Monday, October 20, 2008

On Being Straight-Edge, Kinda-Sorta

Photos from the Internet

I have been mostly straight-edge for my entire life; I just didn’t realize that there was a term for it. It always felt like, well, being myself.

The first time I got drunk I was 5 years old. It was at a family Passover Seder (for those uninformed, you know, what the Last Supper was). The adults had Manichewitz Grape Concord Wine (vile, super-sweet stuff, that’s one step above Thunderbird), and we kids had grape juice. I was too young to remember the reason for me grabbing my mom’s glass, whether it was because I thought it was mine, just to try it, or just being bad, but I downed it all in one shot. It tasted a bit like grape juice, but with a strange taste to it. Next thing I know, as my great uncle is reading the Haggadah, I turned to my mother and in a loud voice said, “He talks funny! He sings funny, too!” Then, in classic sit-com mode, fell asleep with my head in the food.

I don’t have a memory of any of this, I just remember my mother telling the story through my youth, and how she would just laugh really hard about it – not at me, but the situation. It was one of her favorite stories about my childhood.

My mom was a smoker (her brand was Kent; she paid $5 a carton in 1970) who had used about a pack or less a day. She started when she was 14. As a little kid, whenever I ever asked her to try it, she would let me. She’d say, “Take a big inhale.” Of course, it was awful, and I’m sure because of those 3 or 4 times I did that, I never picked up the habit. Thanks, mom!

When I was in high school during the early ‘70s, there was pot everywhere. It seemed like everyone was stoned all the time there. I had a friend who, even back then, had this incredibly thick beard, and he was really into psychedelics and 2001: A Space Odessey. He offered me a hit during an outside gym class, but I was too nervous about being caught. Paranoid before the fact, I guess.

Then, toward the end of high school, I met red haired kid named Robert Gordon who was a total classic stoner, who tried to get me into classic rock (like Jethro Tull), Dylan, and I started smoking with him. It actually took me a while to feel it. I remember the first time I felt the effects was while watching Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. Man, I didn’t like it. All I wanted to do was sleep, or just be left alone. But I smoked with him for about a month, and then stopped, because I just didn’t care for it. After high school, I lost contact with him.

When I started to go see bands at CBGB’s and Max’s with Bernie Kugel, we would order a beer when we got there, and nurse that sucker for the whole night. The waitresses hated us. It wasn’t that we were cheap (well, yeah, maybe we were; it’s not like we had much money), we just were not into that whole bar culture, though we found our culture in a bar. Junkies to the left of us, junkies to the right, and we couldn’t even finish a beer.

Occasionally, about once or twice a year, I smoked with a various friend here and there, but it was always the same indifference. In 1977, when I was starting FFanzeen, I interviewed a progressive band called Bleu Ocean. I showed up in their rehearsal space, which was a loft in Greenwich Village, and watched them practice before officially talking to them. They had two female dancers who offered me a hit from a joint. I politely turned it down, and they said, “You don’t smoke?” (meaning, “you’re not cool?”). Feeling guilty and wanting to fit in, I smoked with them. After doing the interview and feeling sleepy and stupid, I realized that I had smoked out of peer pressure, not out of pleasure. That was the very last time I did pot. It was also the last time I heard of Bleu Ocean.

In 1977 or 1978, I was hanging out with one of Bernie’s girlfriend’s, and she took me to a loft on St. Mark’s Place, somewhere over St. Mark’s Comics, and we hung out with her friends: members of the band The Blessed (including Howie Pyro [pre-D Generation], Nick Berlin, and Billy Stark). I can’t remember now if the place was Joey Ramone’s apartment, or of the girl he wrote “Locket Love” about, but I do recall us discussing the song. We were all relaxing, and I was sitting on this loft bed looking over the one huge room, and I the GTOs’ Permanent Damage album was on (also known as Girls Together Outrageiously, featuring a very young Pamela Des Barres; check out her amazing book, I’m With the Band). One of the Blessed offered me a line of coke, and I thought, well, how often does this chance come into my life, and I took it. After a few minutes, my head starting pounding, and my heart was racing like I had quickly drank a dozen cups of coffee. I thought to myself, “People like this?” Again, though I’m happy for the experience and the story that came out of it, I never touched it again.

It’s rare, but every once in a while I do drink, but it certainly is wide and far between. Probably, I average the alcohol equivalent of less than a six-pack a year. The most drunk I’d ever been, since I was 5 years old anyway, was at an unofficial Christmas gathering at work a few years ago, where in an hour’s time I had a beer from Kenya (one of those freakin’ huge bottles, like they have in Australia), a shot (someone bought a round for everyone), and a Long Island iced tea (I just ordered an ice tea, and that’s what they brought). I staggered (not much, as far as I could tell) the few blocks to the train, and made it home okay, without falling asleep. Fortunately, a hangover did not come the next morning, despite my body not being used to the alcohol, and that I mixed drinks that wildly.

There are a lot of social situations where drinking is part of a series of pressures to the non-drinker. For instance, going out with a group and they order numerous bottles of wine, and then want to split the check. This makes me cranky, because wine is usually the most expensive thing on the menu, and if I don’t drink, I do not want to pay for it. Why should I pay for the equivalence of a $30 sandwich, with it was only $10? While it may annoy the people at the table, I will only pay for my own food, and not the libation. At parties or dinners where there is pressure to drink, I just say, “I don’t drink anymore,” and let them assume what they want. That usually takes of the pressure.

When I interviewed Donna She Wolf, lead singer/guitarist of the She Wolves (of course), we did the sitdown at the world famous/infamous trendy SoHo restaurant, Balthazar’s. Seems her husband is the chef there, so we had this really incredible dinner while we talked. Thank you, Riad! So, we’re having dinner, and Riad comes out with an open bottle of wine, and says, “This is a $3000 bottle that a table didn’t want to finish. You two want it?” Now, even though I don’t usually drink, how often does one get the chance to try a $700 glass of wine? Sure, why not? As we sipped away at the red liquid, Donna was all aglow. She’s a bit of a connisieur about this sort of thing, and found it just delightful. With my unsophisticated palate, it could have been a $2 Chardennay, I couldn’t tell the difference. But I enjoyed the experinece nontheless.

What someone else does is their own choice. I’m not preaching for abstinence, but my drugs of choice, as expressed in an earlier blog, are definitely White Castle and Manhattan Special Espresso Coffee Soda. So, there you have it, a definite road not taken / smoked / drank / snorted. While perhaps I am not living a life of an Ian MacKaye level of straight-edge, I think I’m realistically close.


  1. these is only one level to straight edge. you are or you arnt. no gray area. I think its cool that you arnt a junky, but you arnt straight edge. These is no closes with straight edge. If you are close to being completely sober, why not take it to the next step and commit?

  2. Hey Josh, thanks for your comment. I certainly do appreciate and respect that you HAVE made that commitment, but honestly, I don't feel the need. There is hardly anything that I feel so black-and-white strongly about that I need to get into a militant mindset about (except possibly getting Bush out of office). For example, I've always listened to other styles of music, not just punk (which is why I have the Quiet Corner column at; though I believed in punk enough to start my own fanzine dedicated to it back in 1977. Does that make me not punk enough, because along with the Ramones, I was listening to Leonard Cohen? I have made the commitment to only drink when I WANT to drink, rather than when pressured to drink (which is hardly ever...last year I can remember having one beer with family, and one glass of wine with dinner at a friend's home). I have no desire to need to feel guilty about this. This may not make me strictly SE, but it's close enough for ME, and certainly closer than most get. As for drugs, well, no problem there, since I haven't touched any in over 30 years, and even then it was on an extremely mild level. Again, congrats on your degree of commitment to SE, and I think I'll stick to mine. I guess it's much as your commitment to Jesus is different to my own (I'm Jewish, as was He). And hey, since you left xDEATHSTARx, any other music coming our way? And your blog is pretty cool, so I'd like to give it a plug:

  3. The problems that people have with sXe is that like any other group of zealots, they seem to want to beat the rest of us into submission. Thats the part that blows. If one finds light and bliss w/o the use of stimulants, thats fabulous. I wont go and punch them for doing what makes them enjoy their life. However, for those of us that loooooove beer, I would hope for the same courtesy and respect. In other words, dont try to change me, and I wont try to change you. Huzzah!!