Drugs and The Writer

Essay; unpublished; n.d.
by Terry Southern

I think Big Chuck Bukowski (if, indeed, that is his name) is probably right that drink brings good luck to writers. God (certainly) knows it brings warmth and companionship -- to an otherwise absurdly forlorn situation. Faulkner always liked to say: "A writer without a bottle of whiskey is like a chicken without a goddam head." And Hemingway, of course, enjoyed nothing more than eulogizing the "Godly Brothers Gordon" for hours on end. Joyce would "knock back a whopper" at every opportunity. In fact, one would be hard pressed to name more than five writers of first account who were not drinkers. For whatever reason, this does not appear to be the case with women. Indeed, there is (almost) nothing worse than a drunken woman writer. Exceptions abound, up to a point. Simone de Beauvoir, whom I knew during her Nelson Algren period, worked very well behind absinthe, or its substitute, Pernod, sipping it for hours at the Flore and turning out her typical top-of-the-shelf stuff. But whenever Nels got her onto Boiler Makers she would soon be totally wrecked, and start singing Piaf. This was not bad in itself but she would apply her creative gifts towards 'improving' on these grand old La Vie En Rose-type favorites, and would end up rendering some kind of grotesque distortion. Nels had to give her a snappy "Tais-toi, cheri!" on more than one terse occasion.

Dot Parker was no stranger to the grape,.nor indeed to the doublebelt by all accounts. But she could handle it, according to Benchley ("She may have stumbled, but she never fell") and there's every reason to believe she did some of her best work under the steadying influence of a certain Monsieur Courvoisier, V.S.O.P.

This is not to suggest that any of these writers were alcoholics. I don't believe that a serious writer is in danger of becoming an alcoholic, because, after a certain point, one would not be working behind it, but directly in front of it, at peril of getting wiped out blotto, thereby defeating its purpose--which is, after all, motivational and as a hedge against the desolation of such a lonely endeavor. Good writers have so much (dare one say 'beauty and excitement'?) to come back to that they are not likely to go very far afield for any great length of time. It may be that addiction to alcohol exists among writers only as a psychological pain-killer for the 'manques', who had set great store by the potential I.D. value of it.

I think this may be said for other recreational drugs as well--with the notable exception of heroin, the effect of which is to reduce everything to a single glow, where it is no longer a question of doing or becoming--one is. A difficult package for anyone to resist. Almost no one kicks a major junk-habit; only super-artists, whose work is even stronger than the drug itself: Burroughs and Miles Davis are rather obvious examples. Mere mortals, however, beware.

But, as Dr. Leary advises, "Don't just say 'No', say "No thanks!"

(c) The Terry Southern Estate; all rights reserved.

Return to Home of Terry Southern