From CNN Article: CNN OPINION
By Gary Stromberg, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Gary Stromberg, who runs the PR firm The Blackbird Group, co-founded Gibson and Stromberg, a music public relations firm that operated in the 1960s and 1970s and represented The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Muhammad Ali, Barbra Streisand, Boyz II Men, Neil Diamond, Ray Charles, The Doors, Earth, Wind & Fire, Elton John, Three Dog Night and Crosby, Stills & Nash. He’s co-written several books that deal with addiction, including “The Harder They Fall.” His fourth book, “She’s Come Undone,” is due out this spring. He is active in service work to help people recover from addiction.
(CNN) — The Whitney Houston headlines last week sent a familiar shiver through me.
In the 1970s, I ran one of the leading entertainment business public relations firms. Celebrity clients were wildly indulging themselves, accountable to no one. It was money, power and prestige, with no one to say, “That’s enough.”
Drugs and alcohol were endemic. Today, the conversation revolves around prescription drugs, but back then we were into more basic mind-altering substances: pot, psychedelics, cocaine and heroin.
To be truthful, I had an amazing run before it all turned to garbage.
My office, on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, was set up like a huge living room with couches, overstuffed pillows on the floor, rock star posters lining the walls and a coffee table, the centerpiece of which was a large crystal bowl, filled at all times with a generous supply of cocaine.
The house rules were “help yourself if you’re here on business — but no take-outs!” We were regularly visited by our clients, including The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, The Doors and Steppenwolf. As you could imagine, my office was a very popular place.
But 29 years ago, I stood at the precipice with a decision to make. With a career of impressive accomplishments in the rear-view mirror, I had what looked like only despair and death ahead of me. Alcoholism and drug addiction had rendered me into what the “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous refers to as “pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization.” The choice seemed simple. Choose life or death.
Do I acknowledge I have a problem, or do I continue to live in denial?
Do I listen to my friends and family, or do I seek my own counsel?
Do I continue to deteriorate mentally and physically, or do I say, “I’ve had enough?”
Do I choose to live, or do I want to die?
If I once had a dream, I thought, it was long ago shattered. If I once had a dream, it’s floating face down in a bottle of Jack Daniels. If I once had a dream … ahh, screw it, I ain’t no Martin Luther King Jr.
Throwing in the towel and surrendering to admitting I had a serious problem should have been the obvious thing to do, given the state I was in. But at the time, change seemed impossible, unimaginable, incomprehensible and downright insane. Insane was the right word, all right, but it described my state of mind.
Alcohol and drugs are subtle foes; cunning, baffling and powerful. I seemed to be the last one to know I was in big trouble. When my high-profile career started to fall apart, it was other people’s fault. When my substantial income dried up, my business manager was to blame. When the beautiful house I so dearly loved was finally foreclosed, it was the bank that was screwing me. When she finally couldn’t take it anymore and left, I knew she was the type to do this to me. When my friends began to disappear, they were scum and didn’t deserve me. And when, at last, my only friends, my drugs and alcohol turned on me, I knew it was over.
And so a journey of unimaginable proportions began.
Not to any outward destination. No rehab, no trip to a far-off spa. I didn’t move to another city, as if a geographic change would fix it. No, I didn’t have to travel anywhere, except into the mirror, and by peeling the onion of my soul. The journey was within, to at long last discover where the real problem resided.
It was, of course, in me.
What a surprise — with the loving help and support of a 12-step program, I found the real culprit. We in recovery refer to alcoholism as a spiritual sickness. And if you look that up in the dictionary, you’ll find a photo of me. “Mr. Spiritual Sickness of 1982.”
If you ask me nicely, I might show you a picture of that lost soul that I still carry around in my wallet. Yes, I had long hair and a beard, the smug look of false confidence on my face and even the obligatory turquoise jewelry of that era. But look more closely, and you’ll see in my eyes shallow pools of emptiness, pupils like pinholes from the daily consumption of narcotics. As a friend remarked when he saw the photo, “The lights are on, but nobody’s home.”
After you shake your head in disbelief,and look up at me again wondering how this was possible and how I became such a different person, I will offer you an explanation.
I’m a recovering drug addict and alcoholic who was spared from a life of misery, incarceration and death. I’ve been spared from the life of self-centeredness that led me to care very little about others and only about myself. I’ve been spared from the countless fears of inadequacy, failure, success, intimacy and anything else that threatened my well-guarded defenses. I’ve been spared a life of darkness and shown a path into the light.
We don’t yet know why Whitney died, but we know she struggled with addiction. It’s a pity that now, Whitney will not have the option I had.
In the late 70s punk rock was born and gave way to what people may recognize as tribal, creating a new form of music and fashion. Honestly for me, it was the family of my dreams. I was encouraged to be as wild and angry expressing myself and all the rage inside of me to the fullest. For me, it was a form of expression. I developed lasting friendships that have witnessed a great portion of my life. I will say that AA is somewhat like that for me. Though I am taught to follow the 12 steps and traditions and I am not drunk like before, I am encouraged to question and I am always accepted in my abstract beliefs. I can truly say that both AA and Punk Rock saved my life.
My sober punk rock friend, who was also part of the punk scene back when, says,
“For me it was pretty much the same. For as long as I can remember, I wanted off this planet! Life at home was terrifying and full of rage. All I wanted was out. I started to drink at age 8 and drugs at 9. That was one way out!
Drugs and alcohol took me away from all “this”. They worked till they didn’t. Finally I found relief. I was also in love with music. As Lou Reed so eloquently put it “it’s my wife and it’s my life”. That applied to drugs, alcohol, and music.
I loved lyrics. Mostly then, they were about drugs and alcohol. Then a friend turned me on to “Punk Rock”. The lyrics were about hate and injustice and they made fun of the status quo. Right up my alley. They perfectly expressed in words, how I felt. This was my new family, my chosen family. I could finally express my darkest feelings and no one minded. They didn’t care that I was broken. In fact they were broken too!
Very much like AA, we had a common bond.
Over the years (at least 35) some of us were lucky enough to find another way to survive. Unfortunately many didn’t. I miss them. There but for the grace of God, there go I.
There has been a resurgence of old skool punk rock. With that, I have reconnected with some old “warriors” from my past. Some will say it’s dangerous to go to clubs to participate in music. And I do participate! For me it’s like a high skool reunion only sexier!”
My friend picked this song. Really kinda says it all.
Too Drunk to Fuck 1981
When I first got sober my mind was so jumbled I could barely listen to music. My father was a musician, an untreated alcoholic who died at 52 years old, but I am so lucky to have an amazing step father who is still alive. I am so grateful that I got sober and can really honor having a wonderful, present father in my life.
My musician father gave me the gift of music.
I grew up on jazz and music always being played in our house, I came to love all types of music.
In these blogs, I try to include music that has inspired me through out my life.
At 13, I was already listening to FM and what is now called alternative music. I am drawn to strange syncopation and out of the ordinary beats and lyrics that leave the listener with a question of what they meant.
Some of the music I adore is harsh, loud and hard and cuts through a nice day at the park.
Music saved me. Playing in bands in the 80s and communicating with others saved me too. I am blessed with inspirational female musicians in my bands and hot male drummers.
In my past, alcohol had me and when I gave it up, I had to rearrange my thoughts re-train myself to hear. It was hard to give up my hunger for music, but I just couldn’t hear or concentrate for a few years. I listened to popular “alternative” and lost focus on the coolest bands that were coming out of the garages.
But, today I am back, playing music and so happy. Funny when you let go, the thing you let go of comes back 7 fold.
Learning about what I missed in the 90’s has been amazing.
So many great bands now!! and we are so lucky to have SXSW in Texas and get bands from all over playing in our state in the spring time. This year is the 25th anniversary. Houston gets the overflow bands. (Bands that have gas money to drive down and play here) SXSW shows are short showcases about 15 minutes long so it’s more fun to see a real show here and not battle the crowds. Still all that energy in one place is super exciting.
In the 80s, we had so many more options, because we were out in the streets, out all night in live music clubs and really physically being part of the music scene, but sadly with internet and social media, the live music shows are less attended and more left to listening on YouTube..
With that said.
Here is one of my new faves that I missed…
I Hate Your Face
Alcoholics Anonymous is a program of attraction. Many times we have heard, “Stick with the winners.”
In meetings you will meet people who have a spiritual quality that you desire. That quality is some thing you want for yourself and so you hang out with that person and maybe he or she becomes your sponsor or it’s someone who just shares some cool wisdom or this person becomes a close friend and you both grow together spiritually. This is how the “WE” in AA works. From the first step, your first meeting to the 12th step where one becomes of service to others, it is all a big circle of give and take.
I want what you’ve got.
Don’t worry, wanting what others have in AA isn’t stalking. It is true admiration and respect.
One Way or Another
(I’m Gonna git cha)
It is a miracle really that any of us can get and stay sober.
I Want It ALL
This could be you! or it would’ve been me..
I took this photo at a UK Subs show last November. This British kid landed right at my feet and was so totally blasted and so obnoxious that his punk “tribe” turned on him. The guy trying to pick him up and care for him was the kid who hit him on the head with the beer bottle.
The kid didn’t die, but he was out cold for a while. Paramedics were called and police. Fun! Fun! Fun!
How I miss… LOL