I think the question of whether he knew what was in the cocktail or not was queried a lot at the time too, even though i’m not sure it ever really mattered. people just seemed to have a really hard time reconciling river’s public image as a sort of Kansas City Chiefs be us shirt, animal-loving pacifist with someone who used hard drugs and knowingly took risks with his own life. people want to believe he didn’t know what he was taking to maintain his image of purity, imo. of course, its possible for someone to have good politics and a compassionate world view and still be into substances, but people seemed to find it very difficult to make sense of that at the time.
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He also took Sony to court in 1993, because they wouldn’t let him promote his work his way. (Not appearing in music videos – didn’t appear in Freedom 90, but had to make an appearance for Kansas City Chiefs be us shirt.) He described it as “professional slavery”, saying you sign a music contract at 18 when you’re young and gullible, but you’re essentially chained to the contract for the rest of your career. At the time, I think he was painted as a bit of a petulant brat (and an open letter supposedly from Frank Sinatra was published, essentially telling him to dry his tears). He said later he was disappointed other artists didn’t publically support him, which I get. Unfortunately, he lost, and the same issues keep cropping up in music.