Shaken, stirred, whatever

Hi. My name’s Jackson, and I’m an alcoholic.

There was a time when I never thought I’d be able to write anything decent without the help of my trusty pal Jack Daniel’s.

Yes, there were plenty of great adventures—drunk for several days in Minneapolis with godlike punk band the Replacements, only to discover hours of barroom arguments about the Chicago Cubs and other gibberish on the interview tapes once I returned to Sacramento. Or stumbling around Moscow with a bunch of equally intoxicated English musos as a Stoli-swilling guest of the Scottish band Big Country. Or the time I got totally scribbled at a music-biz convention in Los Angeles and, after wilting through performances by Kenny G and Barry Manilow, I put my arm around then-Arista Records chairman Clive Davis. “Fuck this fake jazz shit, Clive,” I slurred. “Manilow should be singing the great modern songwriters—Elvis Costello, Difford and Tilbrook, Paddy McAloon.” The hotel then placed me under house arrest.

Escapades like those were common for me in the 1980s. And on September 21, 1992, I woke up in my Midtown flat, after jamming the day before with the late drummer Bobby Burns and an Ornette Coleman record, and I haven’t taken a drink since.

Being a sober rock journalist was tough at first. At around 30 days off the sauce, I remember venturing into The Press Club with two nondrinking pals. I felt like a cardboard Joe Friday in a sea of quivering Jell-O people. “Yo, here come the sober guys!” I imagined everyone saying with an eruption of laughter.

But some clubs liked me better sober. Kim Kanelos at Old Ironsides was quite supportive of my switch to sodas, as was Old I bartender Art Rodriguez. I’d guess the difference between humoring a drunken, belligerent writer with entitlement issues and a sober scribe who’s generally a pussycat must be kind of a no-brainer.

Although it took some time (plus lots of AA meetings and recovery work) before I felt comfortable enough in my own skin to hang out in bars, eventually it became less of an issue. As long as I’ve internalized to the core of my being the idea that I can no longer safely use any alcohol or drug, and as long as I remember I’m there on business, being in clubs where drinks are poured isn’t a problem. Sure, there’s a witching hour somewhere between 11:30 p.m. and midnight when clubgoers cross a line from giddy to wasted, and at that point I exercise the choice to either stick around or bail. Some nights, I just don’t like being around drunks; other nights, it’s no big deal.

The hardest hump to overcome, though, was the idea that I wouldn’t be able to write without a bottle and some smokes. I’d bought the romantic notion of the alcoholic writer as beautiful loser, and sitting down to type without a shot glass nearby was sacrilege at first. But after an uncomfortable period of relearning my craft without the 86-proof crutch, I came to appreciate the work I did sober more than the stuff I wrote while hammered. It gives me more satisfaction, too.

Best thing is that I can see a show and remember most of it the next morning. And that’s what I’d call a real gift.