CRIME CULTURE: Only foos will blame the drugs and forget the man

CRIME CULTURE: Foo Fighters drummer, Taylor Hawkins, lived a life in the spotlight while battling near-crippling anxiety, writes Irfan Yusuf.

No doubt the tabloid view of the world will lead you to believe that when someone like Taylor Hawkins – the 50-year-old drummer of US rock band Foo Fighters – dies with substances found in his blood, it’s just another case of a spoiled rich entertainer losing control.

After all, us allegedly normal people know that junkies, alcoholics and addicts are bad news. They’re a drain on society. They lack self-control. They should just get over it. They don’t deserve any sympathy. If they go too far and harm others as well as themselves, they should just be thrown in prison or in some psych ward somewhere. If they’re out of work, they should be tested before receiving social security benefits.

That’s what I used to think. It’s what a lot of people think. 99.999% of the time, it’s total bullshit.

Feeding an addiction is also referred to as “self-medicating”. It’s something you do when you feel so down that life just seems hopeless that you turn to something, anything that will make you feel better. Behind every addiction is an underlying health condition and a deeper history.

The other day I was talking to Jen, a mate who is a huge Foo Fighters fan. I know a few of their songs. Times Like These reminds me of my step-daughter and of a dear friend in WA. Learning To Fly has a hilarious video.

I couldn’t quite understand why Jen was in tears when she spoke of what Taylor Hawkins meant to her. Seriously, why? It’s not as if she was his sister or lover. We sat there in a Sydney café listening to his songs. She showed me the clips on YouTube and explained the lyrics.

My mate experiences depression. She has struggled with addiction. She finds solace in the fact that people as prominent as world-famous celebrity rock stars also suffer from these issues. And folk like Foo Fighters lead singer Dave Grohl and drummer Taylor Hawkins are happy to write, speak and sing about their own struggles with mental health and addiction.

Jen put it this way. “When I go down, life is so crap and I feel so crap about myself that I need a cure. I want to feel better about myself and life even if it’s for just a few minutes. If the cure is sitting in a bottle in my fridge, I’ll grab it instead of waiting for my next shrink’s appointment.”

Taylor Hawkins put it another way. He told Rolling Stones in his final interview:

“Listen, for anyone out there who has problems and their fucking life is a mess, yeah, I get it. You know, my life has been there plenty of times, so I get it. I don’t want that to be the centerpiece of my story.”

There was more to Hawkins than struggles with mental health and self-medication. He was a musician, a singer and a performer. His music and lyrics inspired millions of Jen’s around the world. There is more to the Jen I know than these issues as well. She’s a mum, a health worker, an artist and a volunteer in her community.

I know so many smart and talented people afflicted with depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety and a host of other situations that are too often demonised and misunderstood. Don’t be surprised if the next doctor or lawyer or schoolteacher or academic you see has a regular appointment with a therapist and takes pills each day.

We tend to treat the demons that afflict us with utmost seriousness. But what Jen showed me of her favourite band was their humour and their willingness to make light of their afflictions. Almost each Foo Fighters video shows the band members behaving in goofy and silly ways, satirising their struggles and laughing in the face of their own vulnerability. In the Learning To Fly video, Hawkins appears cross-dressed as an air stewardess. You watch them having a great time but you have little idea of how much they would have suffered writing and living the words they sing.

Jen introduced me to their song Walk.

Learning to walk again
I believe I’ve waited long enough
Where do I begin?
Learning to talk again
Can’t you see I’ve waited long enough?
Where do I begin?

Taylor Hawkins was one of the writers of this song. One can only imagine the images passing through his mind as he wrote. Depression? He told a NZ radio station: “It doesn’t matter what’s in your bank account or how many hits are on your YouTube page. All that kind of crap all goes out the window if you’re not feeling right.”  

Anxiety? Hawkins admitted his severe anxiety before each performance. It’s no wonder the drugs found in his system included antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication.

Self-medication shouldn’t be seen as a sign of anti-social or criminal behaviour. We might think it’s dysfunctional but in reality it’s a sign of health conditions that afflict even the most apparently functional people.

RIP Taylor Hawkins.

About Irfan Yusuf 26 Articles
Irfan Yusuf grew up in Sydney and has worked as a lawyer in NSW, QLD, Victoria, Tasmania and WA. He is an award-winning author and has written for the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Canberra Times, NZ Herald, Crikey and ABC The Drum.

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