I didn’t take heroin because I felt bad or because I had an unhappy childhood. I just liked it. It suited me, freed me up inside. There were long nights of funny, dreamy, storytelling sex. Heroin was a lovely secret with a lover. A big warm blanket in winter. Shooting up together was intimate, tender, sacramental.
Later on, when the pictures faded and the hard-ons too, the sex became heightened in a different way. Coming down from a two-or-three-day binge, despite its other problems, had one glorious compensation – the sweet ache returning to the body, every nerve alive, the incredibly intense release into each other’s arms. Forget Tantra.
Heroin wasn’t good for work, though. I knew that right from the start. It cuts a singer’s range, making the higher notes unreachable. And when you’re trying to write, everything gets done in your head rather than on the page or on tape. Great ideas, images and schemes swell in the mind like clouds in the sky, and then, like clouds in a drought, move on without dropping rain.
So heroin became the reward for hard work. The thing to look forward to at the end of making a record, at the end of a tour, or after a period of writing. On a Sunday. Flick the switch inside and all anxieties would fall away, all problems recede, to be dealt with later. Buy half a gram and eke it out over a few days. Never more than that, never to let a habit form. To keep it as something to want, not to need; a thing of joy rather than necessity. That was the theory, anyway.
There was one kind of work heroin was made for. Housework – or any time-eating chore. Cleaning, vacuuming, doing the dishes, chopping vegetables. Paying the bills. You simply sailed through the now tedium-free day. Making compilation tapes for birthday presents or to take on the road was fun any time, but funner with the poppy in the blood, and you didn’t mind taking all day to get the perfect flow.
The long set-up, the shopping and cooking for big, get-together barbecues at home – celebrations, send-offs, birthdays, Christmases – went well with a little late-morning taste. The trick was not to take too much, to get the dose just right so that people wouldn’t notice anything different about you. So your voice wouldn’t be too draggy, your pupils too pinned, your eyelids too heavy.
Maintaining that balance was its own satisfaction. I’m getting away with this! you said to yourself, purring along. You were warm, funny, a little more loquacious than normal, but not rambling. Alert, unanxious, in control, pouring drinks, looking after people, keeping an eye on the calamari. You were Ray Liotta in Goodfellas – buying the gun, crossing town watching the helicopters, giving instructions over the phone on how to make the bolognaise sauce – without the paranoia. Master of the universe.
And later in the evening, when all was convivial, merry and bright, you’d slip away briefly to the bedroom for a little top-up – careful now – to keep you going for the rest of the night, all the way through the music and laughter, the cleaning up and the fond farewells. No worries.
Oh, and maybe just one more when everyone’s gone and all is quiet in the house again. To drift across the midnight line and beyond in dozy, waking dreams.
But of course you weren’t getting away with it. People knew. Or suspected. ‘You’re looking tired,’ they’d say, not quite coming out with it. ‘Yes, I’ve been really busy,’ came your reply. Or, ‘I haven’t been sleeping that well.’ You knew that they knew but you convinced yourself they didn’t. Heroin rewires your brain. It’s a beautiful brainwasher that makes you believe the dumbest things.
You weren’t getting away with it at all. What you thought was your witty charm caused intense annoyance, worry or fear (or all three) in those close to you. You saw friends, long-time recreational users like yourself who’d kept it under control for years, suddenly go under. The black dog was always snapping at your heels. The hangovers got longer, roughly double the period of pleasure. If you had one day on, it took two days of depression to recover. Two days took four. Too many days of dread. Weeks disappeared and lists stayed uncrossed. You felt grooves being made in your brain that you feared would turn into ruts you wouldn’t be able to climb out of.
Your children knew when you were acting differently. You and your wife, soon to be divorced, were like two people on opposite shores of a wide river. She was waving but you pretended not to see. You were ashamed of yourself, ashamed of wasting money, sick of deception and alarmed at the shoddiness creeping into your work.
I got lucky. I met a woman who said, ‘It’s me or it.’ She gave me the number of a counsellor who made me write a list, I threw out certain phone numbers, said goodbye to all that. I thought about ‘it’ every day for a long time. Less now.