Before Breaking Bad, the world’s sharpest look at the scourge of methamphetamine was written by Deja Voodoo. Ten years on, songwriter Matt Heath recalls the fallout from their hit single ‘P’.
‘I smoke P and I’m alright’. It’s the first line of the fourth single from Deja Voodoo’s debut album Brown Sabbath. We wrote the lyrics to ‘P’ on a long flight back from London in 2004. Fittingly it was recorded at ‘The Lab’ in Mt Eden.
We were so proud of its solid pub rock sound and above average vocal performance. I remember playing it over over in the studio rolling around laughing about how much it would piss people off when it was released.
As expected people took the bait.
There were angry articles written. Threats made. I was invited to give the positive side in a ‘P’ debate with Jim Anderton on National Radio. I was interviewed on TV One’s Sunday as ‘the poster boy for P’. Worst of all my girlfriend’s mum rung me up and told me off.
There was an upside. It massively increased our album and ticket sales. It also increased the number of terrifyingly wide awake people hassling me at gigs.
For obvious reasons New Zealand on Air didn’t want to fund the video, so Eating Media Lunch coughed up – which was government money anyway. Win win for Deja Voodoo.
A lot of attention for a bogan ode to meth or was the song actually a subtle, clever comment on media hysteria?
Returning home on that plane in 2004, I welled up hearing people in important positions like the captain and stewardess talking like me. My heart warmed listening to a Jacquie Brown New Zealand music channel. Then I read a kiwi newspaper for the first time in nine months. I was shocked by what my beloved country had become.
New Zealand’s dogs were attacking and teenagers were smoking P.
What the hell was P, I thought. Was New Zealand being over run by urine huffers? Had our little country invented a whole new drug? Had hysterical people stumbled upon the perfect brand name for nasty old meth thus catapulting it into the must-take list for kids currently happily smoking weed?
Because it was just meth, with a flash new name. And boy did it take off, driven by its snappy new media branding. Every drug dealer in the world should call Meth ‘P’. It’s so catchy. It makes it sound like a fun. The name makes people laugh. So despite not really caring, we decided to save the day by bashing out a tune that down-played ‘P’.
Here’s a lyrical analysis of this now long-forgotten song.
‘I smoked P and I’m alright / Got on the P stayed up all night’: We liked the cute idea that smoking P was done just to stay up all night. Like ‘Mum can I stay up all night and watch telethon?’.
‘Paper said no don’t but I wanna make up my own mind’: Like so many lame commentators before us, we blamed the media. People are only smoking the P because the paper told them not too.
‘I smoked P and I didn’t cut anybody’s hands off’: The only really controversial line in the song. Hysterical headlines make kids expect all kind of crazy evil things will happen when they try a drug. When nothing much does, they never believe what grown ups say again.
‘We’re all going to die, the papers wouldn’t lie,’: A lame line that speaks for itself.
So whilst many thought ‘P’ was an irresponsible song design purely to piss people off, they were only 95% right. It was also a half-thought out moral judgement on media sensationalism created by two drunks on a flight back from London.
Of course most people never heard the song. Not even Dad. He’s 72 years old and has no knowledge of ‘P’ by Deja Voodoo.
He is however making his way through the complete Breaking Bad on DVD. It’s one of those shows that has permeated right through society. Like so many, my Pop loves it. Purely because it’s bloody good.
Breaking Bad has done a lot for meth awareness in New Zealand. Though not quite as much as the people who took the time and effort to popularise the stuff with that snappy brand name P.
‘Bad Week’ is a weeklong celebration of Breaking Bad ahead of the launch of its spinoff Better Call Saul on Lightbox next week.