Little Pills, Big Mistakes
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because mistakes have been made.
By Eugene S. Robinson
If you’re in a band, you might have been lucky enough to have one of those rock ’n’ roll fantasy moments, where the clouds part and staring you in the face is opportunity. The kind that might let you do more of that music stuff and much less of whatever else you do to pay for it. That’s the kind we were looking at when Isis — the band, not the terrorists — offered Oxbow (my band) a tour with them.
See, they were fresh off of a tour with Tool and were selling out 5,000-seat venues that Oxbow would not have been let anywhere near. Good for us, even if it would be bad for bands used to stadiums like the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
So in 2007, we hit the road for five weeks of Euro touring. Before every tour, and especially long tours, my doctor would set me up with what we called a “Box of Magical Pills and Powders for the Aging Musician.” These ranged from anti-inflammatory and anti-diarrheal to antibiotics to help with any road contingency that might arise. It was rare to dig into the box, but it was better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. And this year, a new addition: Ambien.
“It’s a sleeping pill. I mean just in case you can’t sleep because of jet lag or something,” the doc filled me in.
Having never taken it before, I figured to err on the side of caution and took one. So tiny. Just one little pill.
Despite what movies like Bohemian Rhapsody or Rocketman or The Dirt might have shown you, on the more arty end of the spectrum? Well, there’s not a lot of bad behavior on our road. There is a lot of getting up at 6 a.m. after having gone to bed at 3 a.m., because that’s how long it took to load the gear, pack up the merchandise and find the hotel. Or, to quote Ian, the hapless tour manager from This Is Spinal Tap, much closer to the truth than anyone in a band would like to admit, “There’s no sex and drugs for Ian!!!”
And really less so if you’re in Oxbow, since our tremendous paranoia over losing any gear or merch means we load the gear into the Mercedes Sprinter and then load it into our hotel rooms so we don’t get robbed, before loading it back in the van when we leave at 6 a.m.
But for the hour of glory we spend onstage playing music, it’d be … madness. Those 60 minutes somehow make it all worth it though, and when we pull up to the double-warehouse-size venue in Berlin, with hundreds of people snaking through the parking lot at our 3 p.m. load-in, we remember this.
See, Berlin’s been, traditionally, one of our more favored places to play. And when I take one look at the stage, I note that it’s huge and start my hunt for a sports drink. Our show and the spirit that fuels it is beyond physical, and getting ready for the road often involves running road work for weeks before. But Red Bull doesn’t hurt either. For just … a little edge.
The show, though, went without incident. And for some reason, or a reason that made sense to me at the time, I was dressed like an ice cream man: white pants, black shoes, button up, short sleeve dress shirt. And postshow, I worked the merch table and signed autographs on stuff for people. Our sound guy kept me informed about time to completion and packing up. I estimated how long it would be before we were back to the hotel, but I could feel the Red Bull buzzing. Which is right around when I remembered the Ambien.
Having never taken it before, I figured to err on the side of caution and took one. So tiny. Just one little pill. And seconds after I swallowed it, the sound guy came back.
“That was a great show.”
And he was right, it really had been. Isis tore it up and so had we. It was a good feeling.
“Let’s have a nightcap.” And with that he passed me a shot glass. Now I knew enough to know that alcohol and pills don’t mix, but the pill was so tiny, and it was just a shot. And given how dehydrated I was after sweating off five pounds of fluids during the show, I imagined the liquor would get absorbed into my system well before the pill even showed up.
Yeah, well, that’s not at all what happened because that’s not how science, medicine or even pills work. What happened instead was that the inevitable delays kicked in — slowing our return to the hotel and increasing the amount of time I spent having to be around other humans. The last place I should have been then.
“No one tells a Navy man what to do!” I shouted to no one, and really everyone.
It should be noted that I was neither in the Navy nor had I ever been, but as I stood at the back of the almost packed van and looked in on our patrons in Isis, I had decided that that was what I needed to tell them. I was still lucid enough though that I could see that this was not a winning line of chatter, so off I staggered.
“What the hell was that Navy bit about?” asked my roommate for the evening, Greg Davis, Oxbow’s drummer.
“Nothing.” And when we got back to the hotel, I later found out that there was enough concern about my ability to survive the night that there had been some discussion about “what to do.” In the end? I hoisted my suitcase over my head and walked up five flights of stairs, a feat so amazing given the circumstances, that it was assumed I was “OK.”
You know you’ve had a night just like this when, at breakfast, the room quiets a bit and everyone stares when you come in.
“You, uh, sleep OK last night?”
“Well you were talking in your sleep.”
I did that on odd occasions. And this was an odd occasion.
“Yeah, but it wasn’t like when most people talk in their sleep. You were having a real conversation, and you were using real names of real people about things I imagine you’d probably not have publicly spoken about …” and Davis trailed off.
“Anything you … remember?” I asked him.
And then, very slowly, the wisest answer of all, “… um … no.”
We drove on to the next show, loaded with everything (nothing had been stolen) that hadn’t been sold. Everything but the Ambien. That shit, like stupidity, can be dangerous.