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CORRINNE IS CRYING. The coke spoon as signifier, on the imaginarium of addictions.

A knife, a fork, a bottle and a cork That’s the way we spell New York.

Dillinger, Cocaine in My Brain. 1976.1

A silver dessert spoon is encrusted with pound shop crystals, they glisten and glint attractively, yet this glittering also doubles for the darkening delineation of dirty drug-taking, for the contra-purity defilement of the idea of the crystalline, along with the  deviant use of a spoon normally associated with food giving sustenance. Notions of enticement and debasement are further symbolised by the shards of glass, reminiscent of drunken fights outside pubs, falling from the spoon like self-reflective tears. But who is Corrinne and why is she crying?

Our imaginings begin with a sonic mesmerism, with the symbolic cymbal crash introducing the 1976 Dillinger track Cocaine in my Brain.  This seminal slice of proto rap reggae, utilises the classic Peoples Choice, Philadelphia soul classic Do it Anyway You Wanna with a pounding hypnotic foot-stepping-dude rhythm track, interspersed with a succession of itchy strung-out guitar riffs, each musical phrase punctuated with a broken-glass hi-hat drum clattering. Over this already skittish soundscape comes Dillinger’s wired high-on-echo spoken narrative. By this synesthetic merging of words and music Dillinger defines an immersive state of cocaine come-down paranoia.  A jittery melancholic place characterised by  “walking in the rain” being  “on the run waiting to meet the setting sun” with  “a burning pain burning in (his) bloody brain” as he has “a whole lotta, a whole lotta cocaine running around (his) brain.”1 Or so it appears to me, as a mere visitor to a “Vision in a Dream”2 I have never experienced a drug-induced altered state nor wish to. My interest lies within the realm of mythological invention, within the guttersnipe glamour and promised poetic transportation to “a painless theoretical region…surprisingly fertile, and unmoral…(where) One is no longer grotesquely involved in the becoming. One simply is.”3

Intriguingly, in his paean to the Peruvian marching powder, Dillinger fails to mention a spoon, the form of cutlery most generally associated with cocaine use.  Bragging that “no matter where I treat my guests, they always like my kitchen best” he insists that the “right way and the proper way to spell New York” is with “a knife, a fork, a bottle and a cork”4. It may be that by leaving out the reference to the spoon in his list of utensils he is effectively accentuating it as a hidden drug reference. This sing-song mnemonic also features in Acting out the ABCs a Disney song recorded by Teri York in 1962.  It may also be attributed to a piece of American folk-lore which dates back to 1915. In that year Doug Wilson of the American Dialect Society found a citation in the New York Herald whereby:6

The address side of an envelope bore in the centre a picture of a buffalo. Underneath were the pictures of a knife, a fork, a bottle and a cork. The latter is part of a saying – ‘A knife, a fork, a bottle and a cork spells New York.’ The local clerk interpreted this part right when he guessed that the letter was meant for someone in Buffalo, N. Y.

The use of peek-a-boo-only-we-knew street slang braggadocio is rife within the countercultural siren singing of addictions. In 1936, 30 years before Lou Reed stood on Lexington 125 “feeling sick and dirty more dead than alive” waiting for his man, Stuff Sniff and his Onyx Club Boys recorded Here Comes the Man with His Jive a more up-beat ode to the local pot dealer who “whenever you’re feelin’ small” or “don’t care for this life at all” will help you “light up and get real tall”. In Cab Calloway’s 1931 Minnie the Moocher, a red-hot hoochie-coocher meets Smokey Joe a habitual cocaine user who takes her down to Chinatown to smoke opium or “kick the gong around”.  Other less circumspect imbibers just come clean, Victoria Spivey in her 1927 Dope Head Blues asks for “just one more sniffle, another sniffle of that dope”. Whilst Harry ‘The Hipster’ Gibson asked in 1947 Who put the Benzedrine in Mrs Murphy’s Ovaltine?7

Hepcats and hoochie coochie hoofers are well known dancers in the pharmacological   pharmacy, music enhances the mood, whilst the makers heighten theirs to make the music and so it goes, the whole thing can perhaps be seen as part of a complex evolutionary game, even animals in the wild have been known to seek out drugs,  from goats eating coffee beans, to pigs and elephants gorging on the alcohol in rotting fruit. Maybe altering our states of consciousness is only natural, one of the human universals, even societies who do not dabble in botanicals, use periods of sleeplessness or fasting to either enhance or obliterate the I of their existence. The crucial factor in the drama is the damming dram, a spoonful of sugar may make the medicine go down but a barrel full will lead you straight to hell.

Discussion of dosages in drug-taking are an integral part of the ritual as often tediously recounted in much of the literature on the subject. Thomas de Quincey, takes great pains in his Confessions of an English Opium Eater to let us know how he “… was particularly careful not to take above five and twenty ounces”8 adding many pages of praise to its delights;9

O just and subtle, all conquering opium! that to the hearts of rich and poor alike, for the wounds that will never heal, and for the pangs of grief that tempt the spirit to rebel’ bringest an assuaging balm.

From the second chapter which charts the Pleasures of Opium, to the third, De Quincey moves on to discuss the drug’s inevitable purgatorial Pains10 where he describes its terrifying, personality sharding effects characterised by:

A deep-seated anxiety and funereal melancholy such as are wholly incommunicable by words. I seemed every night to descend not metaphorically but literally to descend – into chasms and sunless abysses, depths below depths from which it seemed hopeless that I could ever re-ascend.

Corrinne Is Crying Image1

Alex Michon, Corrine is Crying, detail, 2013.

Sometime in the mid 1990’s I was working at a London model agency and occasionally I would work on the door at various gay clubs. I was asked to do this as I was known to be disinterested in drugs and could therefore be relied upon to deal with the cash. Kinky Gerlinky was by far the most decadent, fabulous drag queens would arrive adorned in varying degrees of extravagant costumes. One such evening a colleague from Paris, recently arrived at the agency, on seeing me at the door asked ‘is Corrinne here?’  I had no idea who he was referring to, after several minutes of misunderstanding I finally caught on. Seeing me in the midst of this hedonistic atmosphere, he was sure I would know where to get some cocaine. This personal, humorous recollection, became woven into the installation Corrinne is Crying. As for the tears, they are tears of remorse, shed at moments of existential self-revelatory crisis, the kind of which St Augustine asks:11

Is weeping, too, a bitter thing, becoming a pleasure only when the things we once enjoyed turn loathsome and only as long as our dislike for them remains?

Ultimately it is pleasure turned loathsome which echoes throughout accounts of drug taking from De Quincey’s Pains to Dillinger’s paranoia. As we step out of Dillinger’s kitchen and disembark from the misplaced magic carpet ride, we may come to wonder if in fact our journey was nothing but a displaced Dionysian delusion, for as St Augustine says “sin is looking for the right thing in the wrong place.”12

End Notes

Go to footnote reference 1.

Dillinger, Cocaine in my Brain, Trojan Records (UK); ASIN: B00004WMZM 1976.

Go to footnote reference 2.


Go to footnote reference 3.

S.T. Coleridge, Kubla Khan, or A vision in a Dream. A fragment. London: Penguin Classics, 1997.  Originally written in 1797 and first published in 1816, this is one of the most famous poems describing a dream experienced as a result of taking opium:

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan,

A stately pleasure-dome decree:

Where Alph the sacred river, ran,

Through caverns measureless to man,

Down to a sunless sea.

Go to footnote reference 4.

A. Trocchi, Cains Book. London: Jupiter Books 1963, p.8. 

Alexander Trocchi (1925- 1984) was a Scottish novelist who had a lifelong addiction to heroin. His novel Cains Book caused a sensation and was originally banned in Britain for its honest depiction of sex and drug taking.

Go to footnote reference 5.

Dillinger, Cocaine in my Brain.

Go to footnote reference 6.

A. Weston Whitney and Caroline, Folk-Lore from Maryland, collected by Canfield Bullock, The American Folk-Lore Society, G. E. Stechert and Co. New York: Agents 1925, p. 139.

Go to footnote reference 7.

Go to footnote reference 8.

Ibid, p.198.

Go to footnote reference 9.

Ibid, p.195.

Go to footnote reference 10.

Ibid p.235

Go to footnote reference 11.

Saint Augustine, Confessions, trans by R.S. Pine. London: Penguin Classics, 1961, p.77.

Go to footnote reference 12.

Ibid, p.7.

Alex Michon

Alex Michon is an artist, writer and one of the directors of the Transition Gallery.  She is a features editor and regular contributor to Garageland magazine. Her writing has also appeared in many publications including The Critical Friend (which she also edited) Arty and A-N. After graduating from Goldsmiths in 1981, Michon went to New York to resume her earlier collaboration with the band The Clash designing and making the Combat Rock clothing collection. On returning to London she worked as a seamstress for designers Rachel Auburn and Leigh Bowery whilst in the evenings she worked the doors at nightclubs: Taboo, Kinky Gerlinky and Fame. After various employments as a photographers agent and freelance film and theatre costume maker, she returned to complete her Fine Art MA at Central St Martins in 2003.