photo & text by nacrowe
there is evil and then there is SACKLER FAMILY evil.
EMPIRE OF PAIN: THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE SACKLER DYNASTY (DOUBLEDAY, 2021) by PATRICK RADDEN KEEFE is a cautionary journey into the depraved depths of boundless GREED that marked the IMMORAL behavior of the SACKLER FAMILY and the pharmaceutical business, PURDUE PHARMA, that they owned and operated over three generations. this operation was so successful in its peddling of addictive opioids in part due to the BRAZEN nature of their incapacity to showcase HUMAN EMPATHY or any SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY to their fellow man, instead hiding behind a fig leaf of false LIBERTARIAN-inspired dogma that is all to apparent in similar MORALLY CORRUPT CAPITALIST ENTERPRISES (i.e. tobacco and firearms).
but the outrage i felt reading this book is not limited to the SACKLER FAMILY and their unethical marketing of OXYCONTIN (and VALIUM before it) for widespread, common use. its tentacles went much further into the the very heart of the CORRUPT INCENTIVE STRUCTURES that are the basis of our federal LEGAL, POLITICAL and MEDICAL systems. every system failed. multiple times. it seemed that the whole capitalist system enabled this company to reek PHYSICAL, MORAL and PSYCHIC DESTRUCTION on the most DESPERATE and VULNERABLE elements of our society and profited unimaginably. and its not even a DEMOCRAT or REPUBLICAN issue, since everyone has blood on their hands over multiple administrations of inactivity. that and members of each have taken money from them and/or worked on their behalf (MARY JO WHITE and ERIC HOLDER of the OBAMA ADMINISTRATION to name only two prominent PURDUE PHARMA attorneys).
what also made EMPIRE OF PAIN so compelling, aside from its flawless construction as it expertly unveiled layers of interweaving depths of CORRUPT BUSINESS PRACTICES and IMMORAL BEHAVIOR over generations and geography, is how it is just as much concerned with the appearance and presentation of POWER and INFLUENCE. these ill-gotten gains were seemingly symbolically laundered through the name rights of institutes and galleries associated with numerous prestigious museums (THE MET, LOUVRE, TATE MODERN, NATIONAL GALLERY in LONDON, BROOKLYN MUSEUM, SMITHSONIAN, GUGGENHEIM, BRITISH MUSEUM and the AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY) and universities (HARVARD, COLUMBIA, OXFORD, NYU, TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY, YALE, CORNELL and TUFTS). this "philanthropy" was a bid for immortality and a fraudulent display of MAGNANIMITY for cultural and educational concerns that was really based in basic, primordial instincts towards POWER and INFLUENCE. the fact that these institutions allowed such to happen just shows the vacuous nature of their INFLUENCE-PEDDLING to begin with. nobody is spared in this narrative.
well, actually there are a few heroes. namely the artist NAN GOLDIN who utilized her unfortunate experience with OXYCONTIN and its community of survivors to chasten and call out the SACKLER FAMILY and those institutions that enabled them. her leadership is one of COURAGE and DEFIANCE and all those enabled virtues devoid from any member of the SACKLER FAMILY. there is also MASSACHUSETTS ATTORNEY GENERAL MAURA HEALEY and her NEW YORK counterpart LETITIA JAMES, as well as attorneys from across the country who tirelessly went after the family members themselves, even after the shell-game involved with the BANKRUPTCY COURT shenanigans of PURDUE PHARMA. their efforts are honorable and well within the scope of the public trust that defines their position.
the sad part about EMPIRE OF PAIN is that you are hoping that this constant craven display of INHUMANITY over many generations in one family is an anomaly in our system, a blip, but deep down we all know that this isnt the case. in fact, PURDUE PHARMA and their EXPLOITATIVE shell-game of an operation is our system. their bending and subordination of our LEGAL, FINANCIAL, POLITICAL and JUDICIAL structures to seek their needs and not the publics is as AMERICAN as BASEBALL or JAZZ.
this book really made me reflect on my own individual responsibility in the enabling of these types of structures and practices. the clothes i wear, the car i drive and the food i consume are all made available through unsustainable and exploitative practices on my behalf. i dont know how we exit our COMPLICITY as passive consumers within this complex system which seeks to generate consumer and investor value at the expense of limited resources and undervalued labor.
it just feels like this level of EXPLOITATION is bound to happen again and again on repeat because the incentives are there at every level to perpetuate such. again, seemingly we are all COMPLICIT. i just dont see this changing. ever. it is like JELLO BIAFRA riff on the PATRICK HENRY slogan which sums up our collective ADDICTION to CONSUMER CULTURE, damn the consequences, "give me convenience or give me death."
this is an excellent book, probably the best thing ive read since starting this blog a few years back. absolutely highly recommended.
photo & text by nacrowe
i was pretty shielded from DRUG CULTURE funny enough as a kid living in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA. that all changed in sixth grade when my family moved to NIGERIA in the mid 1990s. NIGERIA and specifically LAGOS where i lived was a major node in the global narcotic trade. it was also there that i was introduced to the seminal DIRT (COLUMBIA, 1992) album by SEATTLE ALTERNATIVE ROCK icons ALICE IN CHAINS through a friend a few years older than me. this album really served as an introduction to the physical and psychic costs of ADDICTION and it still resonates as such for me all these years later. in my mind it put context around the choices of others i was witnessing at the time, people dabbling in HEROIN and other OPIATES.
specifically i am referring to songs like "JUNKHEAD," "SICKMAN," "GOD SMACK," and "DIRT" which deal with the pain and throes of ADDICTION directly as well as "RAIN WHEN I DIE," "DOWN IN A HOLE," and "HATE TO FEEL" which get at the self-loathing and social consequences of maintaining such. the fact that the production (courtesy of TOBY WRIGHT) is so lush and the blended vocal harmonies of LAYNE STALEY and JERRY CANTRELL so intoxicating make the bleak subject matter palatable, although i would not go so far as to say it romanticizes it. if anything, STALEY is relaying his truth in one of the most transparent records about the damage wreaked by narcotics this side of NEIL YOUNG.
i would be doing a disservice if i didn't mention that "THEM BONES," "DAM THAT RIVER" and "WOULD?" are three of the most propulsive and catchy songs the band ever came up with. the CANTRELL penned ode to his father's VIETNAM service in "ROOSTER" is also highly affecting and puts context to their once strained relationship with empathy and courage. and ultimately i think that sense of empathy (towards other and themselves) is why DIRT is such a landmark record years later and doesn't fall into ROCK AND ROLL cliches regarding the subject. there is no real message other than a presentation of their experiences and that of people close to them (MOTHER LOVE BONE's ANDY WOOD being focus of "WOULD?" being an example). it lets the listener decide upon how to interpret and self-identify with subject matter, not the other way around.
this empathetic, humanizing approach would continue even in the years after STALEY's passing in BLACK GIVES WAY TO BLUE (VIRGIN, 2009), an ode to their lost friend and bandmate which is similarly focused on themes of loss and self-destruction as well as renewal and hope. in my mind that record bookends DIRT. all these years later and when i hear DIRT it still reminds me of the numbing interiority and loss of agency that comes with ADDICTIONS of any sort and makes me stop to be more empathetic to another's personal battle. as a child it gave me context to a world i was just witnessing for the first time. that sense of empathy for me that is the legacy of this record.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
in the wake of the suicides of both CHRIS CORNELL of SOUNDGARDEN and CHESTER BENNINGTON of LINKIN PARK in 2017, a conversation about MENTAL HEALTH in the METAL community was long overdue. obviously in a music genre that seemingly openly cultivates an exaggerated, almost cartoon-like, depiction of masculinity, the idea of publicizing a sense of self-reflection and being vulnerable is quite revolutionary. and that was what this 2018 four-part video series produced by REVOLVER MAGAZINE sought to accomplish. raising awareness about MENTAL HEALTH treatment, as well as the adjacent issue of SUBSTANCE ABUSE (which really only exacerbates the former).
JOHN DYER BAIZLEY from BARONESS, JESSE LEACH of KILLSWITCH ENGAGE, ZAKK WYLDE of BLACK LABEL SOCIETY/OZZY OSBOURNE and ROBBIN FLYNN of MACHINEHEAD all present testimonials about how they went about addressing issues surrounding their MENTAL HEALTH, whether that be ANXIETY, DEPRESSION, ADDICTIVE BEHAVIOR or issues of self-worth leftover from their formative years. the courage on display is astounding and it will no doubt pay forward in terms of raising awareness and elevating the consciousness of their audience.
not only that, i think this conversation will save lives. period.
i've written before and spoken on the air about the fact that the most impactful thing JAMES HETFIELD of METALLICA has ever done is being open about his issues surround MENTAL HEALTH and ADDICTION. when he returned to rehab in 2020, after years of sobriety since his previous stint in 2001, it took real bravery to take ownership and responsibility of his problems. and stop the machine to address such. the fact that his band supported such and didn't let financial or non-health related considerations influence his decision is a testament to their values and an example of human empathy. this has long not been the case. people will stay on the road so that the crew will get paid. because of that, the grind and pressures of the road and the music industry have claimed actual lives and anything that contributes to an atmosphere of less toxic masculinity in METAL is great, long-overdue thing.
if anything, i think it may actually assist in attracting a more inclusive and tolerant audience as well as fostering a more empathetic touring industry. how METAL would that be?