A petty rant on how Tom Petty handled his bass player's heroin problem.
by...not handling it, basically.
Remember this one? I think it was from Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.
I prefer not to go out right now, with this new fuckin’ super contagious disease that sounds like one of the million organizations I owe money to. The number of people on transit and outside isn’t dropping in accordance with the surge of sickness, not like when COVID-19 first hit in…what was it now…March 2020? Whenever the hell Trudeau said “enough is enough. Go home & stay home.” (March 23 2020. - Ed)
I still have to leave the house once a day to get methadone and Kadian and…I don’t like it. At home I’ve been burying myself in Neil Young (I’ve always been a fan, but lately I’ve been overdoing it, probably, esp On the Beach).
Also listening to Tom Petty’s 1999 album, an under-the-radar LP called Echo, that Petty himself was dismissive about until he re-listened to it a year or so before he died. It’s his divorce album. He was also hooked on heroin at the time he made it. So was his bassist Howie Epstein.
Y’know, it drives me nuts and makes me concerned about my own prospects when I realize just how much LYING heroin’s major users have done in their lives.
Tom Petty swore up and down he was done with opiates. He lied.
William Burroughs swore up and down he was done with opiates. He lied.
Al Jourgenson swore up and down he was done with opiates. He lied.
Chuck Mosley swore up and down he was done with opiates. He lied.
Here’s Petty on the big H:
Using heroin went against my grain. I didn’t want to be enslaved to anything. So I was always trying to figure out how to do less, and then that wouldn’t work. Tried to go cold turkey, and that wouldn’t work. It’s an ugly f—ing thing.
That’s from a 2017 article about Petty the day after he died.
Now, he’d been telling everybody that he quit opiates way back before he even started touring Echo, his poorly received record from 1999. He even booted longtime Heartbreaker bassist, Howie Epstein, for his increasing heroin use around the time of Echo (Epstein played on the album but failed to turn up for the album’s photo shoot.)
Echo is a good album, btw. Here’s my fav cut from it (esp the lil “oh oh OH” @ 0:27, that tricky-sounding ascending vocal Petty hits in the pre-chorus):
Petty booted Epstein for heroin use, when he himself never truly quit. I cannot stand such hypocrisy. Here’s something Petty said around the time he kicked Epstein out, but before Epstein died in 2003:
He was just degenerating on us to the point where we thought keeping Howie in the band was actually doing him more harm than getting rid of him. His personal problems were vast and serious.
People say this all the time. This moronic “tough love” idea that keeping Epstein in the band was doing him more harm. I understand the psychology behind it, but in reality, it is so fucking wrongheaded. Okay. So. Howie Epstein has a serious heroin addiction. And you somehow think that
Taking away his job
Takin away his income
Taking away any semblance of stability, any scheduled “Howie, you have to be ____ at such and such a time.”
Deliberately making his life more chaotic, because now he has to scramble, steal, pawn, beg, or even prostitute himself to get money for heroin, you somehow think this will be of benefit to him? The mind boggles.
To everyone reading this: The best thing for a drug user is STABILITY. What I mean by this is steady access to the drug they are addicted to. Yes. Seriously. I’m not saying forever. Just until they are physically capable & mentally ready for a tapering program followed by detox. Not snatching their drugs/money/stability/job away and somehow thinking they will fix it on their own. Not everyone can do this, but Petty certainly could have told Howie Epstein: “hey, I’ll provide for you for the next 6 or 12 or 18 months while you mentally prepare yourself, and get your body back into physical shape for rehab, detox, etc.” Heroin users are emaciated and dehydrated and just generally fucked. Forcing them to go cold turkey almost always does more harm than good. Sure, there are people like Irvine Welsh, who can cold turkey it. Welsh only used for 6 months. The longer you use, the harder it is, and the longer it will take, to get back to your pre-opiate state. Actually, no. You’ll never get back to your pre-opiate state. That’s like thinking you can bring back childhood. But you CAN slowly taper, get a healthy diet, start a healthy sleeping pattern, then detox and have an opiate-free life. You CAN do it. Just cuz Tom Petty couldn’t, and Howie Epstein couldn’t, and Chuck Mosley, Al Jourgenson and William Burroughs couldn’t, doesn’t mean NOBODY can do it.
Tough is love is not love. It’s washing your hands of a serious and life-threatening problem. Petty saying to himself “Well, I quit, so why can’t Howie?”
Hmmm. Could it possibly be because the income structure of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers sends 75% of the money to Tom fucking Petty? Meaning Tom Petty could afford the best doctors, the best rehab, the best tapering program, etc, but not Howie Epstein, even with his extracurricular activities producing other artists. Epstein just didn’t have the money for top tier treatment. You can’t quit heroin in 28 days. That is bullshit. It takes time and it takes quality assistance and a healthy diet and healthy thinking and meditation and playing music without being on any substances. Not being on drugs takes a lot of getting used to. It hurts to stop.
Yes, there are tons of 28 day programs touting their efficacy. They are lying. I tried it the whole “non-medical detox” thing. All it means is they give you a bed to cold turkey on until your next paycheque or welfare cheque or EI cheque or money transfer or whatever. They will go right back to using unless you give them a reason not to.
A medical detox has a much better chance of success, but it must be followed up by long term in-patient rehab. Don’t send them back out in the world after less than a month. That’s what that DIIV dude tried. Didn’t work. Then he went to rehab for a year in 2016. He hasn’t slipped up since.
Petty easily could have paid for Epstein’s detox, and what’s more, they could have done it side by side. Together. Nothing is lonelier than addiction except trying to quit said addiction all by yourself. That Petty could not see what he was doing to Epstein blows my fucking mind. Kicking him out was the cheap, easy & inhumane thing to do.
Anyway, you can’t change the past. Petty booted Howie Epstein from the Heartbreakers & Epstein was dead 3 years later. This is no coincidence. Is that any way to treat a man who once knew you so well he could step in and provide assistance when you were struggling without you even asking him?
Let me explain what I mean by the preceding sentence - btw, reading this anecdote almost made me cry: On tour one night in 1990, Petty was having trouble hitting the high notes. As another high note approached (it doesn't say what song they were playing), Petty steps close to the mic and sings it…but out of the monitors comes what sounds like a double-tracked vocal…and it sounds great! Petty looks over, and it’s Howie Epstein, who…via the magical-but-very-real telepathy that longtime bandmates develop, obviously heard Tom struggling to hit the high notes so stepped in to help. He just knew that Tom needed a boost that night. And he provided that boost. So then, years later, when this same man is struggling, you cut him off?
What did you think was going to happen? That he’d check into a hotel, cold turkey it, and be a Heartbreaker again in two short weeks?
No. Think of the hell Petty made his bandmate walk through. And for what? Missing a fuckin’ album cover shoot? A lazy ass black & white photo?
What, you didn’t have one better photo of the Heartbreakers sitting somewhere in your vast archives?
What would you say was Petty’s biggest hit of the 90’s? Either “Into the Great Wide Open” or “You Don’t Know What It’s Like,” right? Why make the man suffer when you yourself have been hooked on the same drug and therefore know exactly what it is like?!?!?
Here’s the direct quote from Petty himself, regarding the 1990 telepathic backing vocal:
You gotta love him, I don't know if I ever tell him how good he is. Tonight, there was a line early in the show I could just barely sing. I was having to work harder than I normally do to make it, I was getting really close on the mic. I was thinking, 'Oh boy, I hope I can do this ... ' I got to it and I heard Howie singing it with me over his mic. It sounded great, it sounded like a double track. I just looked at him, he caught my eye like 'Yeah!' It made me feel great, 'cause I know he was thinking the same thing, 'I know he's tired, I'll cover him. Wham! Got it!' That's what a great band's all about. That's what it's all about.
Tom, if “that’s what it’s all about,” why did you never “tell him how good he is?” Why did you keep it to yourself, especially when the chemistry was such that you almost had telepathic communication? And why, after the poor man’s death, did you compare him to a dying tree?
This wasn’t an off-the-cuff comment. This was from an article Tom Petty wrote in tribute to his bassist of nearly 20 years, Howie Epstein:
... there's a great sadness, because Howie was never not a Heartbreaker. He just got to where he couldn't do it anymore ... It's like you got a tree dying in the backyard. And you're kind of used to the idea that it's dying. But you look out there one day and they cut it down. And you just can't imagine that beautiful tree isn't there anymore.
Jesus, Tom. You’re kind of used to the idea that it’s dying?
You are a rock star. You had the resources to get Epstein into rehab. But, more importantly, you held him to a schedule. He may have missed the photo shoot for Echo’s front cover but he’s clearly onstage with the group in the video for “Room at the Top,” the album’s opening cut:
Epstein was booted from the band soon after the Echo tour. For heroin use. This is more than a little hypocritical considering Petty never actually quit. Just like fuckin’ William Burroughs telling everybody he’d “quit” heroin. He was on methadone til the day he died. That’s not “quitting.” I promise you. It’s like bursting a tire and having to use the spare. It’s not the same, but it’ll get you down the road, until you can get to a place where it’s possible to fix the vehicle. Tom Petty could have told Epstein: “Listen, let’s get you on methadone, and then let’s get you into rehab.”
Instead he fired him.
Brave move, Tom. That’s a great way to treat a friend.
I walk it like I talk it. There’s a guy I know, an absolute mess of a boy who has been hooked on fentanyl the whole time I’ve known him. Every time I see him I give him $20. Know why? Because it makes his life that much easier, even if only for one day.
This cold turkey tough love shit DOES NOT WORK.
IT. DOES. NOT. WORK.
I like that song a lot, by the way, “Room at the Top.” I think it’s a metaphor for heroin.
I got a room at the top of the world tonight
I can see everything tonight
I got a room where everyone
Can have a drink and forget those things
That went wrong in their life
I got a room at the top of the world tonight
and I ain’t comin down
(and then Howie Epstein comes in with his nice rich, whole notes, following the drums as Petty sings the second verse)
I got someone who loves me tonight
I got over a thousand dollars in the bank
And I'm all right
Look deep in the eyes of love
Look deep in the eyes of love
And find out what you were looking for
Apparently when Howie Epstein died, he was “extremely distraught over the death of his 16-year-old dog a few days earlier.” Moreover, he was “taking antibiotics for an illness and had recently suffered from influenza, stomach problems, and an abscess on his leg.” Also according to Wikipedia:
On the day of his death, Howie was driven to St. Vincent Hospital in Santa Fe, New Mexico by his girlfriend, who described him as "under distress."
I am gonna guess with 99.9% certainty that when Howie Epstein, former Heartbreaker died, he had far, far less than “a thousand dollars in the bank.” Assuming he even had a bank account anymore. (Lots of addicts who used to have money will run up their overdraft, then open a new account at a different bank. I did it when I was using. I can’t open a basic chequing account with TD, CIBC, BMO, Royal Bank, Tangerine, PC, and Scotiabank.)
Who do I bank with? I don’t. I still don’t have a basic bank account. On the rare occasions someone e-transfers me, I accept into my roommate’s bank account. My roommate then either hands me her bank card so I go to the appropriate ATM and withdraw the amount. OR if it’s for rent, I just get my friend to e-transfer it straight to my landlord (“appropriate” ATM as in: not just any ol’ ATM, that’d cost her $3, money she can ill afford in this current ruinous climate, a climate that has seen the complete destruction of both her industry & mine due to COVID-19, destruction for which gov’t assistance dried up ages ago. So how do we make money? We don’t. How do we eat? We don’t unless someone buys us food. Thanks Mum! My mother bought us so much food last week that looking into the fridge was like taking a trip back to 2018. In rough times, we can go 3 days without eating as long as we drink plenty of tap water. How do we live? We get by.)
Now: to everyone has helped me this year, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am not using drugs, I don’t drink (in fact, just thinking about drinking makes me feel disgusted, and I stopped cigarettes 3 months ago. I use a VUSE 2 vape, but only when I can afford it. So I’m not putting much of anything bad into my body these days. I didn’t mean for this posting to sound so bitter. I understand that my own family members are like “I can’t send Danny money. He will use it to buy drugs” cuz I’ve done so in the past.
But Tom Petty was an avid & longterm opiate user. It’s just so unfair that a man who worked with Petty for almost two whole decades was cast off like a fucking dirty bandage when all he had was the exact same problem Petty did.
On February 23, 2003, Epstein died from complications related to drug use.
On October 2 2017, Tom Petty died from an accidental overdose of “a combination of fentanyl, oxycodone, acetylfentanyl and despropionyl fentanyl (all opioids); temazepam and alprazolam (both sedatives); and citalopram (an antidepressant).”
Three diff kinds of fent, plus Oxycodone? First of all…that’s fuckin overkill. Also, it’s pointless. If you’re doing that much fentanyl, Oxycodone is useless. It might as well be half an Aspirin. Or giving someone a band-aid when they just had their leg shot off. Just totally inappropriately weak considering the other drugs Tom had goin in his system. Now, I can relate to the depression thing, and I understand (sort of) that in 1999 Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers were still yet to become elder statesmen of the rock n’ roll scene, so Petty felt pressure to have a band that had its shit together. (although Petty’s inclusion in the Traveling Wilbury’s, a band consisting of heavyweights such as Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, and Roy fucking Orbison, suggests that Petty had attained elder statesman status long before Echo came out. So he had the status to tell his label “hang on a sec, I’ve got a hurting co-worker here.” Tom Petty was famous enough to do what he wanted by the 90s. I seem to recall a pre-Foo Fighters-but-post-Nirvana Dave Grohl playing drums for Tom Petty on Saturday Night Live. That happened, right? He just called Grohl and asked him. (Or their managers talked because…showbiz.)
Yes! It did happen. Epstein is there on bass & acquits himself quite well.
On November 19 1994, Grohl sat in and played “Honey Bee” and “You Don’t Know How It Feels'“ (the latter was one of Petty’s biggest hits of the ‘90s, but a song I personally do not care for.)
As Grohl (hysterically) puts it:
What the fuck is he calling me for? He couldn’t find a good drummer? I said “Of course I’ll do it.” It was the first time I’d looked forward to playing drums since Nirvana had ended.
Here’s the Foo’s covering “Breakdown,” a very early Heartbreakers tune.
What else is there to say about Petty? Me & my ex-wife both love his song “Walls,” which didn’t get as much attention as it should’ve. prolly because it was the soundtrack for a now-completely forgotten Jennifer Aniston movie directed by the then-hot, now-not Edward Burns. I thought maybe hearing it would make me sad, & it does, but the good kind of sad. I play this fucker all the time when I’m busking. Dig those backing vocals @ 1:44. I bet Epstein’s in there. Am I overstating my case? Whatever. I’m just sayin. ;)
Some songs just make me sad, and I like it. Like “Powdered Confessions” by Toronto’s $100.
(Simone Schmidt is my fav local singer. By a fuckin MILE. Have you seen $100 do “Meet Me Where The Sparrows Drop” in that outdoor shell thing near Ontario Place? Here it is. Oh ain’t it pretty? (By the way, the fact that Schmidt used to be in a band called One Hundred Dollars, but then after joined a band called Fiver, is so fuckin emblematic of the complete and total devaluation of musicians and music. I know I sound like an old man, but I miss the Xmas morning feeling of waiting for an album to come out, and then going & getting it.)
Grimes’ “Realiti” makes me cry. I once listened to it for 12 hours straight. I was detoxing from Oxy at the time. I love Grimes.
This is my favourite Blue Rodeo song. Did I tell you that this summer I was busking this song and some random dude came up to me and said he used to sell heroin to the titular Baz? That would be Basil Donovan, the one playing bass from his Muskoka Country pier. I don’t believe it. That guy doesn’t look like he’s touched heroin in his life. But maybe he did back when they made this song for 1997’s Tremolo.
Fav Neil Young tearjerker. (But maybe you already know that?)
I used to play every weekend or so with my old band, The Big City Nights. Trying to get it going again has so far proved unsuccessful. Here’s a cover we did in 2014 of an old folk song, either called “The Shores of Erin” or “The Shoals of Herring.” I’d seen Oscar Issac kill it in Inside Llewyn Davis and wanted/thought we could give it a shot:
Remember how earlier I mentioned how Epstein used musical telepathy to hit a note when Petty couldn’t? Ryan Taylor, my musical brother, did that once too, on a silly little # called “Never Heard Your Band.”
It’s a silly song about how nobody had heard us. But I asked Ryan to lay off @ 1:05 cuz I’d overdubbed a scream there that I thought sounded pretty great. But then Ryan did it anyway and it sounded 100x better. That’s not telepathy, it’s just cool.
Anyway, here’s something interesting. Howie Epstein once produced a John Prine album called The Missing Years. Many assumed that Prine was referring to his own long-ass layoff, as he hadn’t released an LP since 1986’s German Afternoons.
The Missing Years is actually about the so-called missing years of Jesus Christ. A hallucinatory walk thru Jeez’s missing years. According to Prine, he made it to the Emerald Isle and married an Irish bride, discovered the Beatles, recorded with the Stones, and opened for country legend George Jones.
Have a listen yourself to “Jesus The Missing Years.”
Now, one of Prine’s most famous/notable songs is called “Sam Stone,” about a heroin-addicted soldier. Like Tom Waits “Day After Tomorrow,” the specific war is not mentioned. But the poor guy is spending all his money on heroin. The closing lines:
There's a hole in daddy's arm where all the money goes
Jesus Christ died for nothin' I suppose
Little pitchers have big ears
Don't stop to count the years
Sweet songs never last too long on broken radios
I’ll leave you with that. When Prine’s done, he almost looks embarrassed. Diminished by the big stage and the spotlight. And that’s what heroin does to you & your life. It diminishes and takes away and makes you unsure of where you’re standing. That’s a gorgeous couplet, man. Tom Petty should have handled the heroin thing better, but so should I have. I never injected though. Spiritualized covered “Sam Stone” & changed the last couplet to suit their needs. Ditto Johnny Cash. So I’ll do that too and I’ll leave you now. Until next time I get angry about something.
There's a hole in Danny's nose where all the money goes
Sweet songs never last too long on broken radios