There can't be a story about sex, drugs, and rock and roll without Velvet Underground's "I'm Waiting for the Man." Written by Lou Reed, and first released on the 1967 debut album, The Velvet Underground & Nico.
The song is about waiting on a street corner in Harlem near the intersection of Lexington Avenue and 125th Street, in New York to purchase drugs (heroin.) The song is sung from the POV of the purchaser, who is presumably Lou; who goes to Harlem to score drugs. "The man" in the title is a drug dealer. It is one of Velvet Underground's most if not the most popular songs featuring drugs as the subject matter.
David Bowie covered the song in 1972, and included it on his album BBC Sessions. Lou Reed sang it in a duet with Bowie (see below) Bowie's version is the one used on the soundtrack of the movie Almost Famous.
I used this song title for it's quintessential message; drug's were everywhere during that time period. The mindset of excess was imbedded into the brains during the 80's. Scoring drugs was popular in most clubs like the CBGB, Limelight and various others, not to mention a few seedy places in Alphabet City, where one could line-up at a door that had a slot that you put your money into, tell the man what you wanted, and poof your drugs would appear in an envelope much like a soda from a vending machine. Be it heroin or cocaine; they had it all. Ordinary people, musicians, grandmothers, anyone and everyone who wanted to "score" would go to this one place to purchase off the street. Purchasing drugs had no color lines, economic status, or boundaries of usage. The users included casual, and the full blown addict. Employees of the street drug dealers would stand guard on the line. After making your selection, you then exit stage right. No standing around. I never set out to glamorize drug usage in my writing. Drugs were woven into the fabric of the New York scene, and they were available to anyone in streets, open markets, and clubs. Drugs were everywhere in New York in the early and mid 80's, that was until Ronald Reagan declared a war on them and most users and street level dealers were targets to be arrested. Before that time period dealers were selling in the open streets, and the outdoor Sunday markets which was common. To have painted a backdrop of a rock band set in the 80's New York without drugs; would've been unrealistic.
Using the Velvet Underground song as inspiration for chapter 11, we find a stumbling out-of-bed-mess Sebastian, who has spent the last several nights on excess. His drug binges, pill popping to counteract the cocaine and booze, grows increasing concern for Gina. Reflecting back to the days of standing street merchants while writing this chapter, I was able to recall the merchants selling their forbidden fruit to the strung out musicians who had pawned guitars to purchase "smack" only to later, borrow money from one of his many girlfriends to get the instrument back so he could play a gig. If you supported one of these "dreamy" guys back in the day, then you know exactly how it worked. The behavior of a starving artist was exhausting, especially when the one using substances uses your money to pay for their overindulgent habit.
Envisioning Sebastian's backslide in his attitude and controlling behavior towards Gina; I recalled on a friend who had a penchant for Tuinal, known today as Xanax. Reflecting on people in that time period that popped "christmas trees" A.K.A. Tuinal. After taking one of these soul-taking pills, the users behavior would change a few hours later. If the user was typically easy to anger, then any slight would magnify intensity of the user in how they would react to being questioned on anything. I wrote Sebastian to be a self-centered person with a pill addiction, who was enabled by doctors with prescribed medication to help him facilitate his escape into his inner demons. (Today we use therapy to deal with issues. Tuinal is off the marketplace, and Xanax is difficult to come by, but not impossible under a doctors care.)
Sebastian's behavior stemming from his excessive pill use, starts to take it's toll on Gina's frame of mind as she wonders what she has signed up for; to be Sebastian's care taker, back-up singer, or girlfriend. When Sebastian is high, all these seemingly wonderful choices (roll the eyes) are bad for her. Sebastian is a controlling. over-sexed, self-centered jack-ass, and Gina is a 19-year old girl in love with the sober side of his personality when she is able to see it. Sebastian's demeanor is a textbook take-it-or-leave-it situation. You can't fix what is broken...but Gina (like most women who fall in love with the tortured artist type) will try her very best to "save his soul" and "change him." It can be exhausting to be in this type of relationship dynamic with anyone.
Sadly drugs are more popular than the music that came from this time period. Most probably do not know or care about artist or music that came out of the 80's, but most have some understanding of the drug culture. The drugs have changed names, the music industry has changed, and somebody will always be "holding." (A reference to having drugs on your person.) Most who grew up in the 80's knew how available drugs were. Stand at a concert for 10 minutes and the person next to you probably offered you some weed. Nothing really has changed. Now with the legalization of pot in many states, perhaps we are moving away from the larger felony drugs and prescription pills that break down your organs over extended exposure, and are becoming more accepting and tolorant of smelly recreational substances that hopefully won't take your soul.
Most aging rockers have stopped using drugs because they grew tired of being tired. Drugs will age you like nothing else. Many former drug users have spoken about near death experiences. Duff, a member of GnR wrote in his biography about blowing out his pancreas due to his excessive abuse, he almost died. Many artist did get clean and sober and that is a great thing, but some did not, some took their lives, and some died from overdoses. Drugs never solved one problem for anyone, they were used as the canvas for the artist to work.
David Bowie & Lou Reed 2002. I'm Waiting for the Man live
Velvet Underground - I´m Waiting For The Man
Kris Embrey is the author of Tell Me You Want Me, and Till The Other Side Of Time by Archway Publishing, a Simon and Schuster Company.