September 28, 2005
As part of their ongoing hearings about performance-enhancing drugs in the music industry, RIAA Chairman and CEO Mitch Bainwol faced a Congressional panel today. At issue was the growing inability of the major recording labels to rein in artists who were known for using dangerous narcotics known for helping musicians create great music.
Before the panel, Bainwol said “It is the position of the RIAA that performance-enhancing drugs like heroin, marijuana and LSD should not be a part of the recording industry. Efforts are being made to educate artists about the dangers of such drugs, but have not had the intended effect. At this time we are wary of mandatory testing, however, as it might drive the best artists into small, independent labels where oversight is even less aggressive.”
Congress has been increasingly concerned about the use of dangerous narcotics in the music industry. Many popular artists are seen as role models for their young, impressionable fans. But the recent discovery of classical cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s $2000/day cocaine habit shocked everyone. According to Senator Jim Bunning, “When respectable classical musicians such as Yo-Yo are found to be enhancing their performance with the ‘caine, it shows that this problem is so much deeper than we had once thought. Congress must act quickly to restore the public’s faith in the music industry.”
Even more troublesome is the pressure on other artists when they see the success of their dope-fueled contemporaries. William Shatner, in an interview at a recent Star Trek convention, said “I’ve never used any illegal drugs to enhance my albums, and I think that shows in their quality.” He did not realize the irony of his comments, as many drug users credit hearing Shatner’s “spoken word” albums as creating the impetus within them to start using drugs in the first place.
This sentiment was echoed by rocker Courtney Love, known for her battles with the ’sound potion’, heroin. “I’ve been clean for a whole two years now. [My] last album? It didn’t go platinum. Hell, I don’t think it even went aluminum! If my dealer hadn’t [been] locked up a few months ago, I would have started using drugs again. I need some royalty [money], or my baby is gonna starve!”
Of greater importance is the danger of these drugs. Many talented musicians, from Elvis Presley, to Jim Morrison, Jazz legend Charlie Parker, even country star Hank Williams, have paid the ultimate price for their success. Senator John McCain elaborated, “What message does it send to our kids that they need to risk the penalty of death just to succeed in the music industry? How can we allow a system that absolutely requires aspiring musicians to take dangerous, mind-bending drugs, risking their own lives, just for a slice of fame?”
The correlation between drug use and musical success is hard to prove. After all, it is not clear whether the great musicians were great before their drug use. But the experience of Scott Weiland, former frontman of Stone Temple Pilots, has shown strong evidence of a causative relationship. During the times when Weiland was in the throes of heroin addiction, his music inspired listeners and pleased critics with its depth and sense of purpose. While he was clean, however, his music suffered, with fans, critics, and on the Billboard charts.
Congress’ action brings up certain major questions. Since it will not affect Canadian musicians, it may result in the increasing popularization of Canadian artists. Considering their strange accents and tendency to say “aboot” rather than “about”, that cannot be a good thing for music in general.
Even more important is the role of Congress in the regulation of the music industry. Musicians contend that hampering their ‘personal habits’ will only cause music in general to suffer. And the RIAA is feeling their turf infringed, as the Congress is stepping in to handle problems they cannot control on their own. But to Senator’s McCain and Bunning, where the market has failed, the Congress must act:
McCain and Bunning said they’d prefer not to legislate but warned that Congress is prepared to.
“For whatever reason, you just can’t get it done, and you can’t get your act together,” Bunning said. “I and millions of fans think that’s pathetic.”
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