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colinmce

A nagging question about the death of John Coltrane

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One thing that has always bugged and confused me is the doggedly common suggestion that Coltrane's terminal cancer was directly related to his drug and alcohol problems, problems that he kicked ten full years before his death. For the life of me I can never recall ever having heard a correlation between hard drug use and cancer, yet in most accounts of Coltrane's illness this link is made. There's a way in which dubious myths get passed on from one person to the next in jazz writing and this seems to be one of the more persistent of them. And it bothers me. Perhaps such a correlation does exist-- though when it comes to cancer, what link can't you make? But even so it seems odd that this is so accepted as a fact. I can't help but detect some shred of .... something. I don't necessarily want to say racism, but it just seems off.

Thoughts?

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The injection of heroin and other drugs through sharing of needles/infections leads to hepatitis C which was not known about at that time. We also know it leads to HIV.

Hepatitis C often leads to liver disease and/or liver cancer.

I have a good friend who is waiting on a liver transplant who is on the verge of death and he last used drugs in December 1990.

It is very clear to me that Coltrane had undiagnosed hepatitis C which turned into liver cancer. Sad to say that I have seen this and am seeing it up close and personal, and like with my dear friend, the sickness often comes to full bloom many years after the drug use/infection.

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I've seen it too, frequently. Filter drink n drugs through the liver and it takes a beating.

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OK, thanks for the info. It makes perfect sense, but I guess I've just never heard that, certainly not by way of explanation re: Coltrane.

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Very interesting thought colin. I think alcohol without question contributes to liver problems, oddly I never heard that IV drug use leads to hepatitis C......... very interesting

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I thought this was going to be about the street/underground rumor that Sun Ra had put a mojo on Coltrane for being a fraud and fronting on Ra's trip without really understanding or crediting it.

Untreated Hepatitis C is comforting by comparison, and a whole helluva lot more logical.

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I thought this was going to be about the street/underground rumor that Sun Ra had put a mojo on Coltrane for being a fraud and fronting on Ra's trip without really understanding or crediting it.

Untreated Hepatitis C is comforting by comparison, and a whole helluva lot more logical.

My understanding is that the medical community didn't even recognize hepatitis C until long after Coltrane's death. Until now despite some newer more effective treatments, treatments like interfuron were incredibly difficult and worked less tag half the time - and even when it seemed it worked - after grueling 26 week weekly injections - often the hep C comes back.

It looks like the brand new treatments that have become available only over the past 1-2 years are less painful and more effective.

So even decades after Coltrane's death - there was no effective way to treat a disease that was only being discovered

Fwiw my friend who is suffering also has HIV diagnosed in 1991 which also comes from needles.

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It is very clear to me that Coltrane had undiagnosed hepatitis C which turned into liver cancer. Sad to say that I have seen this and am seeing it up close and personal, and like with my dear friend, the sickness often comes to full bloom many years after the drug use/infection.

yeah that was my understanding too. Sorry to hear about your friend, Steve.

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Just my opinion, but if you abuse drugs, alcohol, or other substances over a period of time, it will probably come back to haunt you.

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Just my opinion, but if you abuse drugs, alcohol, or other substances over a period of time, it will probably come back to haunt you.

Absolutely spot on, Paul.

And Coltrane was still drinking wine pretty heavily at the time of his death.

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Cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver is a common precursor to liver cancer. "According to present knowledge, alpha1-antitrypsin deficiency, alcoholism, naturally occurring carcinogens, drugs, and the hepatitis B virus seem to carry the greatest risk of cancer developing in a cirrhotic patient." http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/776394.

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That was my understanding on it

Edited by Holy Ghost

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And Coltrane was still drinking wine pretty heavily at the time of his death.

i think that i recently saw a quote in either the early fuji discography or the jc reference, something like: 'despite giving up drugs and alcohol, coltrane continued to smoke [cigarettes] for the rest of his life'.

i think the consensus is that he stopped drinking.

Edited by l p

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And Coltrane was still drinking wine pretty heavily at the time of his death.

i think that i recently saw a quote in either the early fuji discography or the jc reference, something like: 'despite giving up drugs and alcohol, coltrane continued to smoke [cigarettes] for the rest of his life'.

i think the consensus is that he stopped drinking.

My understanding as well. I had never seen or read anything anywhere that claimed/documented that Coltrane was drinking alcohol over the last 10 years of his life.

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According to this article he had stopped drinking by the time he played with Monk:

http://jazztimes.com/articles/16037-thelonious-monk-and-john-coltrane-evidence

Of course it could be that he meant "heavily."

My understanding is that Coltrane kicked heroin in the spring of 1957 and along with that, stopped using alcohol as well. He often drank heavily prior to that especially when sick from heroin withdrawals when he couldn't get enough to keep him "straight". This is a very normal pattern for using heroin addicts.

I can't imagine that an addict like Coltrane would have been able to moderate his alcohol consumption after getting clean from heroin.

Lon - hasn't there always been some confusion on when the studio sessions were recorded with Monk/Coltrane - April through June 1957?

Didn't the quartet function live through the second half of 1957 with some concerts in 1958 as well?

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Steve, not sure on the dates.

I personally think it's likely he drank alcohol after stopping heroin use, though he may have been not wanted to drink heavily and may have refrained from doing so.

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I like the idea of jc circa 1962-1965, after coming home from an overly serious impulse recording session, walking around his house wearing only boxer shorts, drinking wine straight out of the bottle with one hand and dragging his tenor sax behind him with the other (the sax making marks in the hardwood floor). Yelling at alice to go get some more to drink from the liquor store before it closes.

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It was in a Coltrane biography where I read that he was still drinking wine up to his death. Can't recall which one it was.

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Steve, not sure on the dates.

I personally think it's likely he drank alcohol after stopping heroin use, though he may have been not wanted to drink heavily and may have refrained from doing so.

Often for addicts, we have "wanted" to not drink or use too much or to excess - and we have almost always or always (100% of the time) had VERY little or NO success in moderation - whether it be "hard" drugs or the most insidious of all drugs for an addict: Alcohol

It is very clear that Coltrane suffered from a long and severe active addiction for something close to ten years up through 1957. Moderate use of alcohol after quitting the "hard" drug is usually not possible. It is often stated as such but normally that addict eventually drinks to extreme excess or reverts back to their "drug of choice"

I cannot recall any of the biographies that I've read (many but mostly quite a few years ago) stating that he did anything other than quit all heroin use and alcohol use - all in 1957.

Edited by Steve Reynolds

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maybe Nisenson?

Not sure. Porter, maybe?

I think I still have it, I'll have to check.

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maybe Nisenson?

Not sure. Porter, maybe?

I think I still have it, I'll have to check.

probably not porter, because he contributed to the fujioka discography in which there is a photo of jc smoking, with the approximate quote that i gave earlier:

'despite giving up drugs and alcohol, coltrane continued to smoke [cigarettes] for the rest of his life'.

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The other thing with cirrhosis, is once you have it, even minor traumas (ie "moderate" alcohol) can cause irrecoverable damage to what was once was an enormously resilient organ. With the increased cell turnover (damage/repair cycle) there is an increased chance of cell mutation, hence carcinoma.

According to this article he had stopped drinking by the time he played with Monk:

http://jazztimes.com/articles/16037-thelonious-monk-and-john-coltrane-evidence

Of course it could be that he meant "heavily."

Right, in my experience as a physician, 'stopped drinking' can mean just that. More detailed in depth questions need to be asked.

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OK, if it wasn't Porter (and I think I p was correct), it had to be the Bill Cole bio. That's the only other one I find in my library that could have led to my "assumption"(?)

Or, perhaps I simply misread something somewhere.

Look, I certainly would never disparage John Coltrane. For christ's sake, I named my son after him!

I apologize if I recalled any of this correctly.

Edited by Scott Dolan

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