They’re calling it the “Michael Jackson clause” – but it’s got nothing to do with suspiciously generous out-of-court settlements with tweenage boys. According to The Guardian, a coalition of managers and label bosses are working to hammer out a legal clause that will enable labels to ‘suspend’ – ie stop paying – any artist who gets too whacked out on drugs to do his/her job.
On a cold economic level, this makes sense. You imagine such an insurance scheme might look attractive to, say, Island executives, who are probably wondering how many more years Amy Winehouse is going to spend slurring show tunes in St. Lucia, or having unnecessary boob jobs, or singing inaudible backing vocals for her goddaughter on Strictly Come Dancing, as opposed to actually, you know, recording the albums that her contract requires.
Artistically, though, the Jacko Loophole – as I’ve decided to call it – is deeply flawed, for one glaring reason: artists have often made their best music while mashed out of their gourd. From Bob Dylan to Iggy Pop, songwriters frequently hit the sharpest creative form of their careers when they’re hurtling headlong into a druggy abyss (caveat: this rule only holds true for the genuinely talented – a terrifying descent into addiction and squalor would do little for the songwriting of, say, Taio Cruz).
Without drugs, there’d be no ‘Screamadelica’, no ‘Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space’, no ‘Revolver’, and no ‘Be Here Now’ (so it’s not all bad). History shows us that a debilitating narcotic haze is no barrier to recording spectacular music. Fleetwood Mac burned through so much coke while recording ‘Rumours’, drummer Mick Fleetwood wanted to credit his dealer on the liner notes – and would’ve done, had said dealer not been executed before the album came out. And yet it’s an utterly, unarguably fantastic record.
Meanwhile, Bowie’s ‘Station To Station’ derives at least some of its mesmeric, zombie-eyed power from the fact Bowie wrote it – according to legend – while barricaded into an Egyptian mummy-strewn LA house, surviving on a diet of cocaine, milk and peppers, convinced that witches were trying to steal his semen (by weird coincidence, that’s exactly how the new Editors album came together too).
Besides which, drug-addled musicians are funny. We all love hearing the tale of how Keith Richards flushed his stash down the studio toilet because he heard the police were at the door (turns out it was Sting and Stewart Copeland), or the time a booze-blasted Ozzy Osbourne pissed ants all over the Alamo, or something.
Rock stars do these things because they know they can get away with them, and a record company rep isn’t going to pop round with a clipboard and a calculator and say, “I’m sorry, Mr Presley, you appear to have spent the last eight hours scarfing Dexedrine, filling a swimming pool with thousands of lightbulbs, and then laboriously shooting those lightbulbs with a revolver – we’re going to have to invoice you for the lost productivity.”
Plus, from a post-YouTube point of view, if it weren’t for musicians’ goggle-eyed appetite for oblivion, we wouldn’t now be able to waste our lunch hours watching Sly Stone mumble psychedelic gibberish on the Dick Cavat show, or James Brown grinning like a maniac, or an acid-wrecked Jamie Reynolds playing blissed-out air bass at the Brit Awards.
So please, record label execs, don’t break a butterfly on a wheel. Allow your musicians to fulfil their manifest destiny by scoffing their own weight in stimulants, experiencing a soul-sucking comedown, moping for a bit, and then penning a vaguely shoegazey album about it. We’ll leave it to Brian Wilson to supply the last word. “There are a myriad of drug songs on the pop-music market today,” he told the Melody Maker in 1966. “I don’t know which they are, though.”