Mark Rutledge: If the kids start smoking again, maybe the music will get better | Featured Columnist


One thing that the new documentary series “The Beatles: Get Back” tells about is that it takes a lot of cigarettes to create great music. That’s not true, of course, but the Fab Four liked their cigarettes.

Here’s a trivial question: What two things were always in the room when The Beatles were working on the songs for the “Let It Be” album?

Answer: Smoke and guitars.

The footage for the documentary was shot in January 1969. I was 8 years old, my favorite song was “Hey Jude” and I was just starting to grow my hair out of my ears. A few years later, I was also smoking cigarettes.

I can’t blame the Liverpool guys for my bad habits. If I was trying so hard to be like them, it seems like I should have made at least one or two hit songs to show it.

Watching the documentary, however, reminded me of just how prevalent smoking was during my teenage years. It made me realize that tobacco has less influence on young people today.

Then I read in the New York Times how cigarettes are making a comeback among “better-know” kids.

“Oddly enough, in the last couple of years,” said one young person in the story, “all of my friends who didn’t smoke now smoke. I do not know why. No one is really addicted to it. It’s more of a fun activity.

It sounds familiar. In my day we used to say, “I’m not used to it. I can quit whenever I want.

The story of The Times must also have been written by a young person. He continues to marvel at the way even medical students start to smoke. The writer has obviously never worked in the field of health.

The hospital where I worked for seven years, starting in 1981, restricted smoking to employee lounges. The ashtrays in the doctors’ lounges were just as nasty as the ones the nurses and everyone else hung out in. They “knew better” too.

Here’s a news flash: Anyone who’s ever smoked cigarettes knew better. Without exception, their bodies have told them unequivocally that smoking is not a good thing to do and should be vigorously rejected.

I clearly remember receiving this message from my body when I was 11 years old. A friend of mine from the neighborhood had scored some Virginia Slims in his mother’s stash. Three of us used the best part of a 20-pack of cigarettes to learn how to inhale.

“Are you okay in there?” My mom kept asking from the other side of the bathroom door.

“I’m fine,” I replied with all the natural voice I could muster between nauseous pants.

In fact, I was as white as a sheet and appreciated how much the ceramic toilet base held its coldness against my head longer than the linoleum floor.

After years of regular smoking and even more as an occasional smoker, I finally listened to my body and quit for good.

Here is my advice to young people new to smoking today: don’t be like me. Write a few songs.


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