• What’s the difference between Keith Richards and Lance Armstrong?

I was in a meeting yesterday and before we got down to business we got into a debate about drugs, specifically performance enhancing drugs. The catalyst was an offhand comment about how the people in charge of awarding Tour de France medals had had to go back several places to award a new first. In other words, it seems like all the top riders were either users or former users. A colleague blurted out, “What’s wrong with using drugs or plastic surgery or whatever to make yourself better?” He then added, “I mean, what’s different about John Lennon?”

I agreed with him. I think banning performance enhancing drugs is dumb but I also felt that there was a difference between musicians and athletes. So I asked myself, “What’s the difference between Keith Richards and Lance Armstrong?” Keith used drugs to enhance his creativity; Lance used them (or so it seems) to enhance his cycling. Both of them broke the law to get an advantage, right?

No so fast. If you do a little heroin, smoke some dope, drink a fair bit and then snort of bit of coke to stay awake, you might write a great riff but there is no guarantee. Steroids, on the other hand, will make you stronger, full stop. In other words, there are no guaranteed performance enhancing drugs for creativity so using drugs isn’t cheating. In sports, on the other hand, the drugs work and they are outlawed so using them makes you a cheater. And that’s the difference. Lance cheated to win a race. All Keith has ever cheated is death.