There are three categories of book contributor: the first 12 musicians below who provided specially written recovery stories; the final 5 contributors below who provided professional perspectives; and there are also excerpts from autobiographies or media interviews featuring Jimmy Barnes, Bertie Blackman, Eminem, James Freud, Herbie Hancock, Paul Kelly, Keith Morris, Archie Roach, Tash Sultana, Jon Toogood, Kim Volkman and Gerard Way.
James, from Minneapolis, found that drugs enhanced his early love for music, expanding his consciousness and confidence to take on the role of ‘mystical poet warrior’. However over time drugs proved to be an unreliable creative partner. During his addiction, music was used to escape or stand apart from the real world. In recovery James rediscovered life’s magic and now uses music to celebrate life and all the world has to offer.
Dan, originally from Kentucky in the USA, emulated his musical heroes to the point of self-immolation. In the book he first takes a deep dive into a youthful melting pot of music, imagination, mental illness, and addiction. His quest for a sense of completion left him strung out and scattered, eventually trading his identity for the mirage of drugs and alcohol. He eventually found recovery, wholeness, and returned to what he never really left: playing music.
Joe worked in the underground music scene in Santa Cruz, California, with bands such as Fury 66 and Schlep. He discovered drugs early in life, got sober for his music career but then relapsed, almost losing everything (including music). He finally realized that while he had been sober for a period, in his inner emotional life he had still been strung out. Through tools such as meditation he was able to have a deeper confrontation with drivers of his unhappiness such as ambition and the pursuit of fame, and the need for approval and validation. He found recovery on the other side.
Melissa, originally from Yorkshire, featured in the Channel 4 documentary Addicts' Symphony. In the book she reflects on an early life of rebelliousness and non-conformism, with feelings of separation (common to both artists and those experimenting with drugs). She had a love for music, a musical gift, received classical music tuition, and for her music was always ‘home’. Over time she chafed against the strictness of her musical tuition and sought to assert her individuality. She was also trying to combat feelings of insecurity, parental abandonment and not feeling good enough. She enlisted drugs and alcohol in this quest before they became a negative rather than a positive in her life. Her recovery has given her new tools to manage fears, such as the fear of putting herself out there creatively, and has reconnected her with her early love of music. Her message of perseverance and pushing through the uncomfortable and new as a mature student in South Africa unfolds in her story.
Adam Ficek is a UK based professional musician and psychotherapist. As a musician, he divides his time between writing music and working as a drummer. His main band is Babyshambles and he releases music under his RKC moniker when they are on hiatus. Professionally, Adam divides his therapeutic time between working within an addiction environment and private practice. These two different perspectives, musician and psychotherapist, means that this piece is both a personal recovery story and a professional reflection on helping musicians work through addiction.
BRYONY MARIE FRY
Bryony, still struggling, is an extremely talented flautist, singer and composer who played a lead role in the Channel 4 documentary ‘The Addicts’ Symphony’. Her upbringing in a creative but traumatic household still casts shadows. Music and creative expression for Bryony have been powerful ways to process and transform the trauma and suffering in her life.
Kenny Gormly is the former bass player in Australian bands The Cruel Sea and Sekret Sekret. The Cruel Sea were platinum award winners and now part of Australian rock ‘n roll history. In his story he shares insights into his relationship with music, his relationship with drugs and alcohol and the way they have intersected.
Pete’s story took him from the 1970s jazz scene in Manhattan to heroin addiction, armed robbery and a stint in prison. Now 33 years clean and sober he explores his personal experience of jazz and drugs.
After his musician son died of a heroin overdose, James - UK based musician and himself a recovering alcoholic - was approached by a TV company to discuss the possibility of making a documentary about the use of music as an aid to recovery from addiction. The result was Addicts’ Symphony, a fly-on-the-wall documentary in which a group of musicians in early recovery were provided with a safe environment in which to create music and freely discuss their fears. Paradoxically, that which led to their addiction, also became a panacea. As well as his own recovery story he explains how the documentary came about.
Terry Serio is an Australian artist who has achieved success in music, film and television. Although he now claims he doesn’t pay attention to society’s ‘yardsticks’ of success, his first major award, a Helpmann Award for his work in Keating! The Musical, was received five years after he got clean. Serio let go of the rail and went into ‘freefall’ in what he thinks now was a subliminal attempt to claim his life back. He says his battle with addiction was like doing four tours of Vietnam or Afghanistan then coming back and finding himself in a large shopping mall. He yearned for the chaos. It felt exciting even though he was slowly, incrementally, narrowing his life down until he was merely existing, balanced precariously on a tiny spike: the sharp end of a hypodermic syringe.
Dave Smith played in US ska-punk bands to audiences of as many as 20 thousand people. His music career proved to be the source of his greatest joy and greatest suffering. Now in recovery he is General Manager of Country Rebel Recordings in Colorado and an internationally recognized Buddhist meditation teacher and addiction treatment specialist.
DR JOHN WILLSTEED
Dr. John Willsteed is 63, and has played in numerous Australian bands since 1978, including critical darlings The Go-Betweens and The Apartments. He has been playing guitar with Halfway since 2010. He was raised in the northern suburbs of Brisbane, and lives there still. He has never asked why he started using, or why he stopped. Self-reflection may not be his strong suit.
Rob Cannon is a teacher, coach, facilitator and educator specialising in the arts and entertainment industry. He draws upon two decades of experience at the frontline of the music industry in his work with organisations and practitioners at the forefront of the arts and entertainment industry, as well as with the students who are its future. Much of Rob’s work is informed by his interest in the application of techniques from the fields of positive psychology and performance psychology within the arts, as well as the creative process. He has presented and published his research in these areas of interest.
CHRIS DE BANKS
Chris De Banks is a UK music industry figure who has established We Are Not Saints, an independent record label dedicated to finding and working with people with real talent who are in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. In his piece Chris attacks two common myths: that stopping the use of drugs and alcohol will undermine creativity; and that you need to be in pain to write authentically.
DR WENDELL ROSEVEAR
Dr Rosevear has worked in addiction recovery since 1975, has received an Order of Australia Medal for his work, and trains Australian doctors in helping those suffering from addiction. He has worked with many musicians in recovery, some of them very well known, and has also run a Drug and Alcohol Recovery Group for free every Wednesday night since 1991. He believes recovery is about finding better relief so you can let go the temporary, artificial anaesthetic relief of substance.
Dave Sherman is a US based Musician Recovery/Life Coach and Interventionist. He spent his first 11 years in the field as a Certified Addictions Counselor at four different treatment facilities before starting his private practice in 2011. Dave’s company focuses on artist sobriety, interventions, and emotional support (both web chat and in-person full-time sober touring support and inter-band communication).
DR PAUL SAINTILAN
Paul is the editor of the book and CEO of Music Australia. He started life as a musician, studying with the late Australian music composer Peter Sculthorpe. He went on to work as an international Marketing Director at EMI Music and Universal Music in London in the 1990s. He partied hard, and then decided to drink his way through a marriage breakup in 1999. This escalated a dependency problem that was ultimately solved through AA initially teaching him some hard lessons about addiction, and then discovering Buddhist Recovery which he found sublimated sobriety and made it beautiful for him.