LATELY, CHRIS BLACK and Jason Stewart, the co-hosts of the hit podcast How Long Gone, have taken to asking their famous guests one recurring question: Rate and rank your top three favorite prescription pills. Comedian Joe Mande included Vicodin and an over-the-counter endorsement of Imodium. Rapper Fivio Foreign took the prompt as an opportunity to expound on his love of Percocet. But for Black, there arguably wouldn’t be any need for a top three. Oxycontin would obliterate all else.
The 39-year-old is now five years sober off of Oxy after battling an addiction that led him to self-destruct. He’s replaced pill popping with an intense workout regimen, something he insists helped him white-knuckle his way through his own recovery. But his fascination with drug use has never waned, and on How Long Gone, the two-year-old show which he says receives 500,000 monthly downloads, that topic is habitual. Whether he’s chatting with artist Snail Mail about her decision to smoke weed after getting out of rehab, or learning about the therapeutic benefits of ketamine from musician Alex Cameron.
“We approach it in a pretty light way but if you want to get serious about it, I can also get serious about it,” Black tells me from a Mediterranean cafe in New York’s East Village. The point isn’t to vilify drugs—or the people who use them. It’s an attempt at radical transparency, their way to normalize our conversations around substances that alter your mind, mood or even digestive tract. “Because that’s the thing, it’s just nothing to be embarrassed about.”
Before launching How Long Gone, which takes its name from the Brooks & Dunn song, the longtime friends had already amassed relative acclaim. Black, as the creative consultant behind brands like Thom Browne, Stussy and some searing pop cultural takes to his more than 41,000 followers on Twitter. And Stewart, as a prominent DJ of the newly-nostalgic indie sleaze era, performing under the moniker Them Jeans. Their show was initially conceived as a place for these two hipster bros to come together and spar over their frequently dichotomous, heavily sardonic opinions on everything from Emily in Paris to Kendrick Lamar’s latest album. But their friendship runs deeper than that, and in turn, so does the podcast.
While Stewart himself isn’t sober—his propensity to record the podcast while high on edibles is another one of their recurring bits—he was core to Black’s recovery. Taking him on long hikes through Griffith Park; gently ribbing for not being fun anymore. (Roasting is their love language.) “That’s my man. He’s been there for the whole thing. So that’s why we can joke about it,” Black says.
Though humor is often their entry point into the conversation, the responsibility Black feels to share his story is no joke. “Our listeners, a lot of them are young-ish guys that have some money and could easily be in the same position or close to be in the same position [as I was]. So I can be the example, or even the sounding board.” And for Stewart, their comedic approach isn’t just a means to an end. It’s the point itself. “There’s a lot of people who have used comedy to talk about serious issues so we try to find a way to make that emotionally powerful and actually yield some results,” Stewart says.
Perhaps Black’s comfortability with the subject can be accredited to the fact that his own relationship with drugs and alcohol has run such a wide spectrum. It started with complete avoidance during his straight edge days in suburban Atlanta. As a teenager in the 90s, Black became entrenched in the Hardcore punk scene. While the music was his initiation—bands like The Smiths and Oasis—he stuck around for the movement’s liberal ideology. The focus on anti-religion and animal rights inspired him to forgo meat and substances.
“Being vegan in Atlanta in the ’90s is insane,” says Black, who now identifies as pescetarian. “I was pretty overweight at the time. I wore a lot of beaded necklaces, shorts, Vans, or Wallabees. Let me put it this way, it was a look.”
But his early sobriety didn’t preclude Black from debauchery. He developed a “fuck the man” attitude, dropped out of high school, and moved in with a pack of musicians. By 19, his resolve waned, with Black consuming his first line of cocaine before ever taking a drink. “It’s the reason anybody does drugs. It’s like, ‘Oh wait, you can stay out late, there’s women, and you can have sex? This is lit,’” he says with his signature cackle. Alcohol soon followed, along with a stint managing the pop punk band Cartel. For all of Black’s twenties, his cocaine use was still of that social variety: something he would do three or four nights a week, always with the intention of partying.
By his early 30s, however, Black’s drug use had rendered him a relative recluse. Having graduated from coke to Oxy—along with Xanax, muscle relaxers, and other forms of pain medication—Black participated in nightlife, but spent his days hiding his habit. He’d met a dealer who would FedEx him 100 or so Oxys vacuum sealed between two issues of MAD magazine, and Black would haunt the Tribeca apartment he shared with his then-wife, running through his supply.
“I probably spent $100,000 dollars on OxyContin in a couple years,” Black says with the same captivating candor he’s become known for as How Long Gone’s more commanding co-host.
But just as he has me enthralled, the pendulum swings towards Black’s more serious approach to discussing addiction. “It’s full-denial for so long, then you OD,’ he says, remembering one incident. “It was like ten in the morning and I woke up in the hospital and I had no idea what happened. My ex-wife is like, ‘I thought you were dead. Like 10 firefighters had to come up.’” He recovered just enough to prove he hadn’t learned from the experience. “Then you OD again,” he says.
When Black did finally quit—after multiple overdoses and a split from his ex-wife—he did so cold turkey. Forgoing a 12 step program or rehab, fitness became his salvation. He procured a membership to the YMCA on the Lower East Side where he “fucking went crazy,” allowing the blood, sweat, and endorphins of exercise to take the form of his higher power. Now spending the majority of his time in Los Angeles, Black works out with celebrity trainer Hunter Seagroves.
“I was throwing crazy shit at him that most people would feel silly doing but he never balked or batted an eye. He was just in,” Seagroves says of the mobility and movement-based work they do together, which includes handstands and hanging upside down. “Chris isn’t afraid to be bad at something. [He has this] coastal elite facade, but at the end of the day, Chris is real. He’s transparent, he doesn’t mince words about his shortcomings, and he’s involved in his process.”
Now Black approaches his life with the mentality of an athlete. And with the success of How Long Gone—which he views as a tennis match— Black’s seeing results. His intense focus also means making a no-days-off level commitment to working out. “I’ve trekked across Germany. I will go to the ends of the earth to find a place wherever I am,” he says.
Yet Stewart is still there when needed, offering counsel, including the suggestion that Black continue to evolve in ways that are a little more flexible. “Now that he’s advancing in life, career, and relationship, learning how to have some type of backup plan or control of the situation when your routine changes [is important],” Stewart says. “He’s very prideful of his routine. Every day he drinks a gallon of water and goes to the gym, but life doesn’t always go that way.”
Black says he’s still working to identify other ways of self-soothing. Socializing is one; owning the fact that he’s still a work in progress is another. Paying it forward through the podcast is becoming essential as well. “When you know that you could have died and you know that the shit was kind of gnarly, most people in my position are happy to help,” he says. “It’s the good, the bad, and the ugly, baby!”
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