One of the big misconceptions people have about Bill and his pro-drug stance is that he was pot smoker.
First off, “pro-drug” is a loaded phrase. Bill was for choice, and if you want to do something to yourself (say, mushrooms) that had absolutely no impact on another person, then that shouldn’t be illegal. Your body is your own.
It was the kind of thing that Bill wanted to be so clear on that even after beating you over the head with jokes that had all the subtlety of an Ayn Rand novel, he would then bother to spell it out explicitly on stage: "As long as you don't harm another human being, what business is it of yours what I do?"
Moreover, this politically hysterical notion that drugs were categorically bad was ridiculous. If you thought that but you enjoyed any Beatles song recorded circa Rubber - Soul and after, then you were a hypocrite. End of story. Coleridge did opium. Hunter S. Thompson did everything he could get his hands on. Some positive things came from people doing drugs.
And they were fun.
That’s the one thing the anti-drug lobby will never admit: you can have a shitload of fun doing drugs. Now you can also wreck your life, but it’s not binary. Take one hit and your life is ruined? No. Reasonable people can have self control.
But Bill just didn’t like marijuana. One night he was backstage at the Annex someone handed him a large joint of some super kine bud. Bill took some massive hits off of it. I remember finding him a several minutes later, standing in a dark hallway near the bathrooms with his face buried in a corner like a psychotic person. He was muttering to himself: “Oh my God, I’m in fucking Hell, I’m in Hell right now, I’m never going to smoke pot again. Oh my God, don’t ever hand me pot again.”
When Bill did an interview with High Times in 1993, the interviewer asked him, “Back in the days, when you were still smoking pot, what’s the most fun you ever had?” Bill immediately and let him know, “I was never a big pot fan,” and that mushrooms were more his thing. Bill was for the legalization of pot because he was for the legalization of all drugs. Law enforcement didn’t stop people from using, it only made users criminals.
Plus Bill couldn’t stand the hypocrisy. Alcohol is a drug, but media, specifically advertisers, are allowed to glorify alcohol consumption. Yet things that grow naturally on the earth—marijuana, mushrooms, etc.—are demonized. And that attitude wasn’t something that Bill picked up when he became a drug user, it wasn’t something that he adopted to justify his own drug consumption, it dates back to when he was a teen teetotaler.
Back in the day at Stratford for the Talent Show one year Bill was told that he couldn’t play “Cocaine.” But Clint Black’s band got to cover “Whiskey River.” So Bill can’t do a song about the negative effects of cocaine, but someone else can do a song about wanting to get so drunk that you lose your memory? Wasn’t that the exact wrong message a school should be sending? Yeah, it pissed him off.
Bill advocates legalization of pot because he advocated the legalization of all drugs, but he didn’t like pot. Ecstasy on the other hand. Ecstasy good.
We were out at a cemetery near the ranch in Fredericksburg with David Johndrow taking promo pictures for Year Zero. One of the guys in the band started teasing the rest of us, saying he had a “special treat,” something that would totally dissolve your ego. So we went back to the ranch and took these little pills. David and I soon had this experience where we were living through the last supper. Results may vary.
The first person I called was Bill. "Dude, stop the presses. Get rid of your mushrooms and your acid. Dump the coke. There is this new thing called Ecstasy and you are not going to fucking believe it. It is everything. It's a trip. It's a body high. It is pure euphoria. And when it's over, you're not scrounging for more. Dude, you have to try this." And Bill is like, "Sign me up."
We got three hits—me, Bill, and David—and went out to the ranch. And this is back in the day. Again, Ecstasy was legal at this point. And it was a totally different drug than from what you find today. It was cheap and it was potent. One hit would give you maybe six hours to play. Bill was like a horny schoolgirl: "Let's do it. Let's do it." We managed to stick to our plan. Again, we wanted to be peaking right at the sun was going down.
That first X trip was amazing. We were walking through the woods and we found a spot where we saw these patterns or power emerge—how power and energy were flowing through the woods, how it effected out bodies, and how are bodies were all connected to each other. I started walking in well-defined circles and David started walking in another pattern, while Bill sat in a lotus position. He came out of the lotus and said, "Dude, do you realize that the patterns you just walked describe how our horoscopes interrelate with each other?" Then he explained the whole thing in detail.
It sounds goofy now, but it was so intense and vivid at the time. It was everything you wished acid could have been. The first trip we took together, it was unifying. It unified the three of us together, me, David and Bill. And unified us with the land and the ground and the trees. It was perfect.
Ecstasy was the answer. It allowed you to control your thoughts and direct your trip. I remember one time Bill sat there thinking aloud: "Jesus dying on the cross, what did that really mean?" He put himself through a crucifixion and wanted to be born again. There was another time when we were again at the Ranch. Bill looked up at everyone there—me, David Johndrow. Brent Ballard, and Bob Reilly—and said, "Gentlemen, we are about to be cleansed." It was like a stage cue. The skies opened up on us, and it began pouring down rain.
Usually you would be screaming, "Shit, let's get out the rain," or you would run and get an umbrella. Instead, because Bill had put us right frame of mind with his comment, we drank it in. It was a beautiful thing. We were being cleansed. We loved every drop that hit us.
After finding Ecstasy, we would still take mushrooms, but when MDMA first hit the market, when was pure, it fucking ruled. Why would you ever want to take acid anymore? Why would you want to buy coke anymore? And for a time, it was legal.