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Larry Kart

Bix may have been killed (poisoned) by the U.S. government

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That's a pretty inflammatory title for a piece that's basically just making the commonplace argument that Prohibition was a really dumb idea. That is, Bix's early death may well have been caused by drinking methanol-laced booze, but there was nothing special about his death as hundreds of other non-famous people died from doing the same thing. Of course, even today industrial ethanol is denatured to prevent people from drinking it, but it usually contains stuff somewhat less nasty than methanol (and of course safe booze is much easier and cheaper to obtain in any case, making it a more attractive option for all but the hardest of hardcore winos).

I guess "Was Bix Beiderbecke Poisoned By Doing Something Dumb to Feed His Addiction During An Epic Public Health/Public Policy Disaster?" doesn't have quite the same snap to it, though.

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Maybe the government and Lincoln Center together in a joint conspiracy.... :w

Q

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Someone else saying that addicts aren't responsible for what they do and that others are responsible because they provide them with whatever they're addicted to? If you use something that harms or kills you, you are ultimately responsible. No one else is.

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So if I poison someone's drink it's their responsibility because they drank it?

This was a bad move on the part of the government. . . I honestly think we could have had more years of Bix if he hadn't ingested that toxin.

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The phrase "blind drunk" comes from this period for the same reasons mentioned. I'm down with the people of the time who found the government's actions unconscionable.

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So if I poison someone's drink it's their responsibility because they drank it?

This was a bad move on the part of the government. . . I honestly think we could have had more years of Bix if he hadn't ingested that toxin.

No one knows for sure that that Bix's death was caused by poisoned alcohol - or if the govenment poisened it. Perhaps - perhaps not.

We do know that, according to the article:

"I have been able to obtain the unpublished medical records pertaining to his care. They reveal that he had been a chronic alcoholic for the preceding nine years".

That sounds to me like someone who was so addicted to alcohol that he would drink anything. Who knows what he drank that night? No one does.

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I'm down there with you LV.

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Well Paul, I'm sure that many people were harmed by this governmental move, if not Bix. Disgusting move on the part of the government.

Edited by jazzbo

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I'm down there with you LV.

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Well Paul, I'm sure that many people were harmed by this governmental move, if not Bix. Disgusting move on the part of the government.

I agree with your point about what the government did. It was a criminal thing to do. I just don't see taking it a step further and making Bix a victim. It's a shame that he came to an early death but, for all intents and purposes, his alcoholism was the cause.

Edited by paul secor

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I take the point of the article to be something like this:

Bix's early death has typically been regarded as very sad event, both in terms of his own life and also in terms of what we all lost by not having the music he almost certainly would have gone to make had he lived longer. But that sadness is tempered by the common belief that Bix's early demise was essentially, even solely, the result of his longtime alcoholism, however one regards alcoholism: as a disease, as a matter of conscious individual choice, etc. But if (repeat "if") Bix died as a result of drinking alcohol that deliberately had been laced with methanol, one can be fairly sure 1) that he would not have drunk that alcohol if he knew what was in it, and 2) that if he had merely continued along the path he had been following, he would have lived a fair bit longer and left more music behind.

Think, by contrast, of the death of gifted trumpeter Sonny Berman at IIRC age 21. Berman, a heroin user, died because an air bubble got into the syringe he was using and traveled to his heart, which stopped. Very sad, for the same two reasons that Bix's death was very sad. But if Berman had died from a so-called "hot shot," and if that hot shot had gone his way for malicious reasons, which typically would be the case, we'd have a rather different story, no?

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Thanks for articulating that Larry, that's how I feel: if he had not been the recipient of the tainted alcohol we may have had him longer, probably would have, maybe not as long as Teagarden for example, but. . . .

We didn't.

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If you deal with illicit substances obtained through illicit channels, you are taking your chances, no matter what, drugs, alcohol, music, movies, cars, whatever. Legit channels are quirky enough, but once you go out from between the lines, hey. If you trust anybody, I mean, really trust them, you're your own biggest enemy and/or fool.

I don't expect "the government" to ignore all the illicit traffic, nor do I expect there to never be illicit traffic, nor do I expect them - any of them - to be Dudley Do-Right while not doing so, be it in enforcement, collusion, whatever. The government is made up of people, and people get weird when they think they're on an organized mission. Hell, gangsters, G-men, doctorslawyersindianchiefs, put any of 'em on an organized mission and watch shit get weird, just wait long enough and shit will get weird. Once the name of the game becomes Help Yourself/Be Somebody, look out now!

As a result, eyes wide open, always, and be ready to die, always.

And whose "fault" is it? Hell, it's nobody's fault. Being stupid is what people do best. They do smart pretty good do, but not as readily, not as rapidly, and not as collectively.

Sorry, Bix. Had you lived, you might have made some records with Jackie Gleason!

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Sorry, Bix. Had you lived, you might have made some records with Jackie Gleason!

IIRC, Bobby Hackett was a lush in the very top class. And let's not talk about Pee Wee Russell. But no one, governmental or otherwise, made available to them any booze laced with methanol.

Also, in college I ran into a guy who tried to interest me and my roommates in shooting up with methamphetamine. Don't think I would have been interested anyway, but when he rolled up his sleeve to shoot up himself and I saw what his arm looked like, my "Fail Safe" switch went right on.

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But if (repeat "if") Bix died as a result of drinking alcohol that deliberately had been laced with methanol, one can be fairly sure 1) that he would not have drunk that alcohol if he knew what was in it, and 2) that if he had merely continued along the path he had been following, he would have lived a fair bit longer and left more music behind.

BOTH 1) and 2) are highly doubtful. Sandke apparently doesn't know any addicts or alcoholics.

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But if (repeat "if") Bix died as a result of drinking alcohol that deliberately had been laced with methanol, one can be fairly sure 1) that he would not have drunk that alcohol if he knew what was in it, and 2) that if he had merely continued along the path he had been following, he would have lived a fair bit longer and left more music behind.

BOTH 1) and 2) are highly doubtful. Sandke apparently doesn't know any addicts or alcoholics.

Just to be clear, those are my suppositions, not Randy's. And you're probably right. OTOH, having spent the majority of his life as a jazz musician, I'm sure that Randy has run across more than a few addicts and alcoholics, though "to know" is not necessarily to understand.

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[quote name="johnblitweiler" post="1354892" timestamp

But if (repeat "if") Bix died as a result of drinking alcohol that deliberately had been laced with methanol, one can be fairly sure 1) that he would not have drunk that alcohol if he knew what was in it, and 2) that if he had merely continued along the path he had been following, he would have lived a fair bit longer and left more music behind.

BOTH 1) and 2) are highly doubtful. Sandke apparently doesn't know any addicts or alcoholics.

Just to be clear, those are my suppositions, not Randy's. And you're probably right. OTOH, having spent the majority of his life as a jazz musician, I'm sure that Randy has run across more than a few addicts and alcoholics, though "to know" is not necessarily to understand. Edited by Steve Reynolds

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Just for the records, I'd have loved to have heard Bix on some Jackie Gleason records. Seriously.

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Sorry, Bix. Had you lived, you might have made some records with Jackie Gleason!

IIRC, Bobby Hackett was a lush in the very top class. And let's not talk about Pee Wee Russell. But no one, governmental or otherwise, made available to them any booze laced with methanol.

Define "made available" and "booze". What Sandke (and we) are talking about is bootleggers taking stolen industrial alcohol - stuff intended for paints and such which usually needed to be redistilled by bootlegger-employed chemists just to make it drinkable - and selling that to whoever wanted it. Pee Wee Russell was an adult during Prohibition and surely had access to this product if he'd been stupid or desperate enough to seek it out.

What the feds did was legally mandate that the chemical companies introduce tons of methanol into the industrial alcohol, where before some chemical companies had been using methanol and some probably rubbing alcohol and other gross but less-deadly stuff to render it undrinkable. The bootleggers were either unable or (more likely I think) unwilling* to go to the trouble of doing the costly redistilling that was required to get most of the methanol out. They then stole and sold their product as usual. People bought it from them and died of methanol poisoning.

Now, I'm sympathetic to the idea that mandating denaturing-via-methanol was an incredibly bad piece of public policy that, knowing what we know now about addiction, was bound to lead to lots of deaths, in the same way that state prohibition of abortion led to lots of deaths. (As Deborah Blum notes in her article that Sandke's piece is largely based on, just like with illegal abortion, there was a heavy class dimension to the risk, with the wealthy able to afford safer bootlegged booze.) But claiming that "the US government poisoned Bix" is a bridge too far. Assuming Bix died from methanol poisoning, his proximal poisoners were himself and the bootleggers, not the feds.

*Beyond the scope of this discussion, but the reason I suspect that the bootleggers didn't remove the methanol for cost reasons rather than that they were technically unable to do it is that all legitimate drinking spirit production involves methanol removal. Methanol is naturally produced in grain mash during fermentation by yeast, and must be discarded at the beginning of distillation - this is the toxic "heads" of the whiskey/vodka/etc. I am not a chemist so am not clear on the technical challenge of removing methanol at higher concentrations, but I would imagine it's quite similar - it just probably involves more rounds of distilling, which means more time and energy expenditure for the distiller - which would cut into the profit margin for the bootlegger.

Edited by Big Wheel

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But claiming that "the US government poisoned Bix" is a bridge too far. Assuming Bix died from methanol poisoning, his proximal poisoners were himself and the bootleggers, not the feds.

Thanks for wording succinctly what after reading that piece I felt was the bottom line of it if you look at it reasonably. I doubt any of those "feds" at any time ever said "We're gonna shove some methanol-poisoned alcohol their way to teach them a lesson when they drink it". It was those who misused that stuff for making bootleg alcohol who were responsible.

Like JSangrey said, if you are dealing with illegal/illicit substances from illicit sources, you are running a BIG risk at your very own peril.

Like those in even lower strata of society did with "canned heat" and the like.

Probably the key problem of this responsibility of substance abuse is that nobody probably ever fored the abusers at gunpoint at any time to drink or shoot until they became addicted in the first place. It was their very own decision. And then, at some point it became hard if not impossible to turn around and head back. But the original, initial responsibility that led them up that path remains with themselves, not with any third parties. Which to this day remains the key problem of addiction and how to get the addicted out ouf that vicious cycle.

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But claiming that "the US government poisoned Bix" is a bridge too far. Assuming Bix died from methanol poisoning, his proximal poisoners were himself and the bootleggers, not the feds.

Thanks for wording succinctly what after reading that piece I felt was the bottom line of it if you look at it reasonably. I doubt any of those "feds" at any time ever said "We're gonna shove some methanol-poisoned alcohol their way to teach them a lesson when they drink it". It was those who misused that stuff for making bootleg alcohol who were responsible.

Like JSangrey said, if you are dealing with illegal/illicit substances from illicit sources, you are running a BIG risk at your very own peril.

Like those in even lower strata of society did with "canned heat" and the like.

Probably the key problem of this responsibility of substance abuse is that nobody probably ever fored the abusers at gunpoint at any time to drink or shoot until they became addicted in the first place. It was their very own decision. And then, at some point it became hard if not impossible to turn around and head back. But the original, initial responsibility that led them up that path remains with themselves, not with any third parties. Which to this day remains the key problem of addiction and how to get the addicted out ouf that vicious cycle.

For sure addicts are responsible for whatever damage they do to themselves and others when they are using.

However, none of us know when the real or imaginary line gets crossed from social drinking/using into addiction. Most of us believe that we could even be addicts at birth and once we started using, there was no turnng back.

I know that once on the path the total destruction through drug addiction even if at the "early" or "initial" stages, there is no turning back. The progression is under way and the only ends are what we know they are.

What is correctly pointed out above is that the only person responsible for ending that viscious cycle is the addict. The problem remains similar to what has always been. That same addict needs to break through denial and self diagnose themselves, stop using and then find something greater than themselves to help them stay clean.

At least today there are more options but the reality outside of questionable drug replacement therapy for heroin addicts like methodon and seboxone, a relative small amount of addicts stay clean for any period of time compared to the amount of using addicts.

The reality of drug addiction is that it is not easy to deal with or recover from but it is doable. The most difficult questions are some if the ones raised on this thread regarding responsibilities and those questions will always be difficult to deal with.

What do you tell a mother who still suffers the guilt of bring a young daughter to bad neighborhoods and leaving them unattended on the street or I a car for hours many years ago - and they did that often - and yet they might be clean 10, 15 or 20 years? I know what I believe but it is hard for society to buy that an addict didn't choose that life - and it is very understandable that they won't or can't.

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But claiming that "the US government poisoned Bix" is a bridge too far. Assuming Bix died from methanol poisoning, his proximal poisoners were himself and the bootleggers, not the feds.

As I read the article, the feds and the bootleggers eventually came to be locked in a struggle to see if the feds could actively pollute the alcohol the bootleggers were stealing in such a way (and the feds tried several ways) that the bootleggers couldn't detect that it was polluted and/or couldn't find a way (or, if you will, a cost-effective way) to purify it enough that drinking it would not be fatal. Eventually the feds found a way that worked from their point of view, thus all the deaths. I suppose there's enough blame to go around among alcoholics, bootleggers, and the feds, but I don't see how the feds were not key players here -- again assuming that Bix drank polluted alcohol and died sooner than he would have because of that.

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The phrase "blind drunk" comes from this period for the same reasons mentioned.

Not true, according to Slate and the OED. The phrase is in fact much older than Prohibition.

There's actually a long and stomach-turning history of people drinking cheap methanol outside of Prohibition; every year or two a number of Australian tourists in Bali and nearby other parts of Indonesia are poisoned by unwittingly drinking booze that's been tainted with it. Methanol poisoning was far from unknown in the US in the years years before a strong FDA and Prohibition; here's a piece I found in the NYT from 1922 that outlines the problem of it and notes the habit of drinking methanol among the poor ("Jamaica ginger" was something I was unfamiliar with and must have missed when James Ellroy mentioned it in The Black Dahlia - its wikipedia entry, like the entries for just about everything else Prohibition-related, is cringe-inducing) : http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=FB0711FF3E551A738DDDAC0994D9405B828EF1D3

Unsurprisingly, Prohibition itself, even before the Treasury started mandating denaturing with high concentrations of methanol around 1926, caused methanol-related deaths to spike. With reputable hooch becoming more and more difficult to find, people turned to all kinds of godawful shit.

Edited by Big Wheel

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