Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The way you perceive things

Keith Streng
In 1992, writer and former musician Holly George-Warren wrote “Into the Abyss" (published in the November/December 1992 issue of Option, reprinted three years later in Rock She Wrote: Women Write about Rock, Pop, and Rap, edited by Evelyn McDonell and Ann Powers). In it, George-Warren discusses the prevalence of drug use in rock and roll—from booze and weed, to junk and hallucinogens—talking to a number of musicians about how drugs have affected them and their bands over the years. Johnny Thunders's travails and ultimate demise cast a long shadow across the words. 

Among Chris Mars, Lydia Lynch, Bob Mould, and Bootsy Collins, George-Warren spoke to the Fleshtones' Keith Streng (George-Warren is married to former Fleshtones bass player Robert Warren, who left the band in 1988). When he spoke with her, Streng was a good six years away from his own sobriety, and had a couple decades of alcohol and drug abuse behind him. His comments comprise a triptych of sorts one might title The Appeal, the Effect, the Danger.

“I did acid back in high school and that changes you forever, and the way you perceive things.”

“It’s a real social thing, playing guitar in front of people. Everybody’s there to drink, get high, and watch a band, so it’s good to get into that mode of thinking, that atmosphere. I like to drink before shows—but you don’t want to go onstage too drunk; you just want to be loose and do a good show. Partying is inherent in rock ’n’ roll.”

“I was using Ecstasy before it became illegal. I love it. On some road trips I’d do it every night for twelve nights in a row. It was great to play on, to party on, to come up with ideas. I also love speed, but the problem with speed is that it doesn’t last forever. It’s a wonderful drug; you're amplifying every cell in your brain, your body. You can do it for days and days, but when you finally say, ‘I’ve got to become normal,’ it hurts. It’s a hard drug.”

There was still a long road between those comments and Streng's bottoming out. He spoke candidly to me about his alcoholism and heroin addiction for Sweat. He's one of the survivors.

Still from 2020 video of Streng's cover of Johnny Thunders's "I'm A Boy, I'm A Girl" 

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