Track #6 (or #7, depending on the version) from Alice in Chains' 1992 "concept album", Dirt. The lyrics were written by lead singer, Layne Staley.

What's my drug of choice?
Well, what have you got?
I don't go broke
And I do it a lot

Clearly, this song is a challenge. A challenge to "the hypocrite norm", those who crave "money and status", and the people with their "books and degrees" who try to understand drug users. In this respect, it quite correctly (??) attacks the values and credibility of these people.

But does it go too far in actually stating: "If you let yourself go and opened your mind // I'll bet you'd be doing like me // And it ain't so bad"? This second aspect of the song perhaps detracts from the timeliness of the anti-hypocrisy message. However, it also gives the song a certain credibility - it exposes the hubris of a heroin user at the true peak of their addiction. This is a junkhead's defence of his "drug of choice". It is only natural that this defence should not only include mockery of the junkhead's opponents, but also a positive portrayal of his habit.

But we are an elite race of our own
The stoners, junkies, and freaks

So far I've only looked at the song in its own right - in isolation. I think it is also important to examine the song in context. It is the middle track of a concept album all about drug use. The preceding track, Rooster, was the "black sheep" of the album - a song by Jerry Cantrell about his Vietnam War veteran father. It was a song of survival.

Are you happy? I am, man
Content and fully aware

It is interesting to me that these tracks were grouped together (bear in mind that the track ordering on Dirt was very carefully chosen by the band). It seems that Rooster was Jerry Cantrell's tale of defiance and survival, whilst Junkhead was Layne Staley's. Neither the Vietnam War nor heroin use had (or have) the support of the public. In both cases, the protagonist is proclaiming his own perceived invincibility and right to live.

Equally, once you consider Junkhead as "chapter 7 of 13" - rather than an individual track viewed in isolation - the song's message condoning heroin use becomes less worrying. The self-hatred at the end of the album more than makes up for the potentially dangerous message of this song. Instead it can be viewed as a wonderful exposition of the mind of a hard drugs user at a particular point in the addict's journey.

Say, I do it a lot!

Layne Staley clearly had some great times as a heroin user. During the early years of Alice in Chains, he looked healthy and obviously felt on top of the world. However, by the 1996 MTV Unplugged performance, Layne had to perform in a long-sleeved, high-necked top to cover all the scars. His eyes looked distant, and his health was in decline. The story of Dirt did eventually play through: Layne died in 2002 from an overdose of speedball (a mixture heroin and cocaine), at the age of 34.

Layne Staley's story is tragic, but I feel one can look to "Junkhead" for an explanation of why he chose to live that way. It applies equally well to all heroin users. It also calls for greater understanding of the mentality of drug users, which endures as an important (and still relevant) message from the song.

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