Music has the ability to touch one’s soul almost instantly and effectively. The melody is the means to convey the singer’s emotions, while the lyrics are the method to tell the story and to transfer the message from the singer to the listeners. The category of the messages embedded within each song varies from love and friendship to politics and social issues: including war, poverty, discrimination, etc. Most of the messages are straightforward and easy to understand, while some are hidden between the lines of lyrics. With its implied message, one of my favorite old-time songs has helped me mentally dissociate drug users from criminal and violent behaviors, thus, supported my reason to help them get rehabilitated. “The Needle and The Damage Done,” a song by Neil Young, expresses the singer’s emotion about the death of his fellow singer, also his best friend, due to drug addiction. The song catches my attention by its melancholy and steady sound of the acoustic guitar. Then Young raises his serene voice, revealing his regret resulting from the loss of his friend: I sing the song
Because I love the man
I know that some
Of you don’t understand
To keep from running out.
In the first two lines, Young, as a friend and a singer, bares his heart toward his friend: “I sing the song/ Because I love the man.” Young considers his friend is as important person, “the man” whom he thinks as a brother, Young is not reluctant to reveal his affection to his late friend. Knowing that this friend is engulfed by drugs because of the pressure and depression in his life, the singer also implies his empathy in the lyrics. However, Young also sings this song to express his anger, as the song progresses. He is upset that many people who “don’t understand” have hastily judged his friend’s addiction and his behavior without thoughtfully considering what his friend is going through. “The man” in the lyrics is famous as Young is; thus, he has to be under a tremendous amount of pressure from living up to the expectations of many people: his partners in the band, his family, his fans, and his producer. As the fifth line is sung in a soft and whispery way, the words “milk-blood” strikes my curiosity.
In my opinion, the singer uses the words “milk’ and “blood” to imply the “nutrition” or something vital to sustain life. It suggests that heroin becomes a significant part of his friend’s life, as important as air, water, or food. On the other hand, according to the Urban Dictionary, “milk-blood” means “the act of extracting heroin-laden blood, for reinjection at a later time so that the addicted person may get mild high” (“milk-blood”, par. 1). Young uses this colloquial speech, which most people who have never done this type of activity do not know, to tell how desperate his friend was when he needed the heroin to fulfill his urges. At the same time, it minimizes the loathing that people might express toward his late friend. Furthermore, “milk[ing]” could be considered as a way of exploiting, taking away valuable property from one’s self, while “blood” can be referred to “blood money”, the money obtained at the cost of others’ suffering.
Young also suggests that his friend obtained the money to “keep [drugs] from running out” through illegals methods. In my point of view, for a famous singer, Young’s friend must have felt really embarrassed and disappointed in himself for practicing illegal activities, especially when others knew what and why he does so. [He] “[knows] that most of [us] don’t understand” what and how drugs can make his friend do act irrationally and unthoughtfully; however, as a person who has been through the same situation, Young truly understood. Indeed, I have not understood the exacerbating distress and unbearable urge when the drug takes over the mind. Stereotypically, I used to think that the addicts are irresponsible and self-centered. They think only about themselves and that the world revolves around them. All they want is to show off or to look cool and experienced. The truth is that not every addict should be described in such manner. There are people who are dealing with so much pressure and expectations from others.
They choose to use drugs as a way to escape their onerous responsibilities, and their cruel lives. Instead of worrying about their corrupted marriages, starving kids, or unstable careers, they hide in their joyful and relaxing heroin-made fantasy. For those bullied kids at school, and those living-on-the-edge gangsters, it seems necessary for them to fabricate another life without any concern or stress. Who does not want a life like that? Instead of confronting their problems, those people struggle to get out of their unpleasant reality. A temporary escape is chosen over a perpetual endurance. Consequently, they choose drugs. For instance, my grandfather was a drug user but he did not start out as a person who used drug for his merely pleasure or to look cool. In fact, that was the way he used to deal with the collapse of his and other’s expectation on him. He had been a general in the old government of South Viet Nam.
However, the situation changed. South Viet Nam government collapsed; thus, my granddad lost everything: his properties, his reputation, his social status, others’ respect for him. Desperate, he overwhelmed himself with drug-made fantasy. Once he told me (when I was a 12-year-old boy) that he hated surrounding people’s look. Everyone seemed to look at him as a useless man, a weak man, the one who depended on his wife. No one seemed to appreciate his opinions like they used to do. His life was miserable and stressful. For him, life was much easier when he knew nothing around while submerging himself in the fatal nostalgic moment of drug. I do not advocate their method to relieve the intensity of their daily lives. However, taking the same standpoint of Young, I try to argue that all of us should thoroughly think about the reasons that lead those addicts to the path of drug abusing. I agree with John Lennon’s statement: “The worst drugs are as bad as anybody’s told you. It’s just a dumb trip, which I can’t condemn people if they get into it, because one gets into it for one’s own personal, social, emotional reasons” (“John Lennon’s quotes”, par. 35).
I do not think any of us have enough knowledge and experience to criticize those addicts for what they are doing, how they got there, and why they have not stopped using these substances. It is not fair to associate drug users with criminal behavior. The media and news are overwhelmed with reports about drug users killing people, robbing civilians to get money for drug. They are entirely portrayed as wild creatures who do anything to satisfy their urges. The images of drug addicts are associated with violent and criminal behaviors too frequently that most people hastily become judgmental when dealing with this issue. No, not all of them are violent and irrational.
When my granddad felt the urges coming yet he did not have any drug left, he tried to stay away everybody. He asked my dad, his son-in-law, to tie him down with robes and chains inside his room since we had no rehabilitation institutes or therapists then. He begged everyone to not release him no matter how painful he looked or how loudly he screamed, unless the urge was over. There was time my mom could not stand looking him in pain; she tried to release him. However, in his unconscious and wild actions, he somehow managed to scare my mom away, protecting her from his uncontrolled manner. In his vacant yet aggressive eyes, I could see his fear: the fear of hurting the ones he loved. Instead of judging the drug addicts, we should encourage them to stop using those substances. Humiliation and ignorance will create an opposite effect—pushing them deeper into the path of abusing drugs. In fact, what they need the most is to have someone around to point out the “damage[s] done” to their lives, their families, and their relationships. These drug users need someone to wake them up from their drug-made fantasy.
They need someone who is brave enough to get close to them, who can tolerate their wild behavior when the urges invade their minds and love them enough to show them their collapsing lifestyle. We need to tell them that they have been forsaking their responsibilities, abandoning their beloved significant others and their innocent children, and disappointing their friends’ hope and respect in them. They have to be shown those painful memories and horrifying moments which they inculcated into others’ minds. And most essential of all, there must be someone telling them that their mistakes are already in the past. The “damage[s]” are already “done”. There is nothing those addicts and we can change to erase those mistakes. It is over. They need to be encouraged to forgive themselves, to move on and not make the same slipups in the future. These actions can be a big push for them to abandon drugs and commit themselves to get sobered.
While they are in rehabilitation institutes, we, the outsider, can help them look after their kids, provide partial financial support, take care of their families, etc. These supports will temporarily relieve their difficulties. Thus, they will not be distracted from the “get clean” process. As Young repetitively sang, “the damage done”; in my opinion, he tries to tell that the “damage” is “done” on the “junkies” themselves, in term of both physical and mental health, and also leaves “a little part of it in everyone”: families are broken, relationships get worse. He was trying to tell us that “[he’s] seen” the “damage[s]” there and that his responsibility, or in general our responsibility, is to ease that problem, if not erase it. The last line of the song, “every junkie’s like a setting sun,” gives me the most impressive image.
Young describes the inner personality of every “junkies” as a sun. All of them are beautiful and radiant. Their intrinsic selves are helpful just like a sun bestowing its light to sustain lives. However, the sun is setting. Metaphorically, the benevolent side of those junkies stops exposing. In the like manner, “junkie[‘s]” lives are gradually getting weaker like the sun gradually sets itself under the horizon and stops emitting its light. Young is trying to say that they do not have much time with us since they have gotten themselves on this path, and that we should spend the time they have left to create beautiful memories for them and for us, to help them overcome their obstacles, not to worsen their lives as well as ours.
“John Lennon’s quotes”. John-Lennon. July 9, 2013. Web. http://john-lennon.com/quotes.htm “Milk Blood.” September 22, 2006. Urban Dictionary. July 8, 2013. Web. http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=milk-blood