By Kelly Burch
SEX, DRUGS, ROCK AND ROLL …SEX, DRUGS, ROCK AND ROLL … It’s a chant that has been ringing out from the stages of concerts and festivals since before the famed Woodstock in 1969.
And it’s a combination that has led to doom and untimely death for far too many great talents: Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, Janice Joplin, Jim Morrison, Michael Jackson, Dee Dee Ramone, Whitney Houston. The list goes on and on and on.
Certainly the culture of drug abuse and careless sex lives on in the buses, airplanes and arenas where small- and big-name rockers travel from venue to venue and perform for packed crowds – many of whom join them in the party.
And yet, for many musicians the stereotype is just that: a stereotype – and not a fitting description of their worlds at all.
There are, of course, the high-profile and courageous celebrities who committed to getting clean and sober after decades of use and abuse (think David Bowie, Eric Clapton, Elton John, Mick Jagger, and Prince). But there's also a whole new culture of musicians who have watched the carnage and are choosing to embrace a lifestyle of recovery before they suffer their way to middle age.
This new generation of rockers understands that the music not only can exist, but can be much better, without the drugs and alcohol. They’ve re-evaluated their existences, put down the substances, and learned that there’s great joy and satisfaction in a lifestyle of recovery.
Here are some of their stories:
(Editor’s note: Today we are sharing Marisa Rhodes’ story. Check back later this week to see additional stories in this series)
At age 25, success was slipping through the hands of this promising songstress. Three years later, Marisa Rhodes is back on stage, clean and sober and stronger than ever.
Marisa Rhodes was discovered on American Idol, then landed the leading role in the Off Broadway musical, “Love Kills” and toured with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. She was in her 20s and to onlookers, leading a charmed life. What most people didn’t know, however, was that Rhodes was battling a drug and alcohol addiction that was quickly chipping away at her ability to perform.
Three years ago, she put the drugs and alcohol down. Today, she’s clean, sober, and living a lifestyle of recovery. Whether she’s performing onstage or talking about her journey, her voice is steadfast, confident, and clear.
Renew: Thanks for talking to us. So tell us about your history with addiction?
Rhodes:I started drinking and using when I was about 17 years old and I got sober when I was 25. Drugs were a huge part of my life for eight years. It was part of my lifestyle, and also a huge part of my downfall as an artist. I’ve had a lot of opportunities given to me, and as a result of drinking and using, I wasn’t fully able to take advantage of them.
Renew:Did missing opportunities help you realize that it was time to seek help?
Rhodes: Once I lost everything because of my actions, I realized I needed to get help and get sober. My life revolved around singing and acting, but I was so consumed with my addiction that I could no longer perform. That’s when I started thinking seriously about my future.
Renew:What role do you think drug and alcohol use play in the music industry at large?
Rhodes: I grew up on my father’s music, listening to vinyl records. I remember watching a Led Zeppelin video where Robert Plant was handed a tambourine and snorting white stuff off of it. As crazy as it sounds, he was my Idol and It seemed like it all went together, hand-in-hand.
Renew: You live in Nashville now, focusing on country music. Is the scene any different in Nashville than, say, that in L.A or New York?
Rhodes:The music industry is the music industry no matter where you go. If you listen to country music, a lot of it is about celebrating the good-old American life of having a beer on the weekend, but a lot of it also talks about the pain and suffering of the everyday American. I enjoy being able to write about real-life experiences and having people relate to what I am singing. I don’t feel like you can be as real and honest in any other genre as you can in country music.
Renew: If you can’t draw on the party scene, where do you find creative inspiration now?
Rhodes: When I first got sober, I thought my creativity was over. I pushed music and writing aside for a good two years. It scared me. It was such a huge part of why I drank and why I used mind-altering substances. When I got sober, I felt like it was just finally time to set it aside for a moment to figure out who I was as a person.
Then a friend of mine asked me to sing at a benefit for his wife, who had been diagnosed with stage-four pancreatic cancer. Of course I said yes. … I sang, and as a result, it was the first time I felt alive again. Sobriety had turned me into an amazing person and I could live life to the full extent without being nervous about going back to where I had come from. Everything made sense again and I finally came to realize that for the first time in a long time I could perform clean and sober without any substances altering my truest form.
A few years later I ended up down in Nashville, and it all happened because I said yes to a service request. I said yes to people who helped make my life better by helping me get sober.
Renew: It seems like things have come together for you in recovery.
Rhodes: It’s a hard decision to make, to really figure out who you are as a person vs. what you do. I’ve always been a singer and a drug addict, and I couldn’t distinguish one from the other. I’ve always had these stigmas that I put upon myself and when I set aside the negative thoughts and old belief system, I got to really find out who I was truly as a person. I found out that singing and acting is what I am meant to do to inspire not only myself, but any upcoming artists as well. I am a performer. I had a God-given talent which I was ruining by numbing myself with drugs and alcohol, as opposed to amplifying my God-given talent.
Renew: It sounds like your career has benefited from your recovery. What are some of the more personal effects on your life?
Rhodes:I learned to talk to people I trust. Instead of hiding my problems, I pick up the phone and talk about what is going on with people who I respect. To be able to respect and trust people is huge, and that only happened when I got sober.
Renew: Do you think that artists are particularly vulnerable to addiction?
Rhodes:No, I don’t. I think addiction is addiction and it has nothing to do with being an artist, or being creative. I’m a firm believer that I was born genetically as an alcoholic. I used it as an excuse not to address my issues, but that’s a lie I told myself. The more sober I am, the rawer I am, the more vulnerable I am because I’m not anesthetizing myself, the more I’m able to feel my reality and connect at deeper and more spiritual level with people because I am being real. I’m not hiding behind any substance.
Renew:So what are you doing now?
Rhodes:I’m making up for lost time with my family and career. I live with my family (her mother, father and brother – she's single) outside Nashville. And I continue to explore my talents and keep active in writing sessions and guitar lessons. I’m focusing on honing my craft and doing what I love to do. I believe that fate has brought my family together in Nashville. I think that God has given me a second chance to get back to my roots and do what has always been in my heart and soul, what I am meant to do and love: making music.