With his wide-eyed, shaky demeanor, Neil Young just has the look about him of a guy on drugs. The thing is that’s probably more the effect of his lifelong struggles with epilepsy than anything else. He’s definitely done his share; last year, the story broke that he’d finally quit smoking pot and drinking—at 66-years-old—to write his memoir.
And he’s created some great music ruminating on the ill effects of addiction; his 1971 song “The Needle and the Damage Done” is one of the most poignant ever written about heroin, and his 1975 album Tonight’s The Night eulogized his roadie Bruce Berry and guitarist Danny Whitten, both of whom died of heroin overdoses in 1973.
Despite all this, Young has generally avoided a reputation for doing heavy drugs himself. However, there have been some close calls. When he appeared in the Band’s concert film The Last Waltz in 1976, Young was apparently snorting cocaine backstage directly before his performance. In Band drummer Levon Helm’s autobiography, he wrote, “Neil Young had delivered a good version of ‘Helpless,’ but performed with a good-size rock of cocaine stuck in his nostril. Neil’s manager saw this and said no way is Neil gonna be in the film like this. They had to go to special effects people, who developed what they called a ‘travelling booger matte’ that sanitized Neil’s nostril and put ‘Helpless’ into the movie.” As a result, that crumb of cocaine is surely one of the most expensive ever snorted.
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