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Danny Sugerman: Rock Tales From the Dark Side

February 05, 1989|PATRICK GOLDSTEIN

It's hard to imagine anyone better equipped to celebrate the incandescent highs--and the dreary lows--of Southern California's hedonistic youth culture than Danny Sugerman.

At age 12, after hitting a home run to win his Little League game, his umpire rewarded him by taking him to see the Doors.

At 14, Sugerman was skipping school and working for the Doors, keeping tabs on the band's fan mail and getting drunk with Jim Morrison at the Whisky-a-Go-Go.

At 19, he says he was popping Quaaludes and snorting heroin with his 15-year-old girlfriend, getting so high he once drove his car off Mulholland Drive, crashing through someone's roof into their living room.

Soon Sugerman was a loony Hipster from Hell with a $400-a-day heroin habit, a diseased liver and a cozy bed in a mental hospital. It took him nearly a decade--and "probably 10" different detox stays--before he finally kicked his habit.

Co-author of the best-selling Jim Morrison biography, "No One Here Gets Out Alive," Sugerman has chronicled his rock adventures--and his druggy misadventures--in "Wonderland Avenue: Tales of Glamor and Excess," due out next month from William Morrow & Co. Populated with celebrities (Morrison, Iggy Pop and MacKenzie Phillips) and scuzballs (scores of conniving drug dealers), it's a sobering, scarily exhilarating and often heartbreakingly sad account of a '60s teen rebel rocketing off into a self-destructive frenzy.

At 34, Sugerman still has shoulder-length hair and an infectious boyish enthusiasm. Drinking coffee and smoking Kool Milds (his sole surviving vices) he sat at a favorite West Hollywood haunt, discussing the self-destructive allure of drugs, rock's Dyonesian power and his struggles to regain control of his life.

"I always wanted to write this book. Whenever my girlfriend would get mad at me about something crazy I'd done, I'd say, 'Don't worry, this'll make great material for the book.' Once we were in the middle of this weird drug deal and had to dive out the second-story window of a house and roll under a car, scared out of our minds--but still hanging onto our drugs--and she said to me, 'I hope you're taking notes!' "

"Everybody wanted to write the great coming-of-age rock 'n' roll novel. But I could never invent any characters better than Morrison and Iggy. If I couldn't improve on real life, I realized I should just tell the story about myself. It took me so long to kick drugs that I started writing--it was the only thing I could do. Eventually I figured--hey, rock 'n' roll and drug addiciton--it's the one story I'm ideally qualified to tell.

"Some of the names are changed. (Laughter.) To protect the guilty. A couple of characters are composites. Instead of having four drug dealers, I'd roll them all into one. But there were so many of 'em. . . . At first, I tried a collaborator, but I had to build up my confidence so I could write it by myself. It wasn't like being afraid to jump. I'd already jumped. It was simply a matter of wondering what would happen to me when I'd land."

"If rock was a religion, then drugs were the sacrament. Rock always had this tradition of self-destructiveness, just as there's the tradition of writers going crazy drinking, of Byron and Baudelaire taking their lives to excess. It's simple--when I was a kid, everyone told me, 'Stop. Stop. STOP!' And Jim Morrison was the first person to say, 'Go. GO. GO!!!!' "

"Until heroin, I'd never found a drug I liked. I hated acid. I wanted my consciousness restricted, not expanded. I wanted that false sense of well-being. But the reality was--the drugs stopped working. No one I trusted had told me that. Nobody told me the consequences. I got off heroin onto methadone. And it took me 10 years to get off that. If I write a sequel, it'll be 'A Boy and His Drug.' (Laughter.) Or maybe 'A Consumer Guide to Detox.' I never had a vacation. Whenever I had a holiday, I went to detox.

"After my first book came out, I had enough money to kill myself in style. I never told people I was an addict. I was just too ashamed. I bottomed out on self-loathing. It actually helped when I started admitting I was an addict. I'd just had this ice block inside me. Finally, I learned it wasn't something you could conquer with willpower. Drugs were just something you didn't do. Ever.

"Now I'm in bed by 10 p.m. I take naps. I drink Evian water. But my health's OK. I didn't know getting old would be this nice. You know, I was afraid to finish the book. So many people I knew had died--I was worried that God was only keeping me alive to write it. Now I feel better about myself. (He laughed.) Now I tell myself God at least wants to keep me alive long enough to promote it!"

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