Menu Close

Sublime: How Addiction Devastated The Band’s Rising Stars

Sublime: How Addiction Devastated The Band’s Rising Stars

It’s no great secret that drugs and rock and roll often go hand in hand. There are exceptions, of course, but many rock and roll stars end up succumbing to the disastrous effects of hard drugs at some point. Nothing paints the picture of addiction in rock stars like the story of how addiction devastated the rising stars of Sublime, one of the most popular rock acts of the mid-1990s. “It was sex, drugs and rock and roll,” friend Mike Tracy says in the clip, detailing the band’s downfall. “Then it was drugs and rock and roll. Then it was just drugs.” ~ Mike Tracey, friend of Bradley Nowell A new documentary highlights the lives and addictions of Sublime band members, including the overdose death of its leader, Bradley Nowell. Nowell died as a result of a heroin overdose in 1996, just before the band’s third (and most popular) album was released.

New Sublime documentary focuses on the dangers of addiction and the hope of recovery, but ultimately how drugs devastated Sublime just when they were becoming popular.

The Long Way Back covers both the life and death of the Sublime frontman Bradley Nowell, but it goes beyond that too. The documentary also focuses on Todd “Z-Man” Zalkins, a lifelong friend of the bandleader. Zalkins also struggled with opioid addiction for years, but was ultimately able to get treatment and enter recovery. He now works tirelessly as an addiction treatment advocate and mentor. This is the crisscrossing narrative of the new Sublime documentary: how addiction devastated the band’s rising stars, and how some have found hope in addiction treatment and recovery.

Sublime & Their Rise to Fame in the 1990s

Sublime was originally formed in 1988, as a ska punk band hailing from California. Sublime members included Bradley Nowell on guitar and as vocals, Eric Wilson on bass, and Bud Gaugh on drums. Sublime released their first album (40oz. To Freedom) in 1992 and their second (Robbin’ the Hood) in 1994. These albums were popular enough, but the band didn’t hit it big until their eponymous third album. The band became famous for their loose and quintessentially Californian sound. Of course, many of their songs also featured references or explicit homages to drugs and drug culture. This goes part of the way toward explaining how addiction devastated Sublime and its rising stars. The musical genius of the band was recognized only after Nowell had died from a drug overdose. The Rolling Stone description of their final eponymous album shows what lasting legacy the band holds: “One of the decade’s strangest hits, Sublime came out shortly after the death of singer-guitarist Bradley Nowell but kept spinning off one hit after another, with a loose, friendly California-pop sound inflected by ska, dub, punk and folk. These Long Beach riddim kings get sloppy but keep the tempo chugging, especially in the head-spinning acoustic skank of “What I Got,” which somehow fuses the English Beat with the Grateful Dead. The success of Sublime was a compliment to Nowell’s memory and an even bigger compliment to his rhythm section.” Before their eponymous album, Sublime had released two other albums with Bradley Nowell at the lead. But none were as popular as their third album, which hit Billboard’s Top 20 in 1997. Of course, this was only after Sublime frontman Bradley Nowell had already died of a heroin overdose.×681.jpg

The Long Way Back – New Documentary Highlights How Addiction Devastated Bradley Nowell and Sublime

Bradley Nowell’s story is one of a talented musician, a rising star, and an individual crippled by heroin addiction. Far from acting as a role model, Nowell’s story is a cautionary tale for those who came after him. It is a story that highlights the danger of even casual drug use, the devastation of heroin addiction, and the consequences of going untreated for addiction. It is a sad story, but a necessary one. If any change is going to be made in drug use and heroin addiction, we need to be honest about its effects and the damage that it can do. “There was this subconscious desire to kind of understand what my dad’s experiences were. Why would he smoke this? Why would he snort that? Why would he drink this? Why would he pop that?” ~ Jakob Nowell, Bradley Nowell’s son In an unfortunate turn, Bradley Nowell’s son also turned to alcohol and drugs later in life. Jakob Nowell was born less than a year before his father succumbed to a heroin addiction. This left the younger Nowell confused, about life and his own dad. As he turned to drugs and alcohol, he became addicted. Thankfully, lifelong friend of Bradley Nowell was able to help the younger Nowell overcome his addiction later on in life. This is the heart of The Long Way Back, a documentary that simultaneously shows the devastation of drug addiction and the hope of treatment and recovery.×400.jpeg

Sublime Documentary Focuses on Hope & Healing for Opioid Addiction

The Long Way Back is a new documentary from one of Nowell’s lifelong friends. It is a hard hitting account of how drugs devastated Sublime, the life of Bradley Nowell, and even the vocalist’s son. The documentary does not focus on the glitz and glamour of a rock and roll life. Instead, the Sublime doc highlights the heavy effect that heroin addiction had on Bradley Nowell and the entire band. The documentary focuses on Nowell’s heroin overdose, how this fits with the opioid epidemic in the United States, and what hope addiction recovery has to offer. The film’s website gives a great breakdown for the story the Sublime doc tells and how it builds awareness around the hope of addiction treatment: “After losing his friend Bradley Nowell to a heroin overdose, Todd Zalkins fights for his life in what will become the worst drug crisis in American History, the opioid epidemic.  Against all odds, Todd is able to break a seventeen year addiction to prescription painkillers and dedicates his life to helping others who struggle with addiction. A story of redemption, and recovery, The Long Way Back shatters the stigma associated with prescription painkiller addiction and offers a strong message of hope and awareness.” This addiction-turned-recovery story is where Todd Zalkins’ and Bradley Nowell’s life narratives diverge, and it is where hope begins to take shape.

Todd Zalkins: Recovered Addict and Recovery Advocate

The story of The Long Way Back revolves around Todd Zalkins, a close childhood friend of all of the Sublime band members. Zalkins remained friends with Bradley Nowell and the other band members after their music took off, and is reportedly one of the last people to have seen Nowell alive. Zalkins became addicted to prescription opioids around the same time that Nowell started using heavy drugs, like heroin. After the death of his friend, Todd Zalkins sank deeper into his desperation for drugs. “His descent into life-threatening addiction also fuels what has now become a full-time career: speaking to teenagers about the dangers of prescription-drug abuse and helping families bring their loved ones into treatment.” ~ Nick Schou, writing for OCWeekly It wasn’t until ten years after Bradley Nowell’s death that Todd Zalkins was able to seek out help for his addiction. According to his story, he literally dragged himself into a treatment facility. Zalkins has been sober for about ten years. More than that, he has dedicated his time and his life to getting those who were in his situation – and that of Bradley Nowell – the professional treatment and support that they need to overcome the negative effects of addiction. This is where the story turns to redeemed hope and recovery.×400.jpg

The Story of Redeemed Hope and Recovery

There is no question that Sublime partied hard, and partied with hard drugs. This is at least one of the contributing factors to the untimely demise of Sublime frontman Bradley Nowell. Sublime were a party band. They played house parties, beach parties, frat parties; and if there wasn’t a party, they brought one with them. They were, people will tell you, lovable, but they were also, the same people will attest, out of control.” ~ Mark Kemp, writing for Rolling Stone in 1997 But here’s the point: the story is not without hope. Bradley Nowell may have died, but his story allowed more awareness about the danger of heroin, and what addiction can do to a person – rock star or not. The story comes full circle after Todd Zalkins received treatment for his own addiction. After getting help for himself, Zalkins was able to reach out to Jakob Nowell, Bradley Nowell’s son. Eventually, Todd Zalkins was able to help Jakob Nowell get sober. This closed the cycle of addiction and overdose that had started with the death of Sublime member Bradley Nowell. It also sets the stage for what addiction treatment can look like for anyone.

Avoiding the Devastation of Addiction: Getting Professional Help

Bradley Nowell’s addiction and death do not make for a happy story, but they are crucial for understanding the impact of drugs and addiction. Nowell may have made great music, but ultimately he was an addict and died without getting the help that he so desperately needed. “We don’t want to glorify the way Brad died. We’ve lost too many musicians to drugs. It’s like everyone is desensitized to it—like it’s OK because they were musicians. But it’s not OK. And that’s what we want people to know: Enough already.” ~ Troy Dendekker, Bradley Nowell’s wife Instead of glorifying drug use by rock and roll stars or even by friends, it is important to get professional help if you think you may be sinking into drug or alcohol addiction. Drug rehab is the best option for avoiding an overdose and making a positive change in your life. If you have questions about how addiction devastated Sublime and its members, or about your own struggles with addiction, do not hesitate to contact us today.