“Take me down little Susie, take me down
I know you think you’re the Queen of the Underground
And you can send me dead flowers every morning
Send me dead flowers by the mail
Send me dead flowers to my wedding
And I won’t forget to put roses on your grave”
This song from the Rolling Stones’ 1971 album Sticky Fingers has a sinister appeal. The initial image conjured by lyrics is of actual dead flowers being delivered through the mail and a withered bouquet arriving at a wedding. But the narrator is entreating “little Suzie” to “take him down,” and he is sardonically observing that this bourgeois woman (in the first verse she is referred to as sitting in a “silk upholstered chair”) thinks of herself as a rough customer (i.e., “the Queen of the Underground”).
It would seem that the narrator is in fact referring to a woman with whom he in the past he regularly enjoyed heroin, and now while he has succumbed to the habit, she has moved on.
“Well, you’re sitting back
In your pink Cadillac
Making bets on Kentucky Derby Day
I’ll be in my basement room
With a needle and a spoon
And another girl can take my pain away”
The song is the track after “Sister Morphine” on Sticky Fingers, which is in a certain sense a less chilling song because it is so explicitly about sinking down, while “Dead Flowers” has a jaunty swagger to it that belies the delusion represented by the lyrics and the euphemistic name given to the drug.
Heroin is, after all, made from ground-up dead poppy flowers. Morphine, from which heroin (diacetylmorphine) is derived, is processed from “poppy straw,” the dried seed pods and stems of the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum).
Opium has been collected from the latex of unripe seed pods and used medicinal since the Neolithic Period, but morphine was not isolated from the plant until 1803 in Germany. It did not become widely used in medicine until 1853, when the hypodermic needle was invented.
Heroin was synthesized from morphine in 1874 in a London hospital, but was rediscovered independently in 1897 in the laboratories of the Bayer pharmaceutical company in Germany.
Bayer marketed it as a non-addictive cough suppressant and pain killer until 1910, when it was realized that heroin quickly metabolized into morphine, and was therefore essentially a quicker acting version of morphine and one-and-a-half to two times as powerful. (Not to mention very addictive.)
The opium poppies that enter the heroin trade are historically from Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Golden Triangle region of Burma, Thailand and southern China, and the Sinaloa province of Mexico. The ascension of the Taliban in Afghanistan famously suppressed the production of opium poppies in that country. Production had increased during the Soviet-Afghan war of the 1980s, when the US-backed mujaheddin entered the trade in order to raise money for their cause.
The sternly fundamentalist Taliban initially encouraged poppy production because they believed that its products were consumed by Westerners, but not Muslims. In 2000 they reversed their policy and nearly eliminated poppy production within a year. After the 2001 expulsion of the Taliban by the US and Northern Alliance forces, poppy production resumed and Afghanistan once again is the source of the vast majority of the world’s opium supply.
While back in the 1970s, when the Rolling Stones were glamorizing (in their backhanded way of glorifying debasement) heroin use, the purity of the drug was less than it is today. Therefore most users took it intravenously to get the full effect. More recently greater purities are available, making possible significant effects via snorting the drug. Recreational users who believe they might avoid the dangers of the drug in this way, find they are sadly mistaken.
Send me dead flowers by the US mail
Say it with dead flowers at my wedding
And I won’t forget to put roses on your grave
No, I won’t forget to put roses on your grave”