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It Ain't Hip to Die

by Roanna Flowers

“I don’t know where it came from. They bought a lie. Somewhere along the way, someone sold this myth, this lie, that it’s hip to be screwed up. Don’t buy the lie—it ain’t hip to die.” Buddy Arnold

Billie Holiday, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Shannon Hoon—the list goes on and on of the artists claimed by drug addiction, abuse, and alcoholism. And Buddy Arnold was no exception. A professional saxophonist since the age of 11, when he would earn $3 a night, Buddy Arnold joined the likes of Dorsey, Buddy Rich, and Stan Kenton in a 25-year career playing jazz in big bands. But he also spent 31 years as a heroin addict. “And at the end of it all,” he said in a recent interview with Treatment Today, “I was really no longer a musician.” He had lost the music, along with a lot more.

In 1981, at the age of 54, he cleaned up and began working in treatment programs in southern California, where the principles, ideas, and work behind the Musicians Assistance Program began. “MAP was formally established in April of 1992, but it began long before it had a name.” Due to his background playing in the big bands, many musicians still knew him and he says, “Whenever one of them would want to get into treatment, or have a friend who needed help, they would call me.”

He would work on their behalf and find them a community bed or work with treatment centers to get them the help they needed. Skills that were once used to score heroin were now being used to score recovery for those who needed it. “I became very adept at finding out where there were community beds available and at finagling rates” because a majority of musicians are not stars and have no health coverage or other benefits. “Musicians are usually over-medicated and under-insured.”


Today, MAP has a 61 percent success rate, a network of treatment providers with whom they’ve been able to offer affordable care for musicians, and a very powerful board of directors, which includes members of the recording industry such as Eric Clapton, Quincy Jones, and Paul Williams. The network extends throughout the country and covers the spectrum from intervention to detoxification, inpatient and outpatient care, aftercare therapy groups, and community referrals. But the biggest key to their success, according to Arnold, is the Peer Network.


“Depending on what area of music you’re from and what you do, I’ll find somebody who’s clean out of that same area and I’ll try my best to get that person to go visit you.” There is a bond between musicians, even more particularly between musicians who are from the same “school” of music and play the same instrument. “There’s no magic to this deal,” adds Arnold, regarding treatment. The Peer Network is vital because not only does it provide an artist with a role model for recovery and someone they can relate and open up to, it gives them someone they’re willing to “hang” with, whether it’s a 12 Step meeting or some other healthy way of living and keeping clean.

The Peer Network is just one part of MAP’s aftercare program. Another is group therapy. The meetings, which started in Los Angeles, are now being offered in New York, with the help of The Actor’s Fund, and Chicago, with new meetings soon to start in Nashville in cooperation with MusiCares. The meetings in Los Angeles, co-facilitated by Paul Williams, the composer “Evergreen” and “You and Me Against the World,” and Mary Turner, a successful DJ at KMET, are held at the MAP office twice a week. Paul Williams is himself recovering from years of alcohol and cocaine abuse. “Paul went to school out here at UCLA,” Arnold said, “and he’s a wonderful counselor.”

Unlike traditional 12 Step groups, which operate on the basis of everyone being “the same,” the MAP meetings trade on the uniqueness of musicians. “The 12 Steps teaches you that we are all the same, that the disease is the great common denominator—whether you’re a plumber, a CEO, a movie star, or a ping pong player.” But according to Arnold, “Musicians will listen to other musicians—they won’t relate to accountants.” It’s the shared experience of being a musician—and being a musician in recovery with other musicians—that makes it work. “I can get a person to come to a MAP meeting because I tell them ‘Hey, so-and-so—you remember him—he’s going to be there.’ And they’ll come. They’ll come, and it works.”

As essential part of the music business—and one of the most difficult aspects of it—is touring. Touring can take an emotional as well as a physical toll on musicians, especially musicians who are already struggling with drugs and addiction. But MAP is able to help musicians even when they’re on the road. “There is a large recovering community out there, in every town. To the best of my ability, I will hook them up with people in different towns, musicians who are willing to take a phone call and who are clean.” MAP also has an 888 number that musicians can call and “I can always put someone on the line with them in a conference call. And if I don’t have someone, then we’ll call around and find someone.” Many times, groups will have more than one person who is recovering, and that also makes touring easier to cope with for the musician in recovery.

Support from the music industry, however, had been lacking. This changed recently, when the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) awarded MAP a grant of $2 million, spread out over the next three years. RIAA is comprised of the six major conglomerates responsible for 95 percent of all recording in the world. “They came through,” said Arnold. He is also working with record companies to distribute materials to their artists, “not saying they have a problem, just to let them know that MAP is there” for them.

Though MAP was started with musicians in mind, according to Buddy Arnold the primary goal for the future is to “get the word to everyone in the community and to change the beliefs among the kids. That it’s not hip to use drugs. Don’t by the lie—it ain’t hip to die.” Part of MAP’s efforts in prevention and education will be a series of PSAs, scheduled for summer release, that are a cooperative effort with The Partnership for a Drug Free America.

Among the people featured in the PSAs will be Art Allisot, lead singer of Everclear, who himself is a recovering heroin addict. Lauryn Hill from The Fugees, and the widow of Brad Nowell of Sublime, who overdosed over a year ago. Gwen Stefani will also be appearing in the PSA—she was a close friend of Nowell’s and his wife, who now interns at the MAP office.

The current “heroin chic” also concerns him. “We’ve got to do something about the generation growing up. Waking up in an emergency room is not a musical statement” or any other kind of statement. “Whatever we can do,” says Arnold, including “going into schools. If a kid is ‘hooked on a horn,’ they may be less likely


Pick up a pipe.” Sadly, “music programs have really been decimated by government cutbacks.” Buddy Arnold will be going to Washington with the chairman of The Partnership for a Drug Free America in the hopes of getting the government involved.


“You will never become a musician if you get strung out. You can’t become anything if you use drugs.” Buddy Arnold knows—because he’s been there.


If you’re a part of the music community and need help, call 888/MAP-MAP1 (888-627-6271).

This article appeared in Treatment Today Magazine in 1997. Treatment Today is no longer in publication.

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