1-212-717-6997 drloucox@egomechanics.com

New York Times, July 11, 2004

The Shrinking of the American Band, by Lola Ogunnaike

Billboard, May 29, 2004

Rock & Rehab Industry, Artists Coming to Grips with Addiction, by Michael Paoletta

July 11, 2004, Sunday


MUSIC; The Shrinking of the American Band

By LOLA OGUNNAIKE (NYT) 1225 words

Correction Appended

WHEN Dr. Lou Cox, a Manhattan-based clinical psychologist, gets a call from a rock band, he knows what to expect: a band on the verge of splitting up. Beginning with Aerosmith in 1985, he has worked with nearly 30 bands and the pattern has almost always been the same. ”Unfortunately, I’m usually called in when things have gotten pretty bad,” said Dr. Cox. ”They’re at the point of saying its not worth it.”

Last Friday, the most prominent and well-documented band-therapy case became that of Metallica, when the film ”Some Kind of Monster” opened in Los Angeles and New York. It chronicles the two years the speed-metal band spent in therapy with Phil Towle, a performance coach who has also worked with the bands Stone Temple Pilots and Audio Slave.

But Metallica and Mr. Towle’s other clients are hardly alone. The music world — full of notoriously volatile and dysfunctional types who have long preferred to rock it out, not talk it out — has become more receptive to therapists and their ministrations. Though the notion of seeking help remains one of rock’s dirty little secrets, some of these therapists have become a regular part of band retinues; Bon Jovi, R.E.M., Motley Crue, and Aerosmith have all relied on shrink sessions, as have smaller groups like the female alt-rock trio Sleater Kinney. And Dr. Cox is one of several therapists who have made a career of helping bands excavate deep-rooted resentments, break through communication blocks and negotiate power struggles. Dr. Cox and his colleagues say dozens more prominent bands have also sought their help, though doctor-patient confidentiality prevents them from naming names unless given permission.

Dr. Nancy Sobel, a licensed psychologist in Los Angeles who has worked with musical groups for nearly a decade, said bands (and their record labels, which have a financial interest in keeping bands together) have kept pace with society at large and become more receptive to therapy. ”Ten years ago it was all you could do to get people to show up for meetings,” she said.

The therapists say their general approach is similar to that of family counseling; bands’ dynamics, they said, are similar to those of marriages (in that they rely on longterm, consensual bonds) and sibling relationships (in that they frequently involve rivalries). And as in family therapy, band members are encouraged to hash out problems as a group rather than submit to individual psychoanalysis. In discussions about their work, these practitioners used an amusing combination of music-industry lingo, ”Behind the Music” type narrative, and pop-psychology terms to describe their methodologies. According to Dr. Cox, bands go through several emotional phases. There is the honeymoon period when group members are in love with each other, he said: ”The music is really happening, they’ve signed a record deal and they’re going up against the world.”

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During this period, the band postpones conflict, sidestepping matters both mundane (you stole my groupie) and complicated (you stole my wife). ”No one,” Dr. Cox said, ”wants to spoil the party.” But as every viewer of VH1 knows, fame inevitably brings complications. In ”Why Successful Bands Fail,” a chapter from his forthcoming book, ”Egos at Work,” Dr. Cox writes, ”It is usually at the point when the honeymoon period is ending and the high of success is waning that the tension produced by the band’s dysfunction reaches the boiling point and forces the band into a confrontation with its own internal self-destructive forces.” If the problems aren’t dealt with, the band begins to unravel.

Substance abuse problems make things worse. In the case of Aerosmith, Steven Tyler’s and Joe Perry’s drug addictions were a major problem, said Dr. Cox. ”They were out there,” he said, ”and we couldn’t even address the other band issues until that problem was taken care of.”

Money is another major flashpoint. ”If you haven’t got a method for dividing it up, it can get pretty hairy,” said Dr. Cox, who like the other therapists stays clear of his clients’ business affairs.

In the music industry, it often seems as though every single act harbors anger toward its record label. But Dr. Sobel argues that this disillusionment can corrode the band itself, not just external relationships. ”The original idea a lot of these groups have about the music gets disrupted by commercialism and that is a tremendous loss that is difficult to resolve,” Dr. Sobel said.

Therapists are also addressing another classic source of band drama: the tensions and discomforts of life on the road. Tour life can be so challenging, in fact, that Dr. Cox said he is sometimes called in for a ”tune-up” before his clients hit the road. ”The bubble that people exist in on tour is so distorting and it can breed a lot of trouble,” Dr. Cox said.

Dr. Sobel, who has toured with some of her clients, added: ”In a dysfunctional family there are three unspoken rules: don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel. In order to survive on the road, those unspoken rules unwittingly come into play. You can’t admit that you’re tired or hurting.”

John Hipple, a senior staff counselor at the University of North Texas who works with a number of ”baby bands” in the Denton area and one Grammy Award-winning group he declined to name, invites band mates to discuss their different expectations, from who will write the lyrics to who will schmooze with the audience during a show. ”If expectations are clear and finely tuned, you have less difficulty,” he said.

Dr. Cox makes a point of first speaking to band members individually. ”Everyone,” he explained, ”has a piece of the truth.” These one-on-one discussions are then followed by a two-day workshop, which, among other things, points out the difference between a ”high performance” and ”dysfunctional” team. Dr. Cox then talks to bands about the ego: ”If I can get them to decriminalize the fact that they all have egos, then you can get past it.”

Mr. Towle, Metallica’s therapist, has his clients confront people outside of the group as well. In one particularly uncomfortable scene in ”Some Kind of Monster,” the bass player Lars Ulrich has a sit-down with Dave Mustaine, who formed the heavy metal group Megadeth after being booted out of Metallica in 1983.

”Have you thought about what I went through?” asks Mr. Mustaine, choking back tears. ”It’s been hard to watch everything you guys do turn to gold and everything I do backfire.” (Though it’s not revealed in the documentary, Megadeth underwent therapy in the 90’s.) Mr. Ulrich admits to feeling ”some guilt,” but tells Mr. Mustaine, ”I find it difficult to believe that everything you dealt with in the past 20 years is rooted in the Metallica thing.”

Mr. Towle, who was paid $40,000 a month for his services, said later, ”As they got deeper into exploration of their own personalities and relationships, it was only natural for them to think about relationships that weren’t resolved.”

As a preventive measure, Dr. Sobel said, some managers have begun to call her in to evaluate a band just after it has been signed. ”I’ll meet with the band for half a day and then go back to management and say, ‘Here are the potential problems,’ ” she said.

Correction: July 11, 2004
Because of an editing error, an article on Page 25 of Arts & Leisure today about bands that receive group therapy misidentifies the instrument played by Lars Ulrich of Metallica, a group whose therapy is chronicled in the film ”Some Kind of Monster.” It is drums, not bass. The article also misspells the name of another group that has received counseling. It is Audioslave, not Audio Slave.

Copyright © 2004, The New York Times Company

Music industry coming to grips with  addiction

More and more artists are becoming rehab veterans

By Michael Paoletta


Courtney Love, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, Whitney Houston, Kelly Osbourne, Jo Dee Messina, Scott Weiland. The list goes on.

All are creative rock or pop stars and veterans of rehab for drug and/or alcohol addiction.

Is the drug-fueled rock era of the 1980s making a big comeback?

Highly doubtful, most counselors and doctors say. But the media’s fascination with celebrity — and all the pressure that it entails — continues to fuel the highs and lows of an artist’s life.

“In rock ’n’ roll, you’re supposed to be outrageous,” says Dr. Lou Cox, a New York-based psychologist who specializes in addictions. “Being bad is good.

“The culture is not only supportive of addiction,” he continues, “it’s as if there is a demand for it — like it’s part of the credibility package.”

Indeed, the long list of artists who have died of a drug overdose or a drug-related accident over the past 30 years includes some of the icons of rock ’n’ roll.

The list ranges from the Doors’ Jim Morrison, the Who’s Keith Moon, the Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones to contemporary artists such as Sublime’s Bradley Nowell and Blind Melon’s Shannon Hoon.

Rising awarenessBut the culture of drug abuse is undergoing a major transition across the entire musical landscape, according to artists, managers and others in the industry.

“There is a higher degree of awareness,” industry veteran and author Walter Yetnikoff says. “People know that recreational use can kill you.”

And if it doesn’t kill you, it can be a detriment to your career.

In today’s climate, where the bottom line rules — and everyone is accountable — “the artists that keep it together are the winners,” Atlantic Records chairman/CEO Jason Flom says.

In recent years, Natalie Cole, Ozzy Osbourne, Mary J. Blige, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Anthony Kiedis, Michael Jackson and Dr. John, among other artists, have publicly dealt with their addictions.

“Today, there is a lot more demand for an artist’s time,” says Flom, who has been sober since 1987. “Artists must perform at the top of their game at all times.”

For those with addiction issues, being at the top of their game means relapses are more often the rule than the exception, counselors confirm.

Nonesuch Records recently pushed back the release of Wilco’s new album, “A Ghost Is Born,” from June 8 to June 22. One of the reasons for this was to accommodate singer/songwriter Tweedy’s rehab visit in April.

“Artists on drugs can definitely slow down the promotional process,” Warner Bros. senior VP Liz Rosenberg says. “In the publicity world, this has a very strong impact.”

Yetnikoff, who has been sober since 1989, chronicles his own substance-induced downfall in his newly published biography, “Howling at the Moon: The Odyssey of a Monstrous Music Mogul in an Age of Excess.”

In the ’80s, drug use was more prevalent, Yetnikoff notes. “Today, it’s more spotty.”

There are several reasons behind the trend. Artists have gone public with their sobriety in the past 20 years, communication about the dangers of addiction has improved, and rehab facilities have gotten better and are greater in number.

Rehab goes mainstreamToday’s rehab centers — Caron Foundation, Hazelden, Crossroads and others — vary in terms of costs and services, which include interventions, detox treatments, 12-step programs and sober living environments.

Working hand in hand with some rehab centers are music industry-based organizations like MusiCares, Musicians’ Assistance Program and Road Recovery.

In the ever-changing addiction scene, alcohol is a continuing problem. But doctors and counselors say such prescription painkillers as Vicodin and OxyContin have eclipsed street drugs (cocaine, heroin) during the past five years.

“You must be sensitive to potentially being arrested at border crossings while on tour,” an artist manager says. “Prescription drugs are legal. Coke and heroin are not.”

In February, country artist Jo Dee Messina entered a rehab facility in Utah for 10 weeks. She says she received some flack for “going public” with her alcohol addiction.

“People wanted to know why I would exploit the fact that I spent time in rehab,” she says.

Bill Teuteberg, director of special projects for rehab center Caron Foundation, says the reaction is understandable.

“No one wants to be a poster child for recovery,” he says. “It’s not a role most artists assume on their own.”

In addition, anonymity is key for the majority of people in recovery.

But Messina says she spoke out because she hoped her story “would help others who are dealing with their addictions.”

Indeed, those inside the music industry — artists, managers, agents, label executives, lawyers and others — can relate (often secretly) to peers who openly acknowledge and deal with their demons. The same applies to music fans and enthusiasts.

Breaking down doors
Through the years, Dr. Cox has developed a system and workshop that addresses ego and teamwork.

“This gets to the root of the problem,” he says. “Otherwise, it will resurface again and again.”

Historically, addicts received all the attention — they were viewed as the problem, Cox explains.

“But we learned that while the artist could be the outstanding problem, the entire system — friends, family, business associates — is hurting. Everyone needs to be involved in the process,” he adds. “So, when the artist re-enters the system, those around him know exactly what’s going on.”

In the mid-1980s, Aerosmith broke down the door that made it OK for big-name artists to go public with their sobriety, according to industry observers.

In the years since, Eric Clapton, Boy George, Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor, Elton John and others have made their sobriety known.

“Aerosmith wears its sobriety on its sleeve,” says Evolution Talent Agency co-founder Jonny Podell, who has been sober for 20 years. “The band has been a role model for thousands of others.”

Podell and Cox were instrumental in helping the band change its addictive ways.

“Steven Tyler and Joe Perry began with interventions,” Cox recalls. “After this, they realized they needed to be sober.”

Cox worked with the band for nine years. In that time, he “got the whole Aerosmith system clean.”

Los Angeles-based addictions specialist Bob Timmins says there is a correlation between addiction and the pressure to create that artists must withstand.

He says in reference to Tyler, “You have this wonderfully creative guy. The label sends him to a recording studio and says, ’Come back in three weeks with three hits.”’

Artists like Tyler feel this pressure, Timmins adds. “And people with a history of addiction will feel the need to get high to alleviate their feelings.”

Warner Bros.’ Rosenberg, who has worked with numerous superstars, acknowledges that artists are a special breed.

“Their highs and lows are more extreme,” she says. “Imagine performing in front of 20,000 fans and then going back to your hotel room alone. For some artists, such extremes are not easy to deal with.”

Which is one reason why former Porno for Pyros guitarist Peter DiStefano says he turned his back on the band in the late ’90s.

“Everyone was smoking crack and doing heroin,” DiStefano says of his Pyros days. “I tried every drug and all kinds of sex. I had to walk away from that money-making machine.”

Seven years ago, DiStefano was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

“I was dying in many ways,” he says. “So, I entered rehab for the eighth time and began chemotherapy treatment.” He has been clean and sober — and free of cancer — since.

“It’s about being completely honest with yourself,” DiStefano adds. “Honesty keeps me sober.”

DiStefano documents much of his journey on his new solo album, the aptly titled “Gratitude” (Sanctuary).

Traditionally, backstage areas were very toxic places, adds Neil Lasher, VP of promotion/marketing and artist relations at EMI Music Publishing.

“But that environment has changed over time,” says Lasher, who is also a certified counselor.

New ServicesIn the ’90s, Lasher, Timmins and others — along with MusiCares — came up with the idea for the Safe Harbor Room.

Instituted at the 39th annual Grammy Awards, the Safe Harbor Room is a backstage area that provides a support system to artists and crew members struggling with addiction issues.

Today, MusiCares has extended the Safe Harbor Room program to South by Southwest, the NAMM convention, Coachella, Ozzfest, the CMA Awards and other events.

The Safe Harbor Room is MusiCare’s version of a hospitality suite. “Backstage areas can be a very intense environment,” MusiCares director of addiction recovery services Harold Owens explains.

“It’s the type of atmosphere where drug use and relapses are likely to occur,” notes veteran guitarist Ricky Byrd, who has been sober for 17 years. “You play for 90 minutes and then have all this other time to do things.”

Road Recovery co-founder Gene Bowen says one of Road Recovery’s most popular services is its “sober road crew data base.” Such a data base ensures that a sober artist is surrounded by a drug-free road crew.

Rosenberg says, “It’s now considered hip for artists to take care of themselves. In previous years, drugs were more like a status symbol. Now, a healthy lifestyle is cooler than it used to be.”

Copyright © 2004, Billboard

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