Kill it, before it kills you…
This song is about truth. It’s about the reality of the extreme, the reality of overindulgence, and how to come back from the other side. There was a time in this band’s lives that they fell into the deep, the abyss, where (some) people aren’t lucky enough to come out of alive, let alone better than they were before they took the trip.
The song is absolute! It’s straightforward. It speaks about drug abuse and addiction, and overcoming what seems to be almost impossible. When the song came out, there was a conservative movement in the country to “Just Say No” to drugs. Sounds easy right? My personal opinions of Nancy Reagan, and her legacy of that message, are irrelevant to the passage here. However, the fact is, I think what she did with that message was invaluable to a much younger generation. Maybe that generation wasn’t even born yet. That message did give birth though, to the D.A.R.E. program with police departments, and schools in various localities throughout the country, so in that sense, it was an incredible message and legacy. However, it did nothing for those of us who were “IN IT”! What do “we” do? What do they do? You don’t just say “no”! It’s not that fuckin’ easy!
There are several points in “Walk This Way; The Autobiography…” where the band reflects with honesty, the power of chemicals both, in a creative way, and a destructive way. They discuss in full reason, and credit their use, with how drugs helped them through, and to the top of the Rock and Roll world. With albums and tours such as ‘Rocks‘, or ‘Toys‘, and even earlier. They even used the references by way of lyrics into some of their best songs, whether the song be ‘Mama Kin’s’ almost innocent references to “Smokin’ Tea”, and later deeper drug use as referenced in songs like ‘Combination’, ‘No More No More’, ‘Sweet Emotion’, ‘Rats’. Or even later with ‘Bright Light Fright’, and ‘Draw’, and then some. “The Farm” Perhaps throws it in your face as well as any written.
They actually credited their successes, in large part, to the expanded boundaries of creativity they could get from drugs. When a person realizes a “high” so to speak, whether real or fantasy, that type awareness of which, they previously may have never associated with… well, it’s difficult to NOT want to achieve, or maintain that level of enlightenment, consciousness, cognizance, especially when they may perceive it as the “key” to their success… Is it the “key”, or the keyhole?
There are excerpts throughout the book where it’s discussed that Joe was so pale and glossy eyed, day after day, after day, that people would wonder if he would live much longer. It was common for someone on the inner circle to forcefully enter his room or “place” because he had not been seen, or heard from in days, just to see if he was still alive. The same goes for Steven… Stories of Steven living on Skid Row, just so he could be closer to the cheaper, and more available “Street Dope”, waking up in alleys, where the hookers, pushers, or whoever, would help him back to his $300 a month, 1 room apartment, only to do it all over again the next day. Then there’s Joey’s stories in ‘Hit Hard‘, being up for days on end and celebrating the birth of Jessie by doing cocaine for 3 days straight.
When does a “like” for something, or someone, become an affection? When does the affection become a perceived love? When does the love become an obsession? When does the obsession become an addiction? Webster’s-Merriam defines addiction as:
“compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance (as heroin, nicotine, or alcohol) characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal; broadly: persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful”.
How many of you have watched the sun come up only to ask yourself; “Why’, “What the fuck am I doing here?”… And then in same breath ask yourself; “Why not?” Who of you have gone to work hoping that no one will notice, all the while knowing in your own mind that everyone knows, even though they don’t? How many of you have told yourself “No More, No More!” and a split second later you’re contemplating your next hit? How many of you “just said no”? Who of you have left the party to be alone with your addiction, to ‘hoard’ it, to hide it, to be alone with it, to love it, to hate it? How did you get away, or did you? Was it a close call with death? Or did someone close to you actually die? Or was it the birth of your 1st born? Or was it your 1st arrest, or your 5th?
Some of us are old enough to remember a time in American society, when the only thing open past midnight was 7-11, and the local dive bar. There were no 24 hour grocery stores; very few people worked a “graveyard” shift besides healthcare workers, cops, fire departments, and tow truck drivers. Yeah, I’m showing my age here, but there’s a point to it. It’s one thing to be out and awake at “last call”, but at 3:00, 4:00, 5:00…. AM. You got a fucking problem dude! And you better not be seen by some of the people that are supposed to be up at this hour! You learn to move in the dark, stay in the shadows, so much so, that paranoia sets in; “Did someone see me?” “Do they know?” “Is there someone outside my window… watching me?” “There is!!!”… Even though there isn’t.
From the book, Joe Page 452;
On November 1, 1988, Steven and I started writing. We just went to work. The first day produced the song, which started out as an Aerosmith folk song. We recorded it straight-ahead, the five of us playing live, and Steven redid the vocals later. It was about our adventures in body chemistry. “
The song is hard, it’s nervosas, it’s agitation. It’s coming off it, it’s coming out of it. It’s the feeling of “a want”, of “a need” and it’s also a feeling of accomplishment, It’s affliction and then elation of no more. It’s wild, and stress, and happy. The opening words of the song; “woe is me, and I been dying…” are meant to simulate that it’s a very slow death. The use of the word “fuckin’” is the “feel” of the song. Steven felt it would make kids’ really hear what the band was saying, and listen to the message of the song, which was more effective in telling the consequences of drug use, rather than the attitude of the time which was simply “just say no“. It’s my belief, there’s a message here that may have been just as strong as Nancy’s was, at least for some of us who played a bit on the other side…
“”I can’t take the ‘fuck’ out of it. Those words are in every kid’s vocabulary and I use them to communicate with them. It’s freedom of expression. Those words are the colors on my fuckin’ palette.”
Some of us may know addiction, addiction that could have paid for real estate in cash. To be within arm’s reach away from the spoon full of white, and the lighter and the needle. In arm’s reach away from a life that would not be this one. Some of us reached for it. Some of us reached for it more than once, and once was more than enough. Some of us know the other side. I’ve watched friends kill themselves, because the drug life is that fucking dark! I know what it’s like to know people that have died in car accidents speeding dangerously through county roads in a hurry to get there next gram, only to wrap a tree. I know what it’s like to find out, the “friend” who wanted me to take the needle, only the day before, jumped off the ‘Marsh Road’ overpass during high traffic the next night… I knew he hadn’t slept in 4 days. Sometimes it’s harder than “just saying no” Nancy…
It’s not just all about the message though on this one, and to be honest that might be enough for some, but then again, there’s an awful lot of message type songs out there about giving up drugs. A lot of what gets me here is obviously Steven’s delivery. Maybe one of his best and most iconic ST performances in a single song. His voice alone takes you on a fucking carnival ride that won’ stop, until you jump off! Then there’s Joe… Just fucking Joe being Joe! He starts off real slow, almost as if he’s sitting you down and saying very sensibly with his guitar; “Get comfortable, let me tell you a little story”, but as soon as the lyrics start to flow right in key again with Steven he takes you out of “comfortable” and picks his way with an almost steel-like sound, into a frenzy! Joey jumps in to give the song its sense of speed, not just tempo, but the feel of addiction, that “speed“, of the need for more! When this one comes to you live, you feel it in your veins. It’s the feel of the message, it’s the same feeling…
There are some great versions of this song out there. If you’re so inclined you might want to check out Unplugged Live. Woodstock is another great one, as is the original studio version. In fact, the original studio version, without the visual, really delivers the message strong! There’s a few below to choose from…
I hope you like these; I really, really do….
“If you put it a spoon man I would boot it
Some king whose mental house was just a shack
Where do you draw the line when all your friends are dyin’
You got to get that monkey off your back
Uh uh uh uh uh uh ooouuuaaa….”
This is “Monkey On My Back”