turtle’s feet and setting him loose on a canvas.

Intoxication is just another life condition under which people operate. So of course great art has been created under the influence, just like great art has been created under the conditions of being imprisoned or being in love or being mad with syphilis.

The greatest benefit of drugs (and why those who excel at life and art enjoy them) is the experience. Artists create by drawing on past experiences. There is no way around this.

Drugs can be just another life experience, like stubbing a toe or falling in love. They can also be an experience of incredible addiction, plunging the person into the dark depths of the human soul. But either way, they are an experience, and as such can be drawn on during the creative process.

College is a time to collect experiences. Former speechwriter for President Nixon and television host Ben Stein knew this when he spoke at UW in spring 2003.

“I’ll keep this short, because I know you all have to go home and take drugs,” Stein said. “There is a time and a place for everything. It’s called college.”

Those who do not use drugs should not envy the equanimity of those who do. Do not say, “I guess I don’t smoke enough pot to appreciate this Phish song.” Do not say, “I’m not a pothead, so I just didn’t get “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.” Do not make excuses.

You didn’t get it because you weren’t paying attention. You weren’t using your imagination. Your mind has the eternal sunshine, just like the great artists and life addicts. You must open yourself up and let the sunshine in.

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