My hangovers have become two day extravaganzas. One day of physical pain then a second day of general emotional vibes and not quite being with it, motivation down, self-criticism up. Apparently this is quite common. Partly it’s age, partly it’s because I don’t drink as often as I used to so my body just isn’t used to it – plus not drinking often means it’s possible to see the depressive effect of alcohol for what it is. Alcohol in itself is a pure substance, but we consume it usually in adulterated forms and imprecisely varied amounts so the body is facing an array of chemical onslaughts. Couple that with the impact of body temperature, pre-existing mood and psychological status, physical health, body mass, efficiency of internal organs, whether one is drinking stood up or sat down, sleep patterns, quantity and/or type of food consumed with it, whether one drinks water…The impact of alcohol in a laboratory can be tested to derive a scientific rule or equation but loose in society it becomes a conundrum of infinite complexity. Most of us have experienced it; the morning after a booze-soaked outing but somehow we’ve survived, or the couple of pints on the way home that somehow leaves the head buzzing the whole of the next day – or the friend who downs beer with abandon but needs carrying home as soon as they touch shots.
I’m always struck that people often have difficulty dealing with ambiguity; in the case of Cobain I’m always struck by people studying photos, looking at video footage, reading observations from others and claiming that the reality of his addiction wasn’t all it was made out to be because he was fine on this occasion or that. As I’m sure most people actually do realise on some level, the fact the impact upon him varied shouldn’t come as a surprise. The fact that in July 1993 he overdosed sometime in the period immediately before going on and was still able to play indicates that he was remarkably functional drug addict able to sing and play guitar despite being undoubtedly under the influence and probably not in anything close to a decent state. On the other hand, The Jesus Lizard have said before that it wasn’t exactly a virtuoso performance – he phoned it in. Not such a disaster that people talk about it in the way they do the January 16th show in Sao Paolo but still a zombified human being. It was both things at once – amazing stamina and well-practised capability, drug-induced sluggishness and lack of energy.
Examining a video and catching behavioural changes resulting from drug use might be valid, but the only thing that could be told from a photo would be skin damage and/or weight gain/loss. Similarly, the indication of off-kilter movement or speech on a video says that at that point in time someone might be having trouble…But it doesn’t extend to suggesting that three days later that was still their ongoing condition – it captures a moment not a trend or a pattern. The video and camera doesn’t lie, people are just asking far too much of it if they expect it to tell all about an individual. The functioning of his internal organs, the chemical impact on his brain, on fluid levels, on lung capacity, on heart rate or vision – none of this can be told without a close up examination.
To make a wider statement about his holistic condition across a period of time means combining evidence and here the evidence is very clear; witness reported overdoses, statements regarding drug use or purchase, photos indicating skin damage (take a look at the shots from Paris in 1994 where makeup was required to cover what had happened to his face), video clips indicating impacted motion and performance, hospitalisation, self-reported usage, the independent decision to seek treatments, reported physical pains and issues that may or may not have been linked to drug use. There’s no debate, given the span of time over which these sources are available, that there was a committed ongoing drug habit of varying intensity with spells of relatively controlled or intermittent usage and periods of heavy debilitating and incapacitating usage. There’s an expectation – born of a focus on worst case scenarios and imagery that sticks in the mind – that he should look like a Nancy Reagan approved dessicated skeleton, preferably with damaged teeth and eyes rolled back. He never did. In some images it’s clear that at age 26 Cobain had grown into his looks, in others he’s looking pretty rough – no one image can tell the tale and there’s no single pattern or path that could be observed in something as blunt as an image.
As human beings in a rapidly moving world, we make mental snapshots that allow us to evaluate and respond at pace; we rarely assess our fellows wholly or completely. Common statements that always make me twitch are “he didn’t look/act like a (insert choice here – pedophile, mass murderer, terrorist, spree killer, serial cheat, fraudster)” as if anything other than a tiny minority of individuals fall into the required image. It’s particularly lunatic because all those items are legally created and contextual descriptions – in a society with no legal age limit for sexual activity there’s no such thing as illegal and therefore immoral activity with a child, in a society that accepts killing in certain situations even mass murder doesn’t mean one wouldn’t invite them for dinner, meanwhile the ability of respectable individuals in smart clothing to egregiously enrich themselves seems to be a boom industry because people judge the clothing, personal grooming, accent and presentation rather than any awareness of internal intent or objective.
The result is statements like “I don’t understand why they’re unhappy – I mean, they’re rich/beautiful/successful/powerful/loved…Ad infinitum.” Again, easy external markers are used as a substitute for any knowledge of the internal emotional and/or psychological condition of an individual. It’s like saying of someone who dies of cancer – “but they looked so healthy,” – our position as external observers of one another gives us no ability to glance inside to that individual’s personal measures of success, personal frustrations or desires. In order to be able to function as a social order, in other words to understand and judge or react to status, position and our potential relationship to an individual, we substitute the things that we can measure at a glance; style, demeanour, brands, employment status and so forth. None of these things show us what the person might be like one minute to a next but they’re the nearest we can get in the quick-study contact most of us experience with one another day-by-day.
In the case of Cobain, he didn’t need to look like a drug addict to be one. And being chemically or psychologically dependent on pharmaceuticals didn’t make him a less moral or less decent person – nor a less functional one. Just as one’s morality exists independent of what one eats for dinner, so did Cobain’s. Anyways, sorry! Afternoon rant over!
For the record, the only thing I’ve ever found truly effective against a hangover is how much water I consume WHILE drinking – I used to drink water afterwards when I made it home but too much at that point disrupted sleep and so forth. Avoid mixing – for it is the devil’s work!!