• Gary Suarez

High On Fire Matt Pike

The other day, I came across a concert listing for a High On Fire gig in Brooklyn scheduled for this coming August. Having recently learned of Matt Pike’s checking into rehab, I wrote it off as a bureaucratic oversight on the venue or promoters’ part. After all, playing a gig far away from his home so soon after starting treatment seemed like the type of poor decision only an alcoholic/addict could make.

So then imagine my shock and dismay when the organizers behind the concurrent Heavy fests in Montreal and Toronto announced mere days later that High On Fire would still play the two-city August weekender. Boasting “the only shows that were not cancelled,” Heavy MTL/T.O. sought to “reassure” attendees, yet I found the exclamation-pointed tweet anything but reassuring.

I recently read Wired, renowned journalist Bob Woodward’s account of actor/comedian John Belushi’s troubled life, myriad addictions, and self-destructive episodes. So many of the people around Belushi — friends, business associates, hangers-on, family members and loved ones — knew he was destroying himself, and enabled him either directly or through inaction. (For a metal context, one needs only look back to Penelope Spheeris’ controversial documentary The Decline of Western Civilization, Part II and see Chris Holmes of W.A.S.P. intoxicated beyond comprehension, his own mother just feet away.) I don’t know the inner workings of High On Fire, and mostly likely neither do you, so I have to ask: who made this decision? Pike? Des Kensel and Jeff Matz? His manager/handlers/surrogates? I suppose there’s a financial imperative for Pike to get High On Fire or Sleep or something back on the road ASAP, but surely his health and well-being matter as well. The idea of Pike performing at a festival in Canada just two months after beginning rehab feels wholly wrong and dangerous to me.

We all know the refrain: sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll. The road offers all of these things to bands, and alcohol is free-flowing and typically included in professional touring bands’ riders. Even if Kensel, Matz, and the rest of High On Fire’s touring staff abstain from drinking around Pike, it will be everywhere else, and the conditions for relapse will be horribly ideal. Pike, having chosen treatment willingly or reluctantly, may have the courage to resist at Heavy MTL and Heavy T.O., but not playing at all would allow him more time for treatment, counseling, and the hard work it takes to be a recovering alcoholic. His fans would understand, and those who wouldn’t simply don’t know addiction. What we all want is for Pike to be well and make great music and play shows. I’m willing to let him get clean and further down the road of recovery. The rest of us should too.


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