The InsiderOne Daily Report

  Friday, April 13, 2001

How's Bob's Drinking?

InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: Guided By Voices fans are not pleased. In my current "The Drama You've Been Craving" column, I wrote: "The demons on Robert Pollard's trail must really be something. He appears to be medicating himself to such a degree that it's hard not to wonder just how long he's got 'til his liver or other organs simply give out. He's running from something, trying to black out the insecurity and stage fright and god knows what else. It's like he thinks it's the brew that turns him into a superhero rock star. ... But drinking yourself into the ground isn't the answer. I can't help but wonder how much greater, even, the work of Robert Pollard and GBV could be if he were straight and focused." In response, one reader, Wilbert, wrote: "You are such a little pansy for writing that dribble about Pollard. You obviously have not been around the GBV scene for long, probably only listening to them when Ric Ocasek produced Do the Collapse. Beer is not bad. Drinking and playing is fun as hell (I should know, I'm a musician in Austin, TX). I don't see why you have to harp on someone's choice to drink Bud Light versus heroin or coke. I think Bob is a true role model for many musicians, and that's not a bad thing. Too many have died from drug OD's, and Bud Light, in the grand spectrum, is very benign. You don't seem to poke at other musicians who smoke cigarettes. That will definitely kill you. So please, be a little less judgmental when reviewing albums. Thanks." Hm. Well, I think it's beside the point, but I've been a fan of GBV since Bee Thousand (1994). Wilbert is right, there's nothing wrong with beer. But when I see someone who appears to be an alcoholic abusing alcohol, that's something else again. I know enough about that illness (and that's what it is) to know its devastating effects. On the way down, alcoholics have, on occasion, lost everything, while making life miserable for their families, friends and co-workers. You only need to spend an hour listening to people's stories at an AA meeting to understand how destructive alcohol abuse can be, without ignoring heroin and coke's tremendously negative impact on most of those who become addicted to them. Many musicians admire Robert Pollard, and they should. He has made enormous contributions to our culture with his wonderful music. He's a brilliant songwriter, singer and musician. However, alcohol isn't the reason for his talent, and I would hope that other musicians aren't buying into the myth that they need alcohol or drugs to be creative. What musicians do behind closed doors is their business, but in Pollard's case, he arrived onstage plastered and proceeded to drink beer after beer in front of a sold-out audience. He's gone public with it, and thus it's fair game. He even has a song on the latest GBV album titled "How's My Drinking?" I responded to his question as part of my column — 99% of which celebrated Pollard and GBV's art. If an artist puts the question out there, should I not try to supply an answer? Another GBV fan, Nathan, wrote: "It's known that many great artists have suffered from chemical dependency and mental illness. I would feel stupid, myself, speculating on William S. Burroughs' potential work should he have never picked up the needle. Likewise, I would feel foolish for suggesting that Bukowski would have been a better writer if he had not been an absolute drunk...rather that is what made his writing so unique. The fact that you even speculate about GBV's potential if Pollard were sober is absurd. He isn't and never has been. That being said, beer is an integral part of their music, regardless of why you think Pollard may be drinking. Ever thought that he has a genetic predisposition to substance abuse? Pollard is the dirty old bastard (Bukowski) of rock. 'nuff said." Naturally, I disagree. Pollard may use alcohol to lose his inhibitions and get in touch with his muse, but it's not part of his art. If you played a GBV studio recording other than "How's My Drinking?" for someone who is not familiar with the group, I doubt they'd go: "Boy, lot of beer in that song!" As to speculating about what Pollard might create were he not loaded, nothing wrong with that. For Pollard's sake, I hope a time will come when he's no longer dependent on alcohol. Whether or not his music gets better, I'm sure he'll be a happier man. (If you've got some thoughts about alcohol and rock, or drugs and rock, please use the handy "contact" link at the top of the home page to share them with me. If some interesting comments come in, I'll include them in a future "InsiderOne Daily Report.")

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Michael Goldberg is the president of He founded Addicted To Noise in 1994.

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