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Music industry coming to grips with addiction

More and more artists are becoming rehab veterans.
/ Source: Billboard

Courtney Love, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, Whitney Houston, Kelly Osbourne, Jo Dee Messina, Scott Weiland. The list goes on.

All are creative rock or pop stars and veterans of rehab for drug and/or alcohol addiction.

Is the drug-fueled rock era of the 1980s making a big comeback?

Highly doubtful, most counselors and doctors say. But the media’s fascination with celebrity — and all the pressure that it entails — continues to fuel the highs and lows of an artist’s life.

“In rock ’n’ roll, you’re supposed to be outrageous,” says Dr. Lou Cox, a New York-based psychologist who specializes in addictions. “Being bad is good.

“The culture is not only supportive of addiction,” he continues, “it’s as if there is a demand for it — like it’s part of the credibility package.”

Indeed, the long list of artists who have died of a drug overdose or a drug-related accident over the past 30 years includes some of the icons of rock ’n’ roll.

The list ranges from the Doors’ Jim Morrison, the Who’s Keith Moon, the Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones to contemporary artists such as Sublime’s Bradley Nowell and Blind Melon’s Shannon Hoon.

Rising awarenessBut the culture of drug abuse is undergoing a major transition across the entire musical landscape, according to artists, managers and others in the industry.

“There is a higher degree of awareness,” industry veteran and author Walter Yetnikoff says. “People know that recreational use can kill you.”

And if it doesn’t kill you, it can be a detriment to your career.

In today’s climate, where the bottom line rules — and everyone is accountable — “the artists that keep it together are the winners,” Atlantic Records chairman/CEO Jason Flom says.

In recent years, Natalie Cole, Ozzy Osbourne, Mary J. Blige, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Anthony Kiedis, Michael Jackson and Dr. John, among other artists, have publicly dealt with their addictions.

“Today, there is a lot more demand for an artist’s time,” says Flom, who has been sober since 1987. “Artists must perform at the top of their game at all times.”

For those with addiction issues, being at the top of their game means relapses are more often the rule than the exception, counselors confirm.

Nonesuch Records recently pushed back the release of Wilco’s new album, “A Ghost Is Born,” from June 8 to June 22. One of the reasons for this was to accommodate singer/songwriter Tweedy’s rehab visit in April.

“Artists on drugs can definitely slow down the promotional process,” Warner Bros. senior VP Liz Rosenberg says. “In the publicity world, this has a very strong impact.”

Yetnikoff, who has been sober since 1989, chronicles his own substance-induced downfall in his newly published biography, “Howling at the Moon: The Odyssey of a Monstrous Music Mogul in an Age of Excess.”

In the ’80s, drug use was more prevalent, Yetnikoff notes. “Today, it’s more spotty.”

There are several reasons behind the trend. Artists have gone public with their sobriety in the past 20 years, communication about the dangers of addiction has improved, and rehab facilities have gotten better and are greater in number.

Rehab goes mainstreamToday’s rehab centers — Caron Foundation, Hazelden, Crossroads and others — vary in terms of costs and services, which include interventions, detox treatments, 12-step programs and sober living environments.

Working hand in hand with some rehab centers are music industry-based organizations like MusiCares, Musicians’ Assistance Program and Road Recovery.

In the ever-changing addiction scene, alcohol is a continuing problem. But doctors and counselors say such prescription painkillers as Vicodin and OxyContin have eclipsed street drugs (cocaine, heroin) during the past five years.

“You must be sensitive to potentially being arrested at border crossings while on tour,” an artist manager says. “Prescription drugs are legal. Coke and heroin are not.”

In February, country artist Jo Dee Messina entered a rehab facility in Utah for 10 weeks. She says she received some flack for “going public” with her alcohol addiction.

“People wanted to know why I would exploit the fact that I spent time in rehab,” she says.

Bill Teuteberg, director of special projects for rehab center Caron Foundation, says the reaction is understandable.

“No one wants to be a poster child for recovery,” he says. “It’s not a role most artists assume on their own.”

In addition, anonymity is key for the majority of people in recovery.

But Messina says she spoke out because she hoped her story “would help others who are dealing with their addictions.”

Indeed, those inside the music industry — artists, managers, agents, label executives, lawyers and others — can relate (often secretly) to peers who openly acknowledge and deal with their demons. The same applies to music fans and enthusiasts.

Breaking down doors
Through the years, Dr. Cox has developed a system and workshop that addresses ego and teamwork.

“This gets to the root of the problem,” he says. “Otherwise, it will resurface again and again.”

Historically, addicts received all the attention — they were viewed as the problem, Cox explains.

“But we learned that while the artist could be the outstanding problem, the entire system — friends, family, business associates — is hurting. Everyone needs to be involved in the process,” he adds. “So, when the artist re-enters the system, those around him know exactly what’s going on.”

In the mid-1980s, Aerosmith broke down the door that made it OK for big-name artists to go public with their sobriety, according to industry observers.

In the years since, Eric Clapton, Boy George, Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor, Elton John and others have made their sobriety known.

“Aerosmith wears its sobriety on its sleeve,” says Evolution Talent Agency co-founder Jonny Podell, who has been sober for 20 years. “The band has been a role model for thousands of others.”

Podell and Cox were instrumental in helping the band change its addictive ways.

“Steven Tyler and Joe Perry began with interventions,” Cox recalls. “After this, they realized they needed to be sober.”

Cox worked with the band for nine years. In that time, he “got the whole Aerosmith system clean.”

Los Angeles-based addictions specialist Bob Timmins says there is a correlation between addiction and the pressure to create that artists must withstand.

He says in reference to Tyler, “You have this wonderfully creative guy. The label sends him to a recording studio and says, ’Come back in three weeks with three hits.”’

Artists like Tyler feel this pressure, Timmins adds. “And people with a history of addiction will feel the need to get high to alleviate their feelings.”

Warner Bros.’ Rosenberg, who has worked with numerous superstars, acknowledges that artists are a special breed.

“Their highs and lows are more extreme,” she says. “Imagine performing in front of 20,000 fans and then going back to your hotel room alone. For some artists, such extremes are not easy to deal with.”

Which is one reason why former Porno for Pyros guitarist Peter DiStefano says he turned his back on the band in the late ’90s.

“Everyone was smoking crack and doing heroin,” DiStefano says of his Pyros days. “I tried every drug and all kinds of sex. I had to walk away from that money-making machine.”

Seven years ago, DiStefano was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

“I was dying in many ways,” he says. “So, I entered rehab for the eighth time and began chemotherapy treatment.” He has been clean and sober — and free of cancer — since.

“It’s about being completely honest with yourself,” DiStefano adds. “Honesty keeps me sober.”

DiStefano documents much of his journey on his new solo album, the aptly titled “Gratitude” (Sanctuary).

Traditionally, backstage areas were very toxic places, adds Neil Lasher, VP of promotion/marketing and artist relations at EMI Music Publishing.

“But that environment has changed over time,” says Lasher, who is also a certified counselor.

New ServicesIn the ’90s, Lasher, Timmins and others — along with MusiCares — came up with the idea for the Safe Harbor Room.

Instituted at the 39th annual Grammy Awards, the Safe Harbor Room is a backstage area that provides a support system to artists and crew members struggling with addiction issues.

Today, MusiCares has extended the Safe Harbor Room program to South by Southwest, the NAMM convention, Coachella, Ozzfest, the CMA Awards and other events.

The Safe Harbor Room is MusiCare’s version of a hospitality suite. “Backstage areas can be a very intense environment,” MusiCares director of addiction recovery services Harold Owens explains.

“It’s the type of atmosphere where drug use and relapses are likely to occur,” notes veteran guitarist Ricky Byrd, who has been sober for 17 years. “You play for 90 minutes and then have all this other time to do things.”

Road Recovery co-founder Gene Bowen says one of Road Recovery’s most popular services is its “sober road crew data base.” Such a data base ensures that a sober artist is surrounded by a drug-free road crew.

Rosenberg says, “It’s now considered hip for artists to take care of themselves. In previous years, drugs were more like a status symbol. Now, a healthy lifestyle is cooler than it used to be.”