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short & insightful writing about a long and complex history

Joint Blog of the Alcohol & Drugs History Society and the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy

ttravis | January 20, 2011

Points (n.)

1. marks of punctuation. 2. something that has position but not extension, as the intersection of two lines. 3. salient features of a story, epigram, joke, etc.:  he hit the high points. 4. (slang; U.S.) needles for intravenous drug use.

The Pub, the Street, & the Medicine Cabinet: Be There or Be Square

Points is pleased to announce that the complete program for the 6th Annual International Conference on the History of Alcohol and Drugs is now available.  Hosted by SUNY Buffalo under the able stewardship of David Herzberg, the conference runs from 24-26 June and features a keynote address by Points co-managing editor Joe Spillane, “Our Own …

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MADD as Hell: From Carrie Nation to Drunk Driving

Carrie Nation, with Hatchet, Bible, and Attitude

As I was preparing this post and already thinking about Carrie Nation, I learned from a student in a University of Michigan class I am teaching on addiction that the temperance advocate had come to Ann Arbor in 1902, where she was ridiculed by students at a rally only a few blocks from our classroom.   Then as now, Nation’s passionate activism—her “hatchetation,” as she called her campaign to close saloons—could easily be reduced to caricature.  Like other women involved in temperance efforts, Nation blamed the liquor traffic for destroying many men and causing hardship for their wives, children, and mothers;  Nation’s first husband, in fact, died from alcohol-related causes a few years after their marriage.  In 1899, Nation reported that she had experienced a vision calling her to demolish saloons.  Armed with stones, bricks, an iron bar, and eventually a hatchet, Nation smashed bottles, glasses, and mirrors in saloons across Kansas.  Jailed numerous times, Nation then embarked on a lecture tour, raising money which she used to pay her court costs and to establish a home for the wives, children, and mothers of alcoholic men.  Although her goals were shared by mainstream temperance organizations, her religious fervor and violent tactics caused most temperance advocates to keep their distance and brought derision from the media and the general public. (1)

"Home Protection": No Hatchets Necessary (LOC Prints & Photographs Division)

Nation’s methods may have been extreme, and today many dismiss her as a narrow-minded prude, but it is worth recalling that the issues for which she fought might appropriately be considered feminist—she and other temperance advocates linked the temperance cause to the legal and economic powerlessness of women in marriage and to the abuse we now call domestic violence.  For Nation, the solution to these interconnected problems might not be easy, but it was obvious: outlaw saloons and the liquor traffic. The temperance slogan “Home Protection” shows how neatly aligned—indeed, how mutually reinforcing—were ideas about gender and alcohol.

Although she died in 1911, Nation cast a long shadow, showing that despite important changes in both gender roles and American attitudes toward alcohol in the twentieth century, the intersection of these domains carried persistent and resonant echoes from the past.  More than three decades after Nation’s death, and more than ten years after the repeal of national Prohibition, descriptions in the media of Marty Mann, the polished and sophisticated public health advocate who founded the organization that is now the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, invoked Nation as a counterpoint.  One reporter wrote, for example, “No Carri [sic] Nation, Mrs. Mann, who is an ex-drinker herself, believes that a helping hand can do more to help alcoholics than all the axes in the country” (2).  Mann herself contrasted her campaign with Nation’s, emphasizing that her own organization was neither wet nor dry (a necessary insistence in the post-Repeal era).  Even when the comparison with Nation was used to highlight Mann’s difference, the fact that it was made at all demonstrates the cultural staying power of the gendered politics of temperance.

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Clinical Sentiments, Part 2: Shane MacGowan

This post is the second installment of guest blogger Eoin Cannon’s musings on popular songs that rely on “established therapeutic expectations not only about recovery but also about the link between heavy drinking and creativity in the narrators’ own public personae.”

Yesterday I talked about the ways that Warren Zevon’s “Detox Mansion” combines light words with dark music, but now I want to look at the way Shane MacGowan and The Popes reverse the juxtaposition.

The Reputation of Shane MacGowan

“St. John of Gods” provides a remarkable degree of complexity with a few simple components. McGowan’s lyric is in the British and Irish folk-revival tradition of sentimental odes to tragic street figures. Here, because of MacGowan’s voice and reputation, the distance between the speaker and the figure is less certain. The verses trace three bare scenes in the life of a far-gone drunk, whose only words are the song’s refrain:

See the man
The crushed up man
With the crushed up Carrolls packet in his hand
Doesn’t seem to see or care
Or even understand
And all he says is:
“F yez all, F yez all
F yez all, F yez all.”

This chorus ultimately gives way to “St. John of Gods” as an alternative mantra.  St. John of God is a psychiatric clinic in a southern suburb of Dublin, run since 1882 by the religious order of that name. Though it offers a range of services, it is best known for alcoholism treatment.

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Clinical Sentiments: Warren Zevon’s “Detox Mansion” and Shane MacGowan’s “St. John of Gods”

Points will be enriched over the course of the next few weeks by the presence of guest blogger Eoin Cannon. Presently a lecturer in History & Literature at Harvard, Cannon received a PhD in American Literature from Boston University in 2010, and is the author of the forthcoming The Politics of Redemption: Addiction and Conversion in Modern American Culture (U. Mass Press, 2012).

Warren Zevon, Sentimental Hygeine, 1987

Because my main research interest has been in addiction and literature, I wanted my first contribution to Points to give a sense of how I think about this topic, but without just adapting some piece of earlier work. So I came up with the idea of tracing out some thoughts I’d had recently about these two songs–Zevon’s “Detox Mansion” and MacGowan’s “St. John of Gods”– realizing that I’d been thinking about them, even though I don’t write about music, because of

Shane McGowan and the Popes, The Crock of Gold, 1997

their resonance with my work.  Both pieces deal with treatment clinics as structuring elements in the lives of alcoholics in the 20th century. I think all of us who study the history of addiction are aware that its conceptual trajectory is anchored by various institutions— for me the ones that have mattered most are the less formally organized grassroots recovery movements and religious revivals.  But these are unlikely subject matter for popular music on therapeutic themes, which usually focuses on unmediated interior experiences.

Second, both of these songs make their meanings in conversation with established therapeutic expectations not only about recovery but also about the link between heavy drinking and creativity in the narrators’ own public personae.  (I’ve steered clear of the obvious biographical contexts in this analysis, just because it’s not my primary concern here, and it tends to overwhelm other meanings.)  One of the ways they do this is simply by invoking the rehab clinic: from the outset they’re approaching recovery as an external regime to which individuals are submitted or submit themselves.  The songs don’t reject the therapeutic template, but they call attention to the unresolved questions this frame entails— questions about agency, authenticity, and the social functions of the approved narrative— in a set of juxtapositions.

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Russia’s Addiction to Alcohol (Taxes)

Points readers who enjoyed our interview with Mark Schrad on his recent book, The Political Power of Bad Ideas: Networks, Institutions, and the Global Prohibition Wave, will no doubt concur with the points he makes in an op-ed in today’s New York Times about the difficulties Russian authorities face when they advocate alcohol abstinence or …

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“We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Badges!”

In a strange twist in the history of international drug interdiction, three West African drug traffickers have through their attorneys in New York Federal Court openly acknowledged that they are in the global business of distributing cocaine.  According to a story, “Admitting Clients Are Drug Traffickers, but Denying Guilt,”  in the New York Times April …

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David Foster Wallace and Addiction and Recovery (and History)

Maria Bustillos, of TheAwl.com has written a thoughtful (long) commentary on the collection of carefully read, highlighted, and annotated recovery/self-help books in the newly opened David Foster Wallace Papers at UT Austin’s Harry Ransom Center.  Her  well-documented essay addresses a question about which there has been much speculation since DFW’s suicide in 2008: did he identify …

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Guest Blogging: Siobhan Reynolds

Siobhan Reynolds with son Ronan
Siobhan Reynolds with son Ronan

With this first in a series of posts by Siobhan Reynolds, formerly of the Pain Relief Network, Points inaugurates a guest blogging feature, showcasing voices from inside and outside of the academic and policy worlds. Reynolds founded the Pain Relief Network (PRN) in 2003 in response to her husband’s experience with chronic pain and the stigma attached to its treatment. PRN challenged government restrictions on opioid pain treatment by advocating for and representing doctors in disciplinary proceedings and criminal prosecutions. The organization was forced to close its doors in 2010, after the Supreme Court refused Reynolds’ petition for certiorari in a case that Adam Liptak explains much more succinctly than we could. Reynolds lives in New Mexico with her son Ronan and her partner, attorney Kevin P. Byers, whose legal practice carries forward PRN’s mission.

The people of the United States seem to have mostly recovered from the federal government’s propaganda campaign that accompanied the criminalization of marijuana in  the 1930’s.  Reefer Madness is now viewed as a hoary, ridiculous example of just how far the feds will go to demonize the benign and medically useful cannabis plant.  But as concerns opioids, the vast majority of Americans, including educated people–university professors, members of the press, physicians and anti drug war activists of all stripes–still find themselves emotionally manipulated by the propaganda that was utilized to destroy the poppy’s reputation in order to justify its criminalization.  The campaign continues, now cloaked in the guise of a public health and safety message that is premised on “facts” no more factual than those presented to the public by way of Reefer Madness.  The only difference between the Reefer Madness campaign and the one currently smearing opioids is one of perception.  Americans mostly believe the anti-scientific rhetoric that is said to support opium prohibition. And this is where the trouble lies.

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