“Drugs Suck” – The Rock Against Drugs Ad Campaign Was Bizarre

Jonathan King, CC BY 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons Casablanca Records, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons H. Michael Karshis from San Antonio, USA, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
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Say what you will about drug culture, but it’s built into the fabric of rock and roll. Whether it be the turning on, tuning in, and dropping out of the acid-soaked hippies, the nihilistic opioid haze of the art-rock world, or the wanton hedonism of the early hard rock and heavy metal bands, drugs have always been part of our music and they likely always will. 

The 1980s were dark days. Although our drug laws and cultural acceptance still have a long way to go, they have come leaps and bounds from the barbarism of the Reagan administration. Richard Nixon might have declared a war on drugs, but it was Reagan who brought out the heavy artillery. While the CIA aided Central American drug lords and funneled crack into low-income neighborhoods, Ronnie brought the hammer down on the most minor drug offenses and his wife told teenagers to “Just Say No”.

The “Just Say No” campaign never really caught on with the MTV generation, who found the message to be overly simplistic and patronizing. In an essay for the Los Angeles Times, record executive Danny Goldberg said: “I get phone calls from well-intended anti-drug organizations wanting to involve rock stars. Many are connected to the White House campaign. But most rockers have rejected any association with ‘Just Say No’ because they believe its condescending tone conflicts with what they feel is the emotional honesty of rock ‘n’ roll. The callers often cannot understand why rock fans and other teenagers are so unattuned to authority.

While no one has the solution for combating self-destructiveness or insecurity, rock fans seem to know that the answer is not in ‘quick fix’ approaches offered by many anti-drug campaigns, nor is it achieved by criticizing the celebrities most popular with teenagers.

President Reagan, for example, recently attacked the film and music industries again, saying the music industry ‘has a responsibility to keep those who glorify drug use away from minors.’ Nancy Reagan, whose campaign urges school kids to sign anti-drug pledges, has attacked several films, including Desperately Seeking Susan, because Madonna, as the title character who constantly flouts authority, smoked a marijuana cigarette in the film.

Such criticism is consistent with the Administration’s pattern of combating drug abuse–attacking symptoms without getting to the cause. In a similar fashion, money is directed toward drug interdiction instead of drug education.”

In response to “Just Say No,” Goldberg started a campaign called Rock Against Drugs. Taking a slightly more pragmatic approach, RAD recruited rock musicians to record anti-drug public service announcements, which were played in a constant barrage on MTV. Aiming to use the allure of rock and roll to discourage young fans from partying on the dark side.

A varied group of performers participated in the campaign, including Ronnie James Dio, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, Vince Neil, Aimee Mann, Jon Bon Jovi, Lou Reed, Cinderella, Ted Nugent, Gregory Abbott, and Belinda Carlisle (who was high at the time). While some of the ads are expectedly obnoxious (Vince Neil, Ted Nugent, both of the aforementioned members of KISS), others are downright bonkers (a shirtless Patrick O’Hearn from Missing Persons being enveloped in a cocoon).

Probably the most effective video comes from former Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones. Polishing his motorcycle, he says: “A good friend of mine, Sid Vicious, died from drugs. I nearly died from drugs. Drugs suck.”

Check out some of the RAD ads here, as well as some quality content from comedy legend Bill Hicks tearing them the fuck apart.

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