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  • By Joseph Meyers

Suicides in the drug nation

Joseph Meyers

Fans — me, included — were devastated by news about the suicide of Chris Cornell, singer of “Temple of the Dog” “Audioslave” and “Soundgarden.” Many people can relate to this tragedy, especially families that have lost their loved ones to suicides, mental illnesses or drug addiction. Those three demons often intertwine, like a drawer full of phone cables. Chris Cornell, like so many famous artists, dealt with these demons.

I find it disturbing that some people appreciate an artist only after they die. While posthumous recognition of talent is OK, it’s better to appreciate them while they are still alive.

I have to say, I was a true fan of Cornell’s band “Soundgarden” and to a lesser extent, “Audioslave” and “Temple of the Dog.” It was Soundgarden’s first record “Louder Than Love” that really hit me as a late teenager. I'm not even sure the exact year it came out, but I listened to it in 1989 with fresh ears, years prior to the so-called Seattle sound as anointed by the Rolling Stone and so many other publications. It was a revelation to me. I'm sure there were other bands in the same scene that had similar sounds, but this being before the “any song, anywhere, anytime” era, I was limited to word of mouth and what the music press told me was good.

Soundgarden didn't fall into any of the established genres in the 1980s. It was heavy, and raw and definitely rock. But it was not heavy metal, or classic rock. It was alternative, but totally unrelated to the jangley guitar of short-haired, more feminine college rock (there's the hair thing again) or keyboard heavy bands that were dominant at the time. No, the cover of the album supported a photo of Cornell, shirtless with long hair on stage and songs were about love, sex and of course the obligatory and feel-good “people are bad, the Earth is good” environmental track. But a lot of the songs on later releases were more personal and dark. Titles like “I fell on Black Days” and “Black Hole Sun” have a tone that adds relevant background to his untimely death. If the song “Blow Up the Outside World” isn't nihilistic, I don't know what is.

It might also be relevant and certainly not coincidental that the singers of many other contemporary Seattle rock bands also succumbed to combinations of drug abuse, suicide or mental illness. Layne Staley of Alice in Chains, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana and (from California), Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots. Not a good track record at all. It was a disturbing pattern.

But the modern world is dealing with a far more serious issue than its tendency to romanticize suicide in relation to the arts.

The medical community obviously still has a long way to go toward effective treatment of mental illnesses. Partly to blame is the medical industry that treats illnesses — mental and physical— with prescription medications with dangerous side effects.

It's too early to know what happened in Chris Cornell’s case. So hold the “You don't know what happened.” I would guess that Cornell was medicated with Lorazepam, branded Ativan, which comes with a list of potential side effects (as do many drugs) that make it seem like it should be prescribed only by Dr. Moreau.

The list of potential side effects is so long there is no way it could be comprehended in a single visit at the doctor. It's more akin to those service agreements we sign with cable or mobile phone companies. The many side effects of these drugs include memory loss, vomiting, dizziness, sleep problems, seizers, aggression and mood changes among others. And yes, suicidal thoughts. Does it get any worse than that?

And this is not just about the suicides of famous artists. Certainly, serious health issues need to be addressed with serious medication. But we must also be aware of the great influence that large pharmaceutical companies have on the medical industry and that their influence on doctors and the patients’ behavior.

There is a tendency for doctors to prescribe serious treatments with less serious individual supervision or guidance. Anyone who's taken serious medication knows this is true. And when the side effects include “suicidal thoughts,” it makes me wonder why these drugs are prescribed at all. This is what Virgil called a cure that is worse than the disease.

Joseph Meyers is a resident of Tamuning.

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