The perils of performance enhancers
The entertainment industry was rocked this week by the news that Robin Thicke was under the influence during all the recording and promotion for his summer 2013 smash hit, “Blurred Lines.”
A copyright infringement lawsuit initiated last fall by Marvin Gaye’s estate has produced depositions by both Thicke and producer Pharrell Williams. They aren’t pretty.
Not only do we learn that Thicke, credited as a co-writer on the hit single, had much less involvement in the creation of the song — he was also nursing a very heavy alcohol and painkiller habit.
“I was high on vicodin and alcohol when I showed up at the studio,” Thicke said, admitting Williams had about 75 percent of the song written when he arrived to record his vocals. He also admitted to lying in media interviews and “not being sober” for any of them.
In an industry where performers make more money than they can spend and everything is at their fingertips, it can become easy to fall victim to the lure of drugs and alcohol. In Thicke’s case, it’s his vindication for taking any responsibility for his actions. In most performers' cases, that's what can keep them from staying focused and successful.
“The sole purpose of our job as nightclub DJs is to encourage drinking,” said Frederick Bogel Grimmel III, aka DJ Fred Matters one recent weekend at the Modern Honolulu. He was in town to perform at Addiction Nightclub, but came by my lunch meeting to say hello before heading to a local Alcoholics Anonymous meeting — one of his favorite things to do when he travels to another city.
With residencies in Hollywood and Las Vegas, the SKAM Artist has been sober for a little more than two years, but credits alcohol for helping him to be more social. Now Grimmel wouldn’t trade anything for his sobriety.
“It’s the most important thing in my life,” he said. “I'm very lucky to do what I do. Being sober allows me to really appreciate how lucky I am to play music.”
Hawaii-based DJ, producer and recording artist Jerel Ronquilio — better known as Osna, aka Osnizzle — was on his way to Australia when I caught up with him to talk about his sobriety.
Unlike Grimmel, Ronquilio has never touched drugs or alcohol. He's always been known for his outlandish humor and has entered and mastered many avenues of performing, from MC battles to viral videos. Now he's making his way around the world as a touring DJ with the Common Kings, and this week he'll kick off a stint opening for Justin Timberlake on the pop superstar's The 20/20 Experience world tour.
I've only gotten a small taste of what being on a world tour could be like after watching Swedish House Mafia’s documentary on their final Leave the World Behind tour. It didn’t look so much glamorous as it did emotionally and physically draining. Only knowing what it’s like to go from a day job to a gig (sometimes two), then back to the day job, I can feel for these artists who must remain on point. There really isn’t time to be wasted.
“I remember everything that happens in a crazy party night,” said Osna. “Plus I'm sober enough to hold the camera still while I capture my friend’s most regretful decisions.
“I know many DJs who've lost their jobs because of drugs and alcohol,” Grimmel said. “They burn out and the lifestyle catches up with them.”
Talking to more and more local DJs, I learned many who I respect the most stay sober while in the booth.
“Reading a crowd seems to be a sometimes lost art, especially when every time you play it's raging and people will cling on to whatever you play,” said Isaac Ikeda, aka DJ Frizel. “Being sober in situations other than that though helps develop a clear picture on your crowd, making captivation and even churning a lot easier.”
While many artists have lost their lives to substance abuse, Thicke has really only lost his credibility. The key is moderation, which is something that takes a while to learn, if it is ever truly learned. Do you want to be successful or do you want to lose your mind, your integrity or even your life?
Sometimes one path seems more enticing than the other. Hopefully these very public controversies can be a lesson to stay on track.
Christa Wittmier has chronicled Honolulu nightlife since 2004. She is senior marketing director at Young's Market Co. of Hawaii and executive director of music for Pow! Wow! Hawaii, and also helps promote the popular Bacardi Pool Party on Oahu. Contact her via e-mail or follow her on Twitter.