On March 16, 2009, former PANTERA and current DOWN singer Philip Anselmo spoke passionately and candidly about his music career and his history with — and the dangers of — drugs, particularly heroin, during an appearance at the Loyola University in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Several portions of the question-and-answer session have been transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET and follow below.
On his drug-abuse history:
Anselmo: "There is no reason, really, that I can point to [for why I started doing drugs]. I am extremist when it comes to everything. Anything I set my mind to, I am an absolute extremist — I cannot say it any better. And I was injured; I had a back injury from... And I don't suggest anyone do this, but I would climb up on top of PA systems and dive head first either into the waiting crowd or into the waiting concrete; it made no difference. I would attack — I would attack on stage, and I paid for it. I ultimately injured myself, and like putting a Band-Aid over a cancer... When you rupture a disk in your back, it begins this thing called degenerative disk disease, so that means the next one's going, and, obviously, the next one after that, and so on and so forth. Well, I think it was about the time when the record [PANTERA's 1994 album, 'Far Beyond Driven'] came in at No. 1. I was pretty terrified. I was happy as hell; don't get me wrong, man — I was like, 'Oh, my God, yes!' At that point, I had just gotten back from the doctor — [from having] my second MRI [done] — and I realized I had two blown-out disks. Now, in order for me to be this Superman that the media had built me out to be, I had to quell that pain. So I started off with regular painkillers and muscle relaxers. Eventually, you climb up the painkiller ladder, because painkillers lie to you; they will magnify that injury. And that's all that's on your mind — the injury and painkillers. Up the ladder I went — stronger painkillers, stronger painkillers, stronger painkillers — and you hear, and you damn well know, when your audience is looking at you different, when your bandmembers are looking at you different — 'Man, what is wrong with Phil? What is wrong with Phil?' — you get a little tired; you get weary of it. You feel like this 20-something-year-old — which I was — juggernaut, man; you wanna leap out of your skin, but you can't anymore — you can't just hang out anymore, because it hurts to hang out, or you're too loaded. And once everyone starts laying this trip on you, that's when you close the door and the needle slides in. And from that point on, you are on your own, you're on a ride, and I wouldn't suggest on anyone in this room — I wouldn't suggest on my worst enemy — this particular ride."
On whether he felt the record label glorified the drug use:
Anselmo: "Absolutely not. Normally, the record company is out of the loop, the last to know. They're mechanics. I'll tell you what happens, though. When you're signed to a big record contract — which I don't even know if it really exists anymore today; the music system is so different — but back in the '90s, when you had a record contract, you had publicists, you had a million different tentacles and satellites that were doing work for you. But normally, a publicist is the one who pushes you to have your face on the cover of these magazines — the Kurt Cobains, the Layne Staleys... Rest in peace, by the way. And me — destroyed, drug-riddled, pathetic, yellow — right there on the cover of magazines, and... you had no choice but to submit and be put under a microscope. And hey, it's a chapter of your life, man — it don't go away. And they will glorify you; when you're on top of the world, they will make you — the media, that is — they will make you... MTV, magazines, VH1 — it don't matter — they'll make you Superman. But once Superman stumbles, it's kind of like the old adage, man: Once you get big enough for your head to see over that fence, that's when people start throwing rocks at it. Once Superman trips up, man, they will judge your talent, your accomplishments, and your trip-ups, and solidify your entire life in one paragraph. And it hurts. It hurts, 'cause you know they don't know you. They don't really know you; they don't know the struggles, they don't know what it's like. Most writers and media people are wannabe musicians, anyway, that can't do it. And that's the truth."
On whether he still mistrusts the media:
Anselmo: "Absolutely. Absolutely. Because... Straight-up, man... Case in point: When PANTERA was breaking up, I was a wounded animal. My will was defeated. I could be drug one way or another. I started another band, side band — SUPERJOINT RITUAL — that turned into this other thing when PANTERA was hanging, and then this media thing. A war of words via black-and-white sentences. You sit there and you read it... Now, basically, what happened was I did this particular interview with this cat [referring to a Metal Hammer interview that was published in December 2004, just a few days before PANTERA guitarist Dimebag was murdered. — Ed.], and on the way out, we're walking off the bus, he's behind me, and he's like, 'Man, I hope this doesn't get out of hand between you and Dimebag and Vinnie.' He goes, 'Man, what would happen if they jumped you or something like that?' Got mad at me or jumped me — a very hypothetical thing. The way I speak, you know... I said something to the effect of, 'I'd kill those boys; they can't fight me. I'd kill them boys.' You read that in black and white — 'I'd kill those boys' — and it is as literal as a mofo; it is literal. And they took it very literally. And the media ran with that, man — all over the world, man. In different languages. And at that point, there's no more... There is a rift. So, yes, I don't trust the media at all unless I have to sit there and really think of a concrete answer. You can't wear your emotions on your sleeve around the media, and I do wear my emotions on my sleeve, big-time."
****Editor's Note: BLABBERMOUTH.NET contacted U.K.'s Metal Hammer magazine after this article was first posted and they have confirmed that the interview in question that Anselmo is referring to in this story (see above) was actually done over the phone.****
On whether he feels that when all that started happening, he turned more to heroin to get through the tough times:
Anselmo: "No way. I was already knee-deep in heroin, neck-deep in heroin. That made no difference. It didn't make me turn any which way or another. If anything, it made me wanna pick that phone up and go, 'Wait a minute, Dimebag. Wait a minute, Vince. This is taken way out of hand, bro.' But there was no answer at the other end of the phone, and they weren't calling me either."
On whether it was his will that eventually got him to stop picking up the needle or stop using altogether:
Anselmo: "That's a tough question right there. Once you close the door and slide that needle in, heroin is the great controller of all — every single goddamn thing you do. The way you sleep, the way you wake up in the morning and your hands reach over pathetically to get your first fix of the day, which gets you out of bed. As a matter of fact, heroin, in a nutshell... When I say it controls everything, I mean everything. People think painkillers and things like that are only numbing out pain?! You take them for long enough, they start numbing out your emotion, man. And once your emotion is numbed out, then you are controlled. It's got you. It's the most important thing in your life, whether it be this tiny little pill or this funny dust. And you're trading your family, your brothers and your sisters, the brothers and sisters you call friends on the street — lifelong friends — you'll stab them in the back, you'll break their hearts, and you won't even know it."
"You're not getting high anymore. It's fear that controls you. Because once you start chasing your own tail... There's two points here. Especially as a musician, once you start something — a band; something that's from your heart, something that's organic, from you — and I was lucky enough to have this success... I don't know about luck; I broke my back for what I believed in. I bled for my music, man. But heroin... when I say it controls all, I wasn't singing anymore about levels of confidence and power and walking and all these songs of positivity, I was singing about dope. It even comes out in your lyrics, man; it comes out in your music. You go back and listen to it, and it's like, 'Oh, my God.' You lost yourself. Yup, you sure did. You chase your tail. It's fear. The junkie fears the sickness, the illness, 'cause dope-sick ain't fun, bro. It's miserable. And the only thing that cleans it up and fixes it up is more dope. Unless you are genius enough — like I was — to start taking methadone. Once you start taking methadone, it's over for 90 percent of people. They live their lives to wake up at 9 a.m., go to the methadone clinic, their dose and go on about their lives. What happens when [hurricane] Katrina hits and then methadone clinics were closed? I'll tell you what happens. You go into the worst detox — crippling detox... I had a friend of mine who was thrown in jail during Katrina, and he was on... whatever milligram... It doesn't matter how many milligrams you're on; you're on it. He had to detox in jail, and he was so goddamn pathetic, they had to throw him in the hole by himself — take him out of the populace. The only way I can describe coming off methadone is falling from a 50-story building every three minutes of your life. Every three minutes of your life is terrifying. That's why people can't come off. You get me? It's fear. . . Once you start chasing your tail, no matter how great you were, how great you are, or whatever you think... it don't matter what the magazines say, it don't matter what your fans say; it matters what's going on with you. There's two points: high and sick. High and sick. What happens in between? Huh? Fucking zero. Zero. Lest you're out on the road, like me, and you've gotta get up in front of 20,000 people and make a rolicking ass of yourself. And get judged in print — your whole life. Microcosm in some crappy, glossy-page metal magazine. That ain't no epitaph, bro. That ain't no epitaph, ladies and gents. No way."
On how long he's been sober:
Anselmo: "Sober is a harsh word." [Interviewer clarifies: "When was the last time you picked up the needle."] "Now that is a hardcore story. I was with a friend of mine. I was home with dope. This was 2002, or 2003... I'm not gonna guess anymore, but somewhere around there. And this friend of mine, we used to party back in the day — shoot dope all the time. This guy was a little bit of a follower. Smart guy. Extremely talented. Anyway, me and him were together, we were speeding down the highway — a pitch-dark highway in Louisiana somewhere on our way to a gig. And there's two guys driving upfront. And he tells me, 'Man, I'd like to party tonight.' And I'm sitting there thinking to myself, 'Wow, it's been awhile, man. You sure? You sure?' 'Yeah, I'm sure.' So, me being the medical genius I am back then, I gave him what I'd call a 'pussy shot' — a little bit; just a little touch. And I injected him. I asked him, 'How're you feeling, bro?' And he was, like, [speaking slowly], 'Good, man.' Someone upfront asked me a question — just like that; that quick — and I turned around, I answered, I turned back around, and this dude was stiff, his eyes were closed and his lips were like that [pushing his lips together], tight. And I said, 'Hey!' I called his name several times. No answer. Boom. I'm freaking out. I grab this dude, and he is as rigid as rigor mortis. And I'm grabbing him and I'm shaking him and shaking him and I'm pulling his beard and I'm slapping his face, and I grabbed the ice cooler and I reached down his damn pants, I'm putting ice down his pants. My friend, who I've known since I was 16 years old, is overdosing. Ain't no damn hospital! Speeding down the back roads of Louisiana. I'm looking around and I'm freaking. I don't know where to tell these guys to drive, and my friend, he's dead. I freaked out and I went [makes punching motion] right in his chest. Boom. His eyes popped open. One pupil was looking this way and the other one this way — kind of like the actor Marty Feldman. And I was scared, man. He wasn't back yet, man; he looked crazy. I was thinking brain damage, retardation... I didn't know what was going on, [so] I hit him again. And his eyes went right back together. And I'm like, 'Oh, my God.' I stayed awake with him all night long. He was sleepy. Kept trying to dose off. Probably still loaded. Boom, I'd kick him. We got back to my house. I laid him out on my sofa. We stayed up 'till the sun came up. I stayed up with him. I wouldn't let him go to sleep. And this whole time, I'm sitting there thinking to myself, 'I just killed my best friend and brought him back to life.' No, I ain't a saint. I ain't no saint, man. I'm the king of liars. I'm the king of deceit. It's what heroin makes you. It's what dope makes you. Cocaine, heroin... whatever. They all go hand in hand. They're all in the same boat, and that boat sinks. It's got holes in it. And that was the last time I ever picked that damn needle up. That was the last time I did heroin."
On some of the lasting effects heroin has had on him:
Anselmo: "Lasting effects? It depends on the person. I still have friends that have been clean longer than I have, and they still have dreams about it. That's very common, too. They go to certain parts of town and they're like, 'Oh, man, that's right where I used to cop [drugs]. That's where I used to go — right down that alley, meet this guy,' and then tell the whole story. It's constant. It's constantly in your brain in one form or another. With me? I know it as enemy. That's why I'm here today, honestly. 'Cause you can't fight heroin. The only way to fight, I figure, is to wisen you people up now. And that's tough, man. 'Cause when you're in your 20s — early 20s and shit like that — your will is aloof. 'Cause your will is your path. And all I suggest is you navigate slowly. Because life is going to test you anyway. Ain't none of us born with a silver spoon, really. It don't matter what walk of life you're from, life is going to test you anyway. And point being, if you're gonna go ahead and cripple yourself on dope, number one, you're not gonna be equipped to deal with life's tests, and number two, you're either gonna end up in jail or in the morgue. And I've seen it all. I've toured with hundreds of bands; I've seen hundreds of addictions. PANTERA... Still... Still... Don't you even imagine this ain't true, and if you do, you'd better wake up and apologize — we were the hardest-drinking band on the planet. Hands down. And I'll tell you what: If Dimebag were alive today, he'd be in some severe medical difficulty, because Rex [Brown], the bass player — my bass player — drank himself so stupid, he's got pancreatitis now. He's 42 years old. 42 years old and pancreatitis.... You know what that means? That means if he takes a sip of a wine cooler, he has no idea if it's going to kill him or not. Kill him. And at one point, yeah, he was acting just like a junkie. Hiding bottles. Hiding, hiding, hiding. Any of you watch that show 'Intervention' [on the A&E network]? It's entertaining, isn't it? It's true. It's real. Rex was like any alcoholic on that damn show. He lived in California, and I swear to you, the night the entire band was going to meet and have an intervention with my bass player, he had already done himself in. And at this point... Look, man, I'm not gonna talk about the negative after this, because there is a positive side... This dude [Rex] has probably spent over a hundred thousand dollars on high-dollar, high-class detox centers. Medical help-me centers, you know. The first three times he went... 'I'm doing it for my kids.' 'I'm doing it to save my marriage,' the next time. 'I'm doing it to get back in the band,' the third time. Guess what?! Nothing worked. You know why? You've got to do it for yourself, and you have got to want it for yourself. You can speak all the language you want, 'cause you'll hear it out of the addicts. 'Oh, yeah yeah yeah, man. Oh, I'm fine.' [Addressing his mother] Mommy — my mom's here — how many times did I tell you, 'I'm fine' and I was full of shit? Hundreds? Thousands? She's telling the truth."
The entire one-hour discussion can be viewed in seven parts below (courtesy of BlackieStuff).