New book from Music Australia explores the dark side of addiction
Mental health problems in the music industry have been of great concern since Australian studies showed how serious the rates of depression, addiction, isolation and suicide were.
What was considered glamorous by the public was anything but.
Music Australia chief executive officer, Paul Saintilan, who edited the organisation’s new Musicians & Addiction book, says “62% of rock autobiographies in one study had an addiction story in it.
“25% of famous pop and rock musicians in one study died of drug and alcohol problems. There’s a lot of suffering and carnage,” said Saintilan, adding that problem has worsened this year.
“Musicians are in a very vulnerable place around mental health and substance abuse and the pandemic has just smashed musicians. Absolutely smashed them.”
When work started on Musicians & Addiction: Research and Recovery Stories, the idea was always to take a multi-faceted approach.
“Where we wanted to go with this was to create something that is unprecedented in the number of angles around which we’ve come at the topic.
“That includes things like research summaries, going through 230 articles and books and distilling a whole lot of stuff.
“It includes autobiographical interview excerpts, specially commissioned recovery stories and professional perspectives, and concludes with tips, suggestions and practical advice.”
The first section of the book looks at published research and articles on the topic, presenting evidence of the extraordinary vulnerability musicians have towards addiction.
It explores contributory factors like performance anxiety, the use of drugs to aid creativity, and the industry attracting people who use music as medicine to work through their demons.
Section two presents 12 excerpts from interviews and autobiographies of musicians, including Jimmy Barnes, James Freud, Eminem and Herbie Hancock.
There is also 12 commissioned personal recovery stories from musicians from different genres, and a series of professional perspectives.
The final section summarises implications and practical advice for individual musicians, organisations and the Australian, US and UK industries.
The interviews indicate that some of the problems are being part of the entertainment industry, and some are pre-existing conditions.
“Performance anxiety is a very natural thing, just very much like the fear of public speaking. It’s quite common for people to feel the nervousness and anxiety, and to self-medicate.
“There’s also a whole lot of other things in music, I suppose, you’re subjected to criticism, maybe toxic social media criticism.
“There’s a lot of emotional turbulence and people naturally gravitate to drugs and alcohol for that purpose. But there are more layers of the onion.
“You’ve got other workplace and cultural pressures, an industry that’s intersected with the alcohol industry… if you look at alcohol as part of the business model of live performance.
“You’ve got identity issues where there are people who have enormous difficulty between their public versus their private persona. We have the pressure of celebrity.
Involved in the music industry for over 30 years, Saintilan himself has a personal recovery story around the time he returned from the UK to Australia.
He hit the bottle hard, adding, “I realised at the end of that process, that I’d actually permanently damaged my body chemistry.” But he found aspects of his recovery energising, now 17 years sober.
“I guess if you do get into trouble with drugs and alcohol as a musician, remember there is a well-worn path to health, happiness and creativity. The book attempts to illustrate that.”
If you or someone you know are struggling, please contact Support Act on 1800 959 500 or text the Lifeline helpline on 0477 13 11 14.