30 for 30: Alcohol

30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.

19. ALCOHOL

Don Draper knows how to have a drink

Alcohol. Even without it, it’s played a big part in my life.

I did not drink from until I was 25. I had the odd sip here and there since I was 15, but up until that point I was lucky to have had more than two standard drinks through my system.

(This of course excludes dickheads I know who made it their mission in life to spike my drinks. More on this later, but god, as the years go by those people look so small.)

I drink now, and enjoyed drinking with all my friends in Europe and America. I don’t make a big deal of my sober years – sometimes it’s mentioned and people probably think it’s a joke. That’s ok, that’s kind of the point.

Throughout my life, especially in my early 20s, people would ask me why I didn’t drink.

Anyway, I thought I’d address it

So – why don’t you drink?

The easy answer is that there was no easy answer. I bowled into not drinking by accident – there was no single moment where the red sea parted. I find it strange that people look for one.

I have to say, people asking me why I didn’t drink was more often than not annoying as fuck. Not everyone, but the people who look for that easy answer, and would try and drill it out of me, are fucking idiots. The same kind of idiots who need plotlines spelt out for them, and like police procedural dramas. Facts facts facts.

I assume they do this to understand my choice, but they also do it to belittle it. Oh, if Danny’s Dad didn’t drink, he would be on my level. Oh if Danny didn’t have a health problem, he’d be on my level. Health was the worse one. What the fuck? Was I that skinny that I looked like I belonged in a hospital? The point here is I don’t understand how people can’t see there are millions of reasons to not drink. And someone might just simply not want to.

(Health? Really. I always wanted to respond with, “why doesn’t your brain work? Health?”)

The other really important thing I learnt really early is there is a type of person who took personal offence at me not drinking. I never, ever took a high horse about not-drinking. I never discouraged anyone from drinking – EVER. It’s a personal choice. I’m not vegetarian about it – I didn’t set myself up as an example for my friends or the people I knew. I never went to, say, any anti-drinking meetings or joined any official club.

But just by being different, it made me a target. The line, I think you know it, is –

“You think you’re better than me?”

A drunken hipster slurring this at me and poking his finger in my chest saying this to me, I have to say I do think I’m better than you. Dealing with this in the last year of high school was ok – I was smart enough to know that we were just dumb kids acting like we knew anything. But dealing with it in my mid-20s was depressing. I saw the world doesn’t change.

On a related note, it annoyed me when someone downing a beer would tell me not to smoke. Not that the two things are interchangeable – but come on! I don’t tell you what to or what not to put in your system. We’re all adults. And it’s an indefensible position – but I know more people who died from over drinking (3) than smoking (0).

(Again that is not an easy answer, CSI fans. People are more complicated than that.)

One of the important things in my life around this time (and massively related) was a love of hardcore punk. And throughout my life I’ve never forgotten this quote from Henry RollinsIf you’re pissing someone off, you must be doing something right.

If anyone wonders if it was hard to not drink for so long, I think of that quote, and the dickheads I met, and really…no. It was the easiest thing in the world.

Anyway, you didn’t answer the question. You just went on about people you didn’t like. So why didn’t you drink?

It was a number of reasons, that all added up. I am a self aware bastard, and it just seemed at any point, not drinking was the right life choice to make.

Firstly, alcohol never seemed dangerous to me. There was always alcohol in the house. Dad drank. Uncles drank. Having such an awesome Dad, he was pretty happy for me to have a sip if I wanted to. Thing was, I didn’t. Maybe there is an iota of rebellion – my Dad drank so I didn’t. But I wanted to be my Dad my whole life. Probably closer to the truth was my childhood was such a delight of food that why would I drink that sour stuff. Pass me a chocolate milk.

So when booze made it’s way into parties at age 15, it seemed really uncool to drink. It was almost like when porn mags got passed around at school, and you wanted to act casual. Oh boobs – I’ve seen so many of them. I don’t know why I felt this way, but I just had this reaction of “I don’t need that”. That was coupled with trying to talk to girls, and I kind of wanted my wits about me.

This was another reason. I have such a chip on my shoulder about being smart – or appearing smart. I didn’t speak English for so long, and drinking would seem to turn me back into a dumb kid. And I was a small kid – I didn’t trust the bigger blokes to not beat the shit out of me at a whim. So I wanted to keep my head, and my bones, intact.

Then there was music. In my teens, I loved the Ramones. Their song, Teenage Lobotomy, really hit me (“D-U-M-B, everyone’s accusing me”). I wanted to do the smart thing. Then came hardcore punk – Rollins Band, Minor Threat, Fugazi etc. And many of those bands didn’t drink. I didn’t follow those bands to the end of the world – but not knowing that much about music, it seemed like half the bands I liked didn’t drink. It made the decision less weird.

Music took over my life, and there was another very important non drinking musician I discovered. Chris Murphy from the Canadian band Sloan. I could not love that band any more than I do. And when my world view was more balanced and saw alcohol was all over the rock world, Chris Murphy stayed sober. And he didn’t make a deal about it. I wanted to be Chris Murphy. I play the bass he plays.

He has a line that I used often – I can do anything you can do, and without a crutch. Which was THE WHOLE POINT. Just because I didn’t drink didn’t mean I couldn’t stay up til 4am talking music. I can get up and speak to a big crowd. I could talk to and hold meaningful conversations with women. I didn’t need to drink to work up my confidence. I learnt to be confident.

But it wasn’t just Sloan – it was grunge as a whole. You remember the early 90s, where it seemed like we were this broken generation? Hurt by our parents, born to a greedy world, full of sadness? (God I loved grunge). It seemed like as a grunge kid, I should be standing against frat thugs. I’m not sure I knew any frat thugs other than on TV. But we were the weirdos – we smoked, we didn’t drink.

The other thing music did to my drinking was it made it hard for me to afford alcohol. Or anything else. I bought so many records. Think of how much money you spent on booze til you were 25. And I managed to get a decent job quite early too. And I threw all that into music. Which is why I have the best CD collection in Australia for my age group (I take this as a fact – if there was someone close we would know).

But by this time, I was just not used to drinking. The idea of including beer in my grocery budget just seemed weird. And I was used to my diet cokes and smokes.

This upbringing also brought with it all the stereotypes of ignorance. I didn’t like the smell of beer. I didn’t like having beer spilt on me at gigs, and over my shoes. I certainly didn’t like looking after people as they threw up.

Then there was drugs. Drugs starting entering my life around 22/23, living in Newtown, ending up in folks houses. I didn’t really want to be around that, and having the reputation of being a non drinker, it was really easy to get away. Nothing more annoying than a drunk saying “Come on man, stay! Stay!”. Drugs really made me feel my decision to not drink was the right one (as I walked home smoking).

I had some great friends who treated me no different. In fact almost everyone did – but I guess the ones who didn’t, didn’t want to be around me. In our little Newtown scene at the time, I can think of only one other person who didn’t drink – Craig. And I love Craig, one of the most charming people I’ve ever met. And again, it just made me feel like my choice was right.

It was also nice shorthand to deal with scenester dickheads. Basically around the scene there was two things people knew about me – 1) I loved the band You Am I and 2) I didn’t drink. (I guess 3) I’m Asian). And I was pretty happy to just let people think that of me, and have dozens of 2 minute conversations a night about Hourly, Daily, and why I didn’t drink (no, not ever)…blah blah blah. And then they could go away.

I realise now that I was incorrect with one thing – drinking turned people into dickheads. That’s not true at all. Drinking highlights pre-existing dickheads. Some people give drinking a really bad name. But I love the company of so many of my friends when they are drunk. To this day if someone rubs me the wrong way drunk, then I have nothing to do with them sober.

You get to the point that I call ‘Fox News’ – where you only look at things to re-enforce your beliefs. I hated the idea that as a musician, I was a glorified beer seller. I knew the facts about alcohol and violence. I had this weird sci-fi idea in my head about us being a drunk planet. All of that didn’t mean anything in the end.

So that was my life. Living in Newtown, a tolerant but boozy suburb, but surrounded by great friends who understood me. Not drinking allowed me to check out of the parts I didn’t want to be a part of, and I had no trouble doing all the things I did want to do.

Truth be told, not drinking never seemed like a big deal to me. I don’t know what I don’t know and I simply did not know what the big deal was. I was too busy buying albums anyway.

So why do you drink now?

I started drinking when I decided to leave for overseas.

This was a bigger decision than not-drinking. The reasons are easier to define.

I wont have my friends around, and the idea of having the same 5 minute conversation every hour about why I didn’t drink seemed horrible.

It was all about new experiences.

I didn’t want to stand out.

So nowadays, I drink.

And right now, I am thinking about stopping again. Hangovers are not fun. God knows I could use the money.

Something a bit more balanced? Just stick to the nice stuff, whiskeys and wines.

I’m not sure yet.

Whatever I do, it’s not a big deal.

ODD BONUS BLOG!  When I was 24, I wrote this imaginary interview with myself about this subject.

You can find it here.

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