Given the centrality of drugs to rock history, it’s surprising that more hasn’t been written about the specific intersection between the two. So it’s encouraging that Vancouver writer George Case forthrightly declares his new book, Out Of Our Heads: Rock ’N’ Roll Before The Drugs Wore Off, to be a history of rock through the lens of narcotics. And it’s frustrating when the book turns out to be a by-the-numbers, half-digested rock history with a goodly portion of nudging asides and barely concealed hero worship of chemical warriors like Keith Richards and Jimi Hendrix.
Case doesn’t offer much history or insight. He continuously relies on clichés and received wisdom, and his lax phrasing doesn’t help: Yes, Bob Dylan went “through a difficult divorce” in the mid-’70s, and no, neither Blood On The Tracks nor Desire “described” it. Case spends nearly a whole page first describing Freddie Mercury as someone who, like Elton John, “used cocaine to augment his own same-sex binges,” then backtracks, quoting an old associate who says that Mercury did the drug “recreationally and not all that much,” and debunking an old witch-hunt rumor about a Queen song containing a backward-masked pro-pot lyric. (Why is Queen in the book, then?)
Out Of Our Heads is doubly exasperating because occasionally, Case is sharply perceptive. His point that amphetamines were de rigueur in the armed forces during World War II and in suburban homes afterward casts the ’60s generation gap in a different light. He astutely notes that the early-’70s rise of round-the-clock studio recording—particularly in houses and mansions with portable equipment—allowed for constant chemical enhancement in a way the prompt, professionally engineered studios of the ’60s did not. Too bad Case didn’t make more of these insights. Instead, he’s written the equivalent of a stoned discussion with a very enthusiastic friend whose stories you’ve mostly already heard.