'Can't Find My Way Home': Higher and Higher

'Can't Find My Way Home': Higher and Higher
Posted by CN Staff on June 04, 2004 at 22:45:46 PT
Book Review By Hal Espen
Source: New York Times 
The perennial debate over illegal drugs in the United States tends to be a clash of absolutes -- drug use is either a manifest evil, a scourge that destroys lives, or a benign source of pleasure and insight, a victimless component of the pursuit of happiness. A majority of Americans support criminal penalties for trafficking and possession; on the other side are millions of current and former drug users, allied with civil libertarians, who believe that legalization and laissez-faire policies should replace the injustices of our never-ending ''war on drugs.''
In ''Can't Find My Way Home,'' his audacious, overstuffed cultural history of illegal drug use and abuse, Martin Torgoff wants to stake out a middle ground between those who are ''dogmatically antidrug'' and proponents of ''personal'' or ''recreational'' drug use. He ultimately fails, in part because his heart clearly belongs to the freedom-of-choice side -- this despite his willingness to depict the searing horrors and tragedies of drug abuse, not to mention his own struggle with addiction -- and in part because he lacks the facility and range to reconcile the contradictions of his ambition. His deepest affinity is not for tangled arguments about morality and public policy, but for the sensational entertainment value of America's half-participatory, half-voyeuristic romance with illegal drugs. It may not change minds, but Torgoff's book is an exuberant chronicle of ecstatic inebriation, delusional utopianism, wretched excess and chastened nostalgia for lost highs. Torgoff is a pop-music writer whose previous works include a biography of John Mellencamp and a book about Elvis fans. This background is evident in his book's reliance on minor celebrities as expert witnesses, and its emphasis on the role of drugs as a catalyst for artistic exploration in rock, literature, jazz and movies. Long bits of oral history from people like Oliver Stone, Grace Slick, David Crosby and Snoop Dogg make portions of the book seem like a marathon broadcast of VH1's ''Behind the Music.'' ''Can't Find My Way Home'' -- the title refers, of course, to the classic Blind Faith song -- opens with a reverie and a confession. Growing up in suburban Long Island in the late 1960's and early 70's, Torgoff and his friends were devoted pot smokers who had begun dabbling in LSD by the time they left for college. Over the next decade and a half, ''I chased that high,'' Torgoff writes. ''The only time I ever turned down a drug was when I didn't understand the question.'' Numb, strung out and contemplating suicide, he finally quit drinking and drugging and has been sober for 15 years. Much of ''Can't Find My Way Home'' is driven by a desire to understand how substances like marijuana, heroin, peyote, cocaine, LSD and amphetamines escaped their original milieu -- whether pharmaceutical or ethnographic -- and infiltrated American life, first the fringes and then the mainstream. Torgoff ladles out familiar dollops of counterculture history -- he explores the history of the Beats, the links between jazz and heroin, the careers of Timothy Leary and Ken Kesey, Haight-Ashbury and the hippie movement, Warhol and the Factory. And along the way he lucidly traces the daisy chain of influence and bohemian proselytizing that brought dope out of the lower depths, with the result that a middle-class boy like Martin Torgoff found himself unaccountably transformed, along with so many others, into a dope fiend. It's fascinating to hear, for example, how an addict and charming scoundrel named Herbert Huncke -- the man who became a key emissary from the drug demimonde for Burroughs, Ginsberg and Kerouac -- had himself been drawn to heroin by tales of Shanghai opium dens, ''posh layouts with cushions on the floor and naked or half-naked men and women laying about,'' as he tells Torgoff. ''It was called 'lying on the hip,' and that's where the word hip comes from, of course.'' The etymology may be questionable, but similar bright shards of archaeological lore help to make up for the author's sometimes tedious reprising of material familiar from earlier works, notably Tom Wolfe's ''Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.'' Nearly half of ''Can't Find My Way Home'' is devoted to the 1960's, when the alliance of drugs and the avant-garde was amplified and converted into a lifestyle project available for mass consumption. In an interview with Torgoff, Ginsberg acknowledged the logic of this cultural transmission: ''You couldn't have a society that allowed free and unfettered creative expression, which also might incorporate material about the use of consciousness-altering substances, without a significant segment of the population becoming interested in their use as well.'' (The rub, of, course, is that this segment included thousands of people who were damaged or lost along the way.) For a time, drugs may have acted as fuel and lubricant for a series of liberation movements, but once large-scale distribution and marketing and the party-drug scene kicked in, idealism about drugs ebbed and the potential for abuse and harm multiplied. ''I knew all was lost,'' recalls Paul Rothchild, a former producer for the Doors, ''when I saw what used to be the artists' world of drugs and creative exchange in the hands of lawyers and accountants, and when I saw the lawyers doing blow.'' Torgoff's flashback sociology speeds up as he relates tales of big-time marijuana smuggling, the rise of cocaine and Studio 54, the crack blight of the 1980's and the hysteria it engendered, the addicts who sought refuge in the 12-step recovery movement and the return of psychedelia via Ecstasy and rave culture. And along the way, the deaths of Jimi, Janis, John Belushi and Kurt Cobain. The book winds up with a sympathetic account of the decriminalization movement, whose key insight -- ''the vast majority of American illegal drug users do so responsibly'' -- is a far cry from the revolutionary claims and pirate swagger of the long-gone drug culture. Meanwhile, the standoff continues: the permanent scandal of drug use for pleasure and oblivion versus the ''pharmacological Calvinism'' of a legal system that puts nonviolent users and violent drug criminals alike in prison. In recent years neuroscience has learned just enough about the fantastically complex chemical, electrical and genetic functions of the human brain to teach us how little we know about consciousness and how to alter it or expand it, and why some of us become enslaved by addictions while others go free. In studying brain chemicals like serotonin and dopamine, we've just begun to discern why highs are so often paid for with lows. Until we know more, our experiments with illicit drugs will continue on the margins, and crazy compendiums like Torgoff's will hold us in their sway. And the truth will still sound very much like something the novelist and skeptical former Merry Prankster Robert Stone tells Torgoff: ''I never felt that drugs were a good thing, but they were something that was wild and open and free.'' Hal Espen is the editor of Outside magazine.Source: New York Times (NY)Author: Hal EspenPublished: June 6, 2004Copyright: 2004 The New York TimesContact: letters Website: Articles:Make Peace With Pot Last Word: Eric Schlosser
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Comment #11 posted by FoM on June 13, 2004 at 21:38:47 PT
Related Article from Salon Magazine
Blowing Our MindsMartin Torgoff, author of "Can't Find My Way Home: America in the Great Stoned Age, 1945-2000," talks about America's complicated and schizophrenic history with drugs.By Larry SmithJune 14, 2004 What comes to mind? Getting high in your dorm room after finals? John Belushi in a hotel room, slumped over from a deadly mix of coke and heroin? A drive-by in South Central Los Angeles? A messy group hug at a warehouse rave? Medical marijuana? Mandatory minimums? In "Can't Find My Way Home: America in the Great Stoned Age, 1945-2000," Martin Torgoff argues that the story of drugs in America is all these images and ideas -- and much, much more. Mixing oral history, autobiography and a large dose of firsthand sources from High Times to Foreign Policy, the book moves across time and culture, starring one drug after another, from marijuana to MDMA. Complete Article:
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Comment #10 posted by Cannabis Enthusiast on June 07, 2004 at 17:08:14 PT
I drank alcohol (lots of it) Saturday night...
I hardly ever drink (maybe once every couple months), but Saturday night was the most intoxicated I have been in probably a year.The next day I felt rather depressed, probably from the booze draining the hell out of my serotonin/dopamine (it baffles me why people ever touch Ecstasy/MDMA as that makes you suicidally depressed the days after). But I'm feeling pretty good today. I still feel like the booze took something from me (well, it obviously did - it drained extremely important brain chemicals out of me).Anyways, I won't be drinking alcohol for a LOOOOONG time now. It makes you feel good for a couple hours, but then you feel like complete shit and are severely depressed for at least 60 hours afterwards.Fuck alcohol.
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Comment #9 posted by Max Flowers on June 07, 2004 at 10:49:36 PT
Forgive me for saying so EJ but I think that if you have an "oh no I'm not in control" feeling from things as relatively mild as opium and vocodin, you may have some issues about loss of control. That's not a judgment of you but just my angle... when someone says this, my immediate thought is "why is this person clinging so hard to his/her "control"? I want to see him/her lighten up!This was always my dad's very argument against trying pot---he feels "in control" on alcohol (what a joke) but is afraid from what he's heard and what he assumes that pot would make him "lose control".It's my opinion that it is a good thing for everyone to once in a while have that feeling of mild surrender and "less control", because we as humans are so obsessed with control all the time. But I suppose diferent people need it from different things. For me, alcohol is one of the things that I know will make me "lose control" if I drink enough, and I don't like the effects. But I like to loosen up on other relaxants once in a while, because (like cannabis) those other relaxants (10 mg valium once every 10-14 days for example) won't make me say and do stupid things as alcohol does.One of the things I love about MDMA however (and note that I only use it about once a year) is the feeling of blissful, total surrender to the universe, the relinquishing of "control impulse" and worrying about everything related to my life and just feeling I'm a miniscule part of the whole natural order of things.
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Comment #8 posted by E_Johnson on June 06, 2004 at 09:27:32 PT
I smoked opium just once
I tried it a loooong looong time ago, just once. It made my body feel like I couldn't control it and I didn't like that. I do not like feeling out of control. Prednisone is bad enough at that. With pot I never feel like I lose control. I wonder, maybe some people have a deep need to feel like their body is beyond their control and that's why they like that stuff, I don't know.I hated it and I wouldn't do it again. It was too creepy. That's also why I can't take Xanax or Vicodin or anything but pot. The rubber legs feeling is not for me.
Pot doesn't give you rubber legs. You can still run and walk and talk. The body is still there, 100% under control.In fact maybe pot even enhances the sense of control, maybe it makes the body feel even MORE present around the mind.I don't know, what do people think?
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Comment #7 posted by Virgil on June 05, 2004 at 22:31:19 PT
You can smoke heroin
With all the heroin out there one way to gain customers is to overcome the use of needles. Young teenagers in Russia are taking to heroin and I have read that most of them smoke it.I have taken a morphine pill before after one really killer week physically. All it did was kill the body pain. I have no desire to just to take them for recreational use. Oxycontin is just a synthetic heroin in a time released capsule and the kid I once spoke of as being a pill freak said his #1 pill of choice was oxycontin, or O C as he said with his pill vocabulary. The fact that the greatest reliever of pain has been from an addictive source in the opium poppy means there is a great need for cannabis. People on opiates for pain have to have their meds rotated and watched to avoid addiction. One great promise of cannabinoids is in use with the opiates to avoid the addictions while still gaining the benefit of opiate pain killing. I was at a cookout tonight and the subject if marijuana came up. My first comment was that "Marijuana prohibition is mass murder." Somebody challenged the statement and I layed it on them. I got to say that lung cancer has never been found in a cannabis only user and that Jamaica had a cannabis extract for asthma and that it did not cause emphasema. There are 6 people that see things completely differently. What we have going for us in the reform community is that the overwhelming desire of the ego is to be right on this issue and every issue. People will yield to facts. It is just that the last thing that the government wants to happen is for people to know facts.I still have a question on lung cancer not being found in a cannabis only user as Dr. Russo says because lung cancer is in the general population because of second hand smoke and other reasons. Does that mean that cannabis users are being protected from lung cancer?Another question I have concerns headaches. It has been sometime back that the idea of a cannabinod for headaches would be the aspirin of the 21st century. That is kind of what gets me about GW. Why did they not remove the THC from their extract and give it a go against headaches? I have no idea of any side effect or drug interaction that comes from THC free extracts. My view is still to regard this as nutrition for the body and that is why I do not regard it as medicine. It is nutrition that the body can chose from as Dr. Andrew Weil says in this piece- are winning and the whole house of cards is one book away from falling. The AIDS crisis and the need for cannabis for nausea is a driving force. Spain will have to set a policy for MMJ that will spread to all Spanish speaking countries. A US imposed civil war in Colombia by a government that ignores the Supreme Court to stop the spraying of poison by planeload is being seen for what it really is- imperialism. Attacking Venezuela to get that oil could kill all of prohibition in South America almost overnight. But the real kicker is when they bury CP in Berlin.
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Comment #6 posted by AgaetisByrjun on June 05, 2004 at 15:21:28 PT
Cannabis enthusiast:
Smoking raw opium has PLENTY of risks. Not so much as heroin (it's very hard to overdose), true, but it's every bit as addictive. There are numerous examples from history of old men who can't do anything but sit around in opium dens and get high. Remember the Opium War? It wasn't about morphine or heroin.I'd say opium-smoking is comparable to alcohol.
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Comment #5 posted by Cannabis Enthusiast on June 05, 2004 at 14:29:52 PT
Why the hell isn't there any RAW opium anymore?
Why is all the opium that exists turned directly into Heroin?A *whole lot* of us would try smoking opium, but would no way in hell shoot up Heroin, considering the risks of getting diseases and not knowing exactly how pure and safe the substance is you are injecting.Smoking raw opium has no risks, and gives you the benefits of *all* of the 40+ opioids in the Poppy plant. With Heroin, all you get is a single opioid (modified morphine). This is like injecting THC, without getting the benefits of cannabidiol (CBD), cannabinol (CBN), etc. Will the real raw opium dealer please stand up? (parody of Slim Shady)
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Comment #4 posted by MikeEEEEE on June 05, 2004 at 12:22:58 PT
It's hitting the fan
A few years ago I said that Bush was retarted. I really think it's starting to manifest itself now.One aide says the President actually described the decision as "God's will."
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Comment #3 posted by Virgil on June 05, 2004 at 12:13:29 PT
Prison is cruel and unusual punishment
The way the prisons are run today is a crime in itself. 
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Comment #2 posted by E_Johnson on June 05, 2004 at 09:25:52 PT
They're all guilty of rape
The prison rape crisis in America is mainly due to the War on Drugs.Thanks to the War on Drugs, there are too many passive nonviolent men in prison to keep track of and the rapists are able to have their way in the overcrowded chaos.This is a country that believs rape cures drug abuse but not alcohol abuse.This is a country full of bad evil self satisfied uncaring ignorant drunks.Who are rapists by proxy.
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Comment #1 posted by The GCW on June 05, 2004 at 05:05:27 PT
Caging humans for using cannabis is evil.
If there is a middle ground, it would include re-legalizing cannabis which is a plant, yet treated as though it were some unwanted man made evil drug.Caging people for using what God created and said is good on the very 1st page of the Bible is evil. 
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