The Bitch of Living

This USA Today piece, which focused on binge drinking, had some advice:

Pediatrician Patricia Kokotailo, director of adolescent medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and the lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement on alcohol use by youth and adolescents, says parents should: […]

• Set a firm policy: No alcohol, drugs or tobacco until age 21. Use the new research on the teenage brain to explain that this is about keeping those maturing brains safe and enabling them to keep on maturing. “We now know that the brains of adolescents continue to mature at least into their mid-20s, especially in the frontal cortex and pre-frontal cortex areas which are involved with emotional regulation, planning, organization and inhibition of inappropriate actions,” Kokotailo says. “The immaturity of the adolescent brain confers greater vulnerability to toxic and addictive actions of alcohol.”

Clearly Patricia has never been a teenager or spent much time around them. 21? Sure, that’s the law for alcohol, and it’s a nice idea if young people wait until then, but few will (and they’ll see right through a lecture on adolescent brain development, knowing that it has nothing to do with abstinence — that argument is better served in a discussion about moderation).

Setting a firm policy of 21 merely means that you’ll be the last to know what your children are doing.

Because, quite frankly, the opportunities will be there and young people are going to try things. It’s their job, built in to their DNA and part of their development into adults.

I think back to my own teenage years, and I led a pretty sheltered life in some ways. My parents were strictly against even alcohol use for adults, and certainly they were strongly against tobacco or other drugs, and there was never any alcohol or tobacco in our house. And I had absolutely no interest in them.

Yet, I had my first beer while in high school, provided by other members of a church youth group I was working with on a charitable project. My first cigarette came from one of my first jobs; my first hard alcohol while visiting college as a prospective student; and marijuana and other drugs from friends in college.

Fortunately, my use was careful and moderate, and I never had any problem with any of it. But that came entirely from me, not from the strictures laid upon me by my parents, nor from any real knowledge. And yes, I made damned sure my parents didn’t know what I was doing.

For a mature and responsible approach to parents talking to their youth about drugs and alcohol, read this letter from Marsha Rosenbaum to her son and his response 8 years later. It’s a powerful lesson.

Feeding young people simplistic messages like “Just say no,” or “nothing until you’re 21,” is much like abstinence-based sex education — a dangerous fantasy. You can wish that your child will remain innocent until they are an adult, but turning that into how you parent can result in tragedy when the young person inevitably fails to wait, and now isn’t well-enough informed.

This means even more to me know because of my current project: I’m the music director for our production of the Broadway musical “Spring Awakening,” which opens next week.

The musical is based on an 1851 play by Frank Wedekind (which was banned for 100 years) about the sexual awakening of teenagers, and it deals with a host of very frank issues. The adults in the play (all the male adults played by one actor and all the female adults by one actress) wish to maintain strict control over their charges, while the young people are desparate to know more.

In an early scene, young Wendla, who no longer believes in the stork, asks her mother how babies come to be. The parent, flabbergasted by such frankness, finally gives her this:

For a woman to bear a child, she must… in her own personal way, she must… love her husband. Love him, as she can love only him. Only him… she must love — with her whole… heart.

There. Now you know everything.

Ultimately, that lack of parenting leads to tragedy.

Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater have taken this powerful (and both humorous and tragic) play and added an amazing folk-rock score that represents the inner monologues of the young people.

I’m conducting and playing both piano and harmonium on stage, with a band including violin, viola, cello, bass (acoustic and electric) two guitars (acoustic and electric) and percussion.

We have an incredible cast (see below), director and design team. If you’re in the vicinity of Central Illinois, I suggest you check it out. It runs September 27 through October 5.

Spring Awakening

Note: the title of this post is the title of one of the songs in “Spring Awakening,” dealing with young people trying to understand how they fit in the world around them while dealing with their biological urges.

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21 Responses to The Bitch of Living

  1. claygooding says:

    Everyone here was told not to touch that stove.

  2. Servetus says:

    Using prohib-think: if the legal age-limit line is drawn at 21, doesn’t the age-limit-law become a gateway to crime? Won’t Jack and Jill graduate to robbing armored Brinks trucks if they drink a beer at 18?

    A more realistic problem, employing anti-prohib-think, is that age limits don’t take into account native cultures. Traditional Italian families drink wine from the time family members are age six. Few adverse health consequences have accrued from a Mediterranean diet.

    • Duncan20903 says:


      Man it’s been a long long time since I last heard a prohibitionist use this positively Sgt Friday worthy piece of propaganda. What’s next, will cannabis make all the white women want to miscegenate? No wait, axe murders and piano music played at a frighteningly high rate of speed? Yeah, that’s the ticket. This one is from the “prohibitionists say the darnedest things” category:

      Marijuana is still a real health hazard

      Third, a Columbia University study revealed female marijuana smokers suffer a sharp increase in damage to DNA, the genetic code, and reproductive eggs are especially vulnerable to damage by marijuana.

      Man, I knew that Burger King is having a special on Whoppers but this guy is regurgitating them non-stop for free. Maybe I’m having an acid flashback because the last time I heard that particular piece of propaganda the idiots said “chromosomes” instead of DNA and Gerry Ford was still the POTUS.

  3. Howard says:

    “Fortunately, my use was careful and moderate, and I never had any problem with any of it. But that came entirely from me, not from the strictures laid upon me by my parents, nor from any real knowledge. And yes, I made damned sure my parents didn’t know what I was doing.”(Pete)

    This really echoes my experience. I’ll bet I’ve said the same thing in various ways many times over the years. Oddly enough, I never got the “talk” that most kids get about drugs in general. It’s not that my parents were permissive or uncaring. I’m not sure why they never gave me dire warnings (maybe because those warnings were broadcast EVERYWHERE as it was?). And my teenage-to-adult years were spent in a certain semi-tropical part of the US in the ’70’s. Like most teens I wanted to try things but I didn’t want to incapacitate myself, or worse, get caught and suffer parental wrath. I saw a few of my friends do too many Quaaludes or too much speed — all the while I took care of them while they came down and we were able to sneak home (I laugh now, but at the time…). But lessons were learned and those episodes dwindled rapidly (a form of self regulation). I only had interest in psychedelics and cannabis (though once doing too much psilocybin tea scared the bejesus out of me and a buddy). No downers, thanks. But these were just personal decisions. No raging moral compass. No fearing the wrath of Gawd. Just wanted to experiment a little and keep on living. Like the overwhelming majority of most kids I suppose.

    All that said, I’m very well aware that some folks do suffer from dependency and need help — but help from a health care perspective, NOT from the criminal justice system (which is no help at all) and all the horrors than go along with that.

    Of course, to the moralizing prohibitionists any form of ‘drug’ use is abuse and must be stamped out — palm to the forehead, “Heal you heathen”!

    Oh just bug off…

  4. DdC says:

    21 age limits kill teens more than drugs. So hypocritical that you can kill people in the military at 18 but you’re not mature enough to smoke a joint or drink a beer?

    Pennsylvania had a 21 age limit on booze when I was a teen. NY, WV and Ohio were all 18. Ohio served a lower alcohol content to teens and regular beer to those over 21. So occasionally we spent a lot of time driving to other states, and driving back in various conditions. We also tried running from cops and hiding. Finding out of the way places to have field parties. We all had fake ID’s since they were made out of paper you could peel off the numbers and switch birthdays with social security. Then some genius got the idea to let this old mafia guy have a speak easy for 18 to 21 year olds. You had to know someone to get in. Cops would take their pay offs in a form of an envelope handed over the bar. While we all tried to look legal they just smiled.

    Bottom line is it probably saved a few lives. He didn’t want us smoking pot indoors but never had a problem going out into the parking lot. Same with drugs. Be informed and use with friends who have your back. In the day it was common for most of the class to go to a party. There were a few abstainers, and a few more than that not wanting pot. Many beer drinkers I knew didn’t smoke pot. Their choice. Before nancy no no, imagine that.

    One note I remember some conservatives preferred LSD over pot. I always thought it was intense and only used it occasionally, like on holidays. More than a few future blue collar car junkies, clad in leather jackets and always talking about engines seemed to enjoy acid but wouldn’t smoke a joint for anything. They liked Pink Floyd but hated the Stones and Dylan. I was told once before super stardom in the mid 60’s the stones came to a small venue and they booed them off stage and threw tomatoes at them. Probably why I had to travel to Cleveland to see them in the early 70’s. All of this before the drug propagandists threatened and cajoled kids. I suspect many of today’s drug worriers came out of DARE classes.

    I find it hard to believe anyone raised American would put up with this drug worrier behavior, let alone participate in it themselves. Just disgusting.

    Russ Belville ‏@RadicalRuss
    If You Still Think Pot Should Be Illegal, You Are an Asshole

    Marijuana arrests continue despite increased public pot support.

    Florida mother wants medical cannabis for cancer-stricken 2-year-old daughter.

    WA State Won’t Give Father Custody Of Child Because He Is A Med Marijuana Patient

    Marijuana Arrests Near Record High (FBI Study)

    • DdC says:

      More of their deception. When people question if the DEA is even necessary

      Is it time to get rid of the DEA?

      They just say whatever people want to hear…

      DEA Marijuana Raids Plummet
      Source: Huffington Post By Robin Wilkey September 19, 2013
      USA — New data released by the Drug Enforcement Administration reveals the agency has dramatically cut the number of raids on marijuana growers over the past two years, especially in California.

      But, as SF Weekly noted, a closer look at the data reveals that the DEA has not become less aggressive. Rather, the agency appears to have been more effective by making fewer raids, but arresting more people and seizing more pot.

      … then expect us to just accept it. If lies are just part of the agenda imagine what the kids are being told behind closed doors by SWAT members teaching DARE classes. Just disgusting…

    • Freeman says:

      In the day it was common for most of the class to go to a party. There were a few abstainers, and a few more than that not wanting pot. Many beer drinkers I knew didn’t smoke pot.

      Heh, back in the day this old cowboy used to show up at our parties. He drank beer constantly, wouldn’t toke up, but whenever a bong got passed around he would take a nip of bongwater and pass it on. Good times, good times…

  5. Study: CBD Helps Reverse Booze Brain Damage

    New Study Finds Cannabis May Have Neuroprotective Effects

    I haven’t understood why impact sports like hockey, football, baseball, boxing would not be favorable to marijuana since it helps to protect the brain from damage caused by various effects.

    • allan says:

      witches TC, witches… and monsters under the bed… and falling off the edge of the world…

      UFC/MMA types have many pot proponents, Fear Factor’s Joe Rogan is the big name advocate in that group. IIRC one of the mixed fighting orgs just raised their limit on allowable cannabis in fighters, tho’ I believe Nevada isn’t cooperating…

      NFL players have both the profile and the need. Other than Mark Stepnoski I can’t think of any pro football players advocating.

      • Windy says:

        They may not be advocating the use of pot but they are doing it. Read awhile back (beginning of summer?) about a player (who was caught by testing) saying 80 or 90% of his team used it, and other teams, too.

        • Duncan20903 says:


          Here’s a really goofy piece of trivia: The NFL only does assays of players’ urine between April and September. I know that almost nobody would agree but frankly I do consider cannabis a PED in sports which are particularly brutal. “The best athlete’s play through the pain” is a commonly uttered platitude. Cannabis allows them to do so without so much risk of exacerbating the injury into a life changing injury as might happen with a true pain killer.

          Does anyone recall Lance Mackey, reasonably described as the Babe Ruth of competitive dog sledding? Winning 3 in a row and being an unabashed fan of cannabis was the catalyst for the governing body instituting urine tests for their mushers. I think that they would have been better served urine testing the dogs.

    • DdC says:

      Using Pot To Save Brains!

      Cannabis less harmful than aspirin

      Sanjay Gupta pronounced ĞαηЈᾱὙ ʃʊpʈα. Blew it out of the water with “Weeds” on CNN. The little girl with the 300 seizures a week after a tad of cbd/peanut butter? she was down to 3 or 4 a month. Talk about validation. This was the first choice for Surgeon General exposing his academic ignorance due to censorship by the AMA Drug Co.

      ❝Like most physicians, Dr. Gupta never learned about cannabis in medical school. Until recently, he knew nothing about how cannabis worked on a molecular level, its mechanism of action in the brain and body, its side effects and safety profile. He had not been following the remarkable discoveries of scientists associated with the International Cannabinoid Research Society, which was formed after the first cannabinoid receptor was identified in the brain in 1989. Instead, Gupta took his cues from federal agencies, which maintain that marijuana is a dangerous drug with no medical value.❞
      ~ Martin A. Lee,
      The Potential Miracle Element in Cannabis That Changed Sanjay Gupta’s Mind About the Power of Pot. Author of “Smoke Signals,” discusses the healing powers of the cannabis plant.

      NFL’s Buzzkill
      The Hypocrisy of the NFL

      Ricky Williams won’t be playing in 2004. In late July he made two related announcements: that he was retiring from football, and that he found marijuana to be “10 times more helpful than Paxil” as a confidence builder…

      Police also claimed that the availability of cannabis in the Netherlands probably helped to defuse any violence…
      Cannabis Helps Keep Fans Calm

      ❝Once the religious, the hunted and weary
      Chasing the promise of freedom and hope
      Came to this country to build a new vision
      Far from the reaches of kingdom and pope
      Like good Christians, some would burn witches
      Later some got slaves to gather riches.❞ ~ Steppenwolf

  6. and if they really want to continue pursuing that “brain is not mature” line of cowplop, then we need to prevent them from driving until their brains are mature.

    and most importantly, since our society has delineated 18 as the magic age for “adulthood,” any arbitrary age selected for “allowing” other behaviors is guaranteed to fail from the start.

  7. Servetus says:

    Good news for Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, and no doubt Berlin as well, “Mayor Monika Herrmann has plans to open Germany’s first cannabis coffee shop ” based on the Amsterdam model.

  8. N.T. Greene says:

    This is why I’m glad I’ve got the chance to be a decent parent.

    It is pointless to lie to kids, anyways. They are curious folk. They are, paradoxically, most attracted to the things they are not allowed to be in. When they’re little and you can watch them at every turn, you’ll do an okay job of keeping them off the stairs and out of the china hutches… but once they’re out of sight there is no telling what they might do.

    Why should drugs, alcohol, sex, or anything be viewed any differently? It was only a few generations ago that these things were frank facts of life evident to kids far younger than 18. If you want them to grow up to be responsible and decent adults, you have to find ways to treat them as such and mentally equip them with the proper tools. Any moron can follow an order… only to lapse when the boss isn’t around. But when you can teach someone to -think- more, then their whole approach to life may change for the better.

    My experiences in college were largely dictated by rigorous internet research, friends, some of my family, books… everything I could find. I made it out alive and free of addiction (unless you count my obsession with learning things). I arrived here at the couch because of that search for knowledge, I suppose.

    “You can have a lot of fun, but be careful, because it can take control of you. Be mindful; learn and know your limits. The number one rule my circle of friends has is simple and easy to remember: ‘If you can’t handle your shit, then you shouldn’t be doing it.’ It is not a rule of indulgence or abstention, but one of moderation and self-control. It is just fine to have fun and experience things; but fun can be dangerous in excess, and a lack of self-control can come with serious costs…”

    “Be responsible” is a maxim this culture cannot even begin to comprehend!

  9. Duncan20903 says:


    There are at least 30 States which make exceptions to their drinking alcohol age limit. It appears to be most frequently used for religious ceremonies and/or with the direct supervision of a parent. For example the Italian or French families who traditionally allow their children to imbibe at meals. Religion? I would think that Jewish people need to use some drinking alcohol to make those poor little boys cooperate with the mohel. I know I would have learned to run before I learned to crawl if I saw a guy with a sharp knife coming at me with the intent of pruning my particulars.

    Like medicinal cannabis patient protection laws which require parental approval, supervision and the parents to obtain the child’s medicine I see the age limit of 21 with specific exceptions as being wholly appropriate.

  10. Duncan20903 says:


    Since Pete shared the story about his first drink I’ll share mine. It was when I was age 12, right after I fermented an absolutely vile beverage in a thermos. It was my second attempt. Nobody told me it would friggin’ blow up without a pressure relief valve.

    In prison they would almost certainly call what I made “Pruno“.

  11. Windy says:

    I have no personal recollection of my first experience with alcohol, only my mother’s memory of it, I’m not certain how old I was, but I was 4 or younger because it happened before my brother was born. Mom and Dad had friends over, they were drinking beer, one of them poured some beer in a shot glass and gave it to me, clinking glasses with me and saying “skol”, then they gave me another and I was repeating the “skol”, apparently I got quite tipsy and was the center of interest and laughter that evening.

    My next experience was at the age of 15, babysitting with a friend her older brother’s children. We tried a little bit of everything in his liquor cabinet, I got so sick. I never tried drinking again until I was 21, again I got sick. That was when I decided I did not like being drunk because I always got sick (I HATE vomiting), so ever since then my limit is 3 drinks over an entire evening, so I don’t ever attain the feeling of being drunk, any more than that and I will vomit (if I don’t pass out first — I know this because once, in 1982, I broke my rule of 3 drinks maximum).

    Nope I’ll stick with the high from cannabis (which I didn’t discover until I was 26), thank you very much, it feels nicer than drunk, and (best of all) it doesn’t make me want (or NEED) to vomit.

    • Nunavut Tripper says:

      I have never been much of a drinker in my life largely because of the vomiting and severe hangovers I experienced while a young experimenter.I grew up during the 50’s and 60’s in a small town in Ontario where alcohol was king and cannabis didn’t exist.
      Socializing and attending teen dances and parties entailed the real risk of being assaulted by a drunk just for asking his “girl” to dance.I remember my teens as a stressful negative era. When pot finally came to town in the late 60’s I resisted it due to typical reefer madness propaganda. I finally gave in and attended some “pot party’s” and was taken back by the positive vibes.
      Friendly conversation,good food and music,laughter and most importantly I was not constantly worrying about getting punched out by a belligerent drunk.
      Forty five years later my wife and I enjoy cannabis almost every day and most folks woulds be envious of our level of health and lifestyle.

      So to Kevin Sabet and his ilk you can all kiss my ass.

      • Windy says:

        I can relate. I grew up in the latter half of the 40s and the 50s (1950 on in a small town, too) there was pot around when I was in HS (’59-’62) but none of my friends were aware of it; it was ’69 before I ever tried it and ’70 when I began using it on a regular basis. The only real regret I have from the late 60s was that I was living just a few hundred miles from Woodstock and didn’t have a clue it was happening. I never learned about it until after I started smoking pot, I hate that I missed out on participating in that once in a lifetime event.

  12. ezrydn says:

    OT – Pete,

    What’s your opinion of “The Piano Guys, CD 1?” Just wonderin’ since you’re “musically inclined.”

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