For a brief period in Britain during the 1990s, Irvine Welsh became the face of so-called “drug lit” — a rash of desperately “shocking” novels about clubbing, pills and smack that were rushed to the printers in the wake of Welsh’s opus magnus, Trainspotting. Most of these books missed Welsh’s point entirely, of course: That in the impoverished public housing schemes of Britain’s neglected corners, there was nothing shocking about drugs whatsoever. In fact, there was a lot of humanity within addiction.
While most of these books are long forgotten, Welsh’s books are not. His career has continued apace over the last quarter century, with his output consisting of multiple plays, screenplays, novels and short stories. Through it all, his fascination class, masculinity, friendship and, yes, drugs has remained. With Trainspotting 2 hitting U.S. theaters tomorrow, here are a few of the best things he told us about each during a recent interview.
Back in the 1990s, everybody wanted to do drugs with me. I was lucky that I was friends with Howard Marks, one of the world’s biggest drug dealers, who’d just been paroled after a 20-year sentence. That allowed me to say, “Wait, have you met Howard?” They would soon lose interest in me. Still, people used to give me gear at readings; I stuffed it in my pockets and told them I’d take it later. I never did, so the next day, I’d wake up with a pocketful of coke, skag and pills.
I tend to have a burn of energy that hasn’t always been channeled positively. I find that the devil makes work for idle hands; if mine, however, are busy on the keyboard, I’m not looking for mischief elsewhere. For this and a ton of other reasons, I’m very fortunate to be able to make a living out of what I like to do.
When I worked outside in the cold in construction, that was real work — laying down paving slabs on sidewalks in housing projects in Edinburgh. I hated just about every minute of it.
One hot summer day I was putting down a slab, and I felt this blow on my back from a rock I watched fall to the ground. I turned around and there was this little angelic-looking blonde girl of about 4 or 5 years old standing there. I said, “You shouldn’t throw stones at people, pal.” “Fuck off, ya cunt!” she responded before spitting on me.
That’s sort of how it is in Scotland. In fact, there was a terrible incident back in my hometown of Leith on New Year’s Day, when a guy was beaten to death by two teenagers. I didn’t know him, but we had a lot of mutual friends. Anecdotal evidence suggests the reason why he was killed was that common theme of angry young guys getting together, noising people up and taking their rage out on an innocent passerby.
Young guys have always thought it cool, usually while on drink or drugs, to beat somebody up.
These days, there’s also a continuing crisis in masculinity that’s tied up with deindustrialization and the rise of feminism and cultural equality. It’s a shame that we don’t often see how damaging the patriarchy has been for working-class men, who work at dirty, dangerous jobs and are blown to pieces in wars fought to benefit rich people.
I mean, look where the money has gone in the last 30 years. It’s been skimmed to the wealthiest of the wealthy. Ordinary citizens have been removed from politics; unions have been emasculated; the economy is flatlining due to technological change; and the Democrats and Labour Party are now run by white-collar pussies. These are great conditions for loudmouthed fascist populists to rise.
Personally, I find it hard to let go of a kind of pathetic machismo that I’ve been stuck with since growing up in Scotland. But I honestly feel better when I make the effort.
I’ve come leaps and bounds compared to what I was, but I’m still a bit of an asshole. You can’t wallow in that either and say, “This is me — take it or leave it.” We’re all works in progress. Equally, however, you can’t allow yourself into being manipulated into believing that you’re irredeemable and a worthless piece of shit who has personally fucked up the world because you have a dick and/or white skin.
Male friendship in Scotland is more neighborhood or football-club based, whereas in the U.S., it seems to be more high school or college-based. I’ve been close to my two oldest friends since we were six years old. When people have been in your life that long, you know each other’s triumphs and humiliations, so there’s never any bullshit.
Social class is also a massive friendship factor in Britain. I didn’t have any middle- or upper-class friends until my 30s, simply because I didn’t come into contact with people from that type of background.
I think drug addiction is often about desperate association rather than deep friendship.
We’re all drug addicts now. We’ve built a strange zoo for ourselves and have to medicate ourselves against the fact that it’s destroying us.