Straight Edge: Six Songs That Celebrate Sobriety
Go to any live-music event and there will be signs of drug use of some sort in the crowd. Even sitting among the well-heeled gentry of the opera, there's bound to be one guy who smoked a fatty in his Mercedes before the first aria. Even if you can't locate him (clue: he smells fantastic), you'll find several who ordered at least a scotch or martini at their pre-show dinner, that's for damn sure.
Photo by Natalia Diaz/Flickr Creative Commons
Across town at a house show, you're more likely to see 40-ounce, brown-bagged bottles of 211 than a good, 21-year-old single malt. Nevertheless, these kids and their Bocelli-loving brethren share a common bond: they enjoy getting tight before the music starts. Drinkin' and druggin' are as inherent to music as notes and chords, it would seem.
But, thankfully, there are some music lovers who don't need to sip, snort or shoot to enjoy music or any other aspect of life. Over at the opera house they call these people teetotalers. At the house show, they're called "straight edge."
Because these people do not imbibe, they have been subject to ridicule at worst and, at best, dubious curiosity. Who are these among us who are able to shut off the leaky valve of existential dread without the vice grip of chemical substances? And why do they do it? Here's a six-pack of songs to give you the sort of clear-eyed insight the unintoxicated enjoy:
6. "The Last Time I Did Acid I Went Insane," Jeffrey Lewis
In case anyone forgot, ingesting mind- and mood-altering substances comes with some unfortunate side effects, like chronic disease, prison time and being dead. These all seem like good reasons to curb or avoid drug use but, as we all know, reason is often the first guest banished from the party.
Thanks to indie strummer Jeffrey Lewis, there's a not entirely depressing song to remind us all to maybe back away from our vices. The song is simultaneously hilarious and frightening. While tripping, drawn sketches terrifyingly come to life, galaxies exist beneath floor rugs and someone punches a cat in the head.
Lewis accumulates a list of do's and don'ts for tripping balls and here's where the song gets scary since the final rule is to "not to look to deep into your soul or you might find a hideous, hopeless hole/Of hatred, hunger, infinite, idiot mindless, meaningless, nothingness..."
5. "Swimming Pools (Drank)," Kendrick Lamar
Hip-hop is strong on indictments of inebriated lifestyles. There are a lot of songs about popping bottles and sippin' lean, but for every Lil Jon shoutout to shots, there's Ice Cube reminding friends "don't drink 8-ball, 'cause St. Ides is giving ends."
One of the best of these songs to recently surface is "Swimming Pools (Drank)." Lamar is an exciting talent who's managed a crowd-mover and head-bobber here that also sounds like the anthem for the baddest AA group of all time. The "pour up, drank" chant gets the drinkers hype while the lyrics that address generational alcoholism and drug-induced, life-changing choices advocate a better way.
4. "Jagged Edge," Arroyo Deathmatch
The term "straight edge" was coined in the punk genre and drunken punks still use it to categorize and sometimes marginalize their brothers and sisters in tattooed arms. New Mexico anarcho-punks Arroyo Deathmatch don't just embrace the sobriety they've chosen, they ferociously defend it in this scathing song from their recent album, All of Them Witches.
"My straight edge is a jagged edge,...my straight edge is a wrench in the works...my straight edge is a burning church," they sing. The band questions how the world will ever change when the punks who talk change are too wasted to do anything useful.
"The scene's a party, anarchy's a fad, pass me a beer, I'm just like my dad/ More smash the state, less shit your pants, defend yourself, say fuck the man," sings front man Alex DenBaars. Additionally, the song deserves a listen for the manic and urgent flute loops laid down by Arroyo's Beth Lou Hansen.
Yes, you read that correctly -- punk rock flute.
More straight-edge songs on the next page.