Alternative music: My original medicine

Alternative music: My original medicine

Plant medicine and music

Music is one of Medicine Box's seven pillars of wellness for a reason. In this piece, Medicine Box CEO, Brian Chaplin, shares the profound impact his favorite music made on his life and how it shaped the work he now pursues in holistic health medicine and mentorship.

If you’ve spent enough time looking at mushroom content on the internet, you’ve probably come across a video of mushrooms actually making music. No, really. Resourceful music producers have been converting the electrical resistances passed through various mushroom growths into all sorts of squelchy analog soundscapes. That should show you how much natural music is contained in a living plant, and while I’m sure an oyster mushroom flush will never duet with me on a guitar, it certainly shows how both music and healing dwells within the souls of plants and the medicine they produce. Once I myself learned how to work with each of them, they accelerated my healing and my enjoyment of life.

Of course, before I had embraced plant medicine, I had music. Growing up in the ‘90s, my friends and I participated directly in the birth of an alternative culture. I was directly primed for it, thanks to the Beastie Boys’ first LP, Licensed to Ill. Back in those days, we rocked cassette tapes, and that tape accompanied me just about anywhere – my friend’s home, a car, anywhere I could find a boombox. Their producer, Rick Rubin, would also produce Blood Sugar Sex Magik, the first LP I bought with my own money. Alongside extreme skiing, their music would inform everything that excited me and got me looking forward to adulthood. Up until then, I had grown up with my father’s music: the Allman Brothers, Hendrix, Zep, the Stones… I loved them then and still do today, but upon jumping feet-first into RHCP’s sexy, grimy and funky-ass swagger, I claimed my own space of liberation and fun. 

While some other group or act or MC may have activated you, I’m sure your favorite music grabbed you in the exact same way once you made it yours. Holding onto that spark as aging takes hold takes no small degree of grace and wisdom to pull off correctly, especially as life starts taking shots at you right and left. But it can be done, I assure you. So this post is dedicated to all of the artists and performers that have touched me along the way. I truly couldn’t have pulled this off without you.

 Beastie Boys album License to III

The Phish years

I first encountered Trey and his boys around the time I started learning guitar in my freshman year of high school. At the point in 1994, the Grateful Dead still dominated the jam band scene, and Phish held it down as a quirky, underground phenomenon with loads of talent who were slowly building their rep in neighboring Vermont. One year later, Jerry Garcia passed away. As tragic and sudden as it was, his death gave groups like Phish the opportunity to reach a brand-new audience. 

I got to see this cultural transition for myself, and it proved formative for my cultural development as a young man. Jerry had died in August, and I witnessed my first Phish show in December of that year at the Civic Center in Portland, ME. At that time, I was starting to find my voice with the guitar, and in front of me, playing to 3000 people, Trey was bringing it all together – all the freeform jam energy of my father’s generation with the grooves that lit me up as a kid. Not too soon after that, I started my band Homegrown with some high school friends, and we worked with many of the same musical elements Phish did: funk, soul, rock, all tied together with a free-flowing jam aesthetic. 

Of course, we took flak for being Phisheads. Back in those days, TOOL, Nine inch Nails and Marilyn Manson were big, and those guys didn’t respect anything that wasn’t super-aggro and loud. To this day, Phish has its many critics, and they don’t understand the culture or the music any more than those guys did (although eventually, I was able to convert some of them, and even brought a few of them to their first shows!). However, the ’heads are still keeping the torch lit. On Instagram, there are some great accounts that epitomize the whimsy and goofy fun I love about the shows, such as @phishdanceparty, which overdubs videos of people dancing with Phish tracks. And in my car, SiriusXM has not budged from its Phish channel. Indeed, I’m still hooked after all these years, and probably always will be.

 Phish album Junta

EDM and burning man

By now, I reckon you’re starting to see a pattern here: Dunk. Soul, Dancing, Counterculture vibes. At some point or another, it all leads to a hot, sweaty dancefloor, and that experience was waiting for me once I shipped off to Phish’s hometown of Burlington, VT for the University of Vermont. I went to my first underground dance party in Montreal in 2000, just two hours away. Four floors, every imaginable style of electronic music you could imagine. The lights and the sound and the raw connection to everyone I felt on the dancefloor began a new chapter in my life, one that would eventually lead me to Burning Man seven years later.

Before my fateful trip to the playa, I was already fully immersed in the Tahoe underground, which centered around the quarterly parties Keep Tahoe Deep. In those days, I was drawn to four-to-the-floor and breakbeat – the latter which for me bore the closest ties to the classic rock I grew up loving. Burning Man at that point, pre-social media, was still a relatively underground phenomenon. For many years, I wanted to go, but the owner of the bar/restaurant I bartended at couldn’t stand the festival and would fire anyone who attempted to cover shifts so they could attend. Bear in mind, the Labor Day weekend, when Burning Man happens, is NOT that busy here in Tahoe, and our bar was always overstaffed, but that wasn’t the point. My boss epitomized The Man, fighting against a form of freedom and self-expression he found deviant and forcing his employees to conform to his wishes.

 Burning man - Temple of Breaksflat

It would make sense for me to rebel against this eventually, and eventually, I did. I covered all my shifts and even found backups for my backups. After I did that, I called a meeting with the owner and all the managers and told them I was GOING. And that year, in 2007, I did. And my mind was BLOWN. I camped with the folks at Tahopia, and we ended up throwing one of the niftiest parties the outer playa saw that year. Whether it was riding with the Deep crew or just riding my bike around the open playa, I got a chance to wander through and realize every rockstar fantasy I had ever dreamed about as a kid. Moreover, the connections and experiences I had out there would strongly influence the life I wanted to lead from there on out.

Many people come back from Burning Man dead set and centered upon executing their visions in the “default world,” which in spite of its many problems contains a lot more resources than the Black Rock Desert, and I was no different. With Medicine Box, I’ve been able to carve out my own space of rebellion, fun, and self-expression, one that also keeps me grounded and centered. Best of all, I get a chance to help people achieve better sleep, gut health, mental acuity, and vitality at the same time. Burning Man has taught me that enjoying your life and making a meaningful impact on society is not a zero-sum game. In my opinion, you really can’t do one without providing for the other. Striking that balance lies at the heart of holistic health.

Unfortunately, I and some of my musical heroes had to learn that in the hardest way imaginable.

The musical cure 

For those who are new to Medicine Box and my own struggles with drugs and alcohol, let me make it clear that there was always a dark side to the party we all embraced. Practically all of the musical acts I just mentioned – RHCP and Phish, specifically – ended up struggling with addiction issues. Some of them, like Chris Cornell, didn’t make it.

Back in 2017, when news of Cornell hit, I wrote a blog post on the very bad and sudden news we all faced at that point. All these years later, I’m even more convinced it was the antidepressants that did him dirty. Like many grunge artists of his generation – Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley come immediately to mind – Cornell fought his own inner demons, and what did they give him? Ativan for his, wait for it... sleep disorder. Having just kicked Prozac in 2017, it truly broke my heart to hear that Cornell had attempted to kick a pharmaceutical as well. And while I can’t peek into his psyche, I can assure you that moving away from benzos can not only be excruciatingly painful but fatal as well, depending on how often you’re using them. Yet as open as he was about his addictions, it pains me to realize that his iconic voice, which had thrilled me ever since my dad introduced me to Temple of the Dog and Soundgarden as a kid, is now silenced – especially since I know there is another way.

That’s why I’ve committed myself to the path I’m on now. The artists and fans of the ‘90s did not have any other model for their culture other than live-fast-die-young and getting high. The wellness phenomenon, as well as the mental health crisis, has truly changed this game, with artists opening up about their journeys to their audiences in unprecedented ways. It reminds me that no matter how many years we’ve used plant medicine, we’re still just learning about its potential to heal and improve our lives (Of course, the indigenous have a wealth of knowledge, but that ain’t gonna just be handed over to the rest of us, and for good reason.). 

For me, plant medicine is tied to spirit and creator and serves as a catalyst for the expansion of creativity and softening the edges of our egos, which only leads to more truth, authenticity, and vulnerability. Utilized properly, this can only strengthen a musician’s mental health and lead to a more socially conscious, self-CONSTRUCTIVE culture. As a lifelong musician and music fan, I know of no better way to give back, and keep the party going long after I’ve gone to jam on with Chris and the gang in that Great Gig in the Sky. 

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