I don’t like rum.
I was 22 on a cruise ship and I purchased a bottle of Captain Morgan and spent the night alone in my cabin to see if alcohol would help my songwriting (it didn’t). I woke up the next morning to a nearly empty bottle, a headache the size of the Grand Bahama Island and a notebook of scribbled nonsense. Then I disembarked the ship and didn’t drink rum again for a decade. That was the first time I got drunk. I had no idea what I was doing. This would become a running theme in my life.
Booze companies are blind to these sorts of experiences. These awkward, WTF scenarios that alcohol helps foster – “Why am I sleeping on my doorstep?” “Who is this stranger in my bed?,” ‘I didn’t know I could dance!” Booze ads instead, show young beautiful people at rooftop ultra-lounges in midtown Manhattan who are desirable, free and happy. The drink becomes a symbol for luxury, sex, community, tradition or even, as Budweiser will tell you, patriotism. But these are just symbols. Alcohol also, literally, gets you drunk. It lowers your inhibitions. It helps you talk to strangers. It helps you dance (it doesn’t). Normal people drink alcohol to celebrate and to cope, and because there’s nothing better to do. At its worst, alcohol can turn you into a debased animal version of yourself. It is the darker, seedier virtues of strong drink that give us Hemingway, Van Gogh, Rock n Roll, and surprise pregnancies. It also give us domestic violence and date rape. Alcohol marketers can’t touch this. Within the full scope of the product that they are marketing there’s too much liability beyond the happy and smiling and young. “Please Drink Responsibly” becomes the only indication that you are in fact free to abuse this product if you wish. I think that the divorce between how we experience alcohol, and how the experience of alcohol is sold to us is why we all have such a hard time with the learning curve. Or maybe that’s just me.
Where was I?
Oh yeah. Rum.
I found myself at a haunted house in TriBeCa. Blood Manor – the scariest or second scariest in New York City, depending on who you ask. This event was hosted by the good people at Captain Morgan. The same Captain Morgan who was my first ferryman across the booze river-Styx, nearly a decade ago on the ship. The event was in support of their limited edition Jack-O’Blast release of pumpkin spiced rum. The product tastes like sugar booze and comes in a cool bottle. I prepared tasting notes, but there’s really no need. You know the score. It’s $15. It’s 60 Proof. It’s in the shape of a cannonball. It’s called Jack-O’Blast. Booze pretensions are useless here. Anyway, after drinking some totally enjoyable apple cider punch (and by some, I mean three), I entered the scariest (or second scariest) haunted house in New York. The fifteen minute maze included a zombie stripper, a “live” chimpanzee being dissected, and a stranger who, while I was walking in complete darkness, jumped out and scared me so badly I cramped up a shoulder muscle.
And why? Why was I here?
I was here for the rum.
Blaise Pascal says “too much wine and you can’t find the truth- too little, the same.”
So, on my fuzzy walk to the subway from Blood Manor, which is a distorted, cartoon version of darkness, I started thinking about the decision by the friendly and savvy people at Captain Morgan to promote pumpkin spiced rum at the scariest (ok, maybe second scariest) haunted house in New York City. I was also thinking about “Please Drink Responsibly” and I was thinking about my first rum fiasco on the cruise ship ten years ago. It seems that in the end alcohol, like sex, like money, like fame, all become a kind of litmus test for personality. It becomes embedded in you as a part of your holistic relationship to your life. That’s what is amazing and terrifying about alcohol. I’ve never been to an ultra lounge, and in my ten years of drinking, I’ve never once had a night that resembled anything from this sort of ad. BUT! I’m endeared to it, because it has accompanied me in some of my best and worst moments. It has become a part of me (sorry liver).
The night of my first sold out show in Atlanta, the owner brought out his private stash of quality bourbon, poured me four fingers after my set and told me I did a hell of a job. On tour, without fail, there’s a cooler of cheap beer in every green room and every music venue across the country and it’s all bad, and it all tastes like home. It was an IPA that helped me work up the courage to ask my wife out on our first date. It is the shot of bourbon delivered on stage during one of my sets that show a town’s hospitality. None of this is covered in the ads. That’s life, right? The only way to learn where the line is, is to cross it, right? The only way to have a healthy relationship with alcohol is to have developed self discipline and to know when to use it. Otherwise, the gift is a curse. It’s not the alcohol that gives drinking its moral component after all, it’s us. We give alcohol its meaning. It’s in our wisdom and ignorance that we create what alcohol looks like in our lives. We rise to give a toast at a best friend’s wedding or we puke into the toilet (sometimes both happen). The advertisers are just really selling ultra lounges and cowboys and haunted houses.
A few days after the Blood Manor Jack-O’Blast experience, I went to a rum bar alone. It was time to have a conversation with my younger, inexperienced self. I ordered a 23 year old rum made by Ron Zacapa – a sister brand of Captain Morgan. I luxuriated. I thought. I wrote down the first lines of this article, and slowly, as the deep rich sugarcane hug took hold, I reclaimed rum for myself – the way you reclaim your favorite songs after a break up. This is mine now. It belongs in the present not the past. The secret of alcohol is the secret of us. We become more seasoned. We grow from inexperience to experienced. I went back home to Brooklyn and bought a bottle of good rum as a temporary monument to time and change ,and as tangible proof that we live in a good world. As I get a little older, I recognize myself more. The song gets richer. The drink gets deeper. The notes become more pronounced. The moral is that we, like rum, get better with age, but for now there is a place for all of us on the strange journey, and a bottle for everyone. Do with the Jack-O’Blast what you must.
Article: Tyler Lyle