When rock music fans talk about sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll, quinine isn’t usually the drug they have in mind.
Usually, that is, except for a local expatriate musician who has penned just such a song, “Malaria,” inspired by the guitarist’s own bouts with the illness.
“I had malaria for a couple years,” Rob Nugent said. “It was bad. First I got the chills, then I shook like hell. There was massive sweating. I remember being able to wring out my sheets. They were soaking wet.”
Nugent contracted malaria while monitoring an election in Papua New Guinea. The illness recurred while he was in Australia and Africa. “I thought I had gotten rid of it, but it just came back again,” Nugent said.
The disease plagued him sporadically until he sought treatment in London. “Once you get on a quinine drip, it goes away pretty quickly,” Nugent said.
But if he were too poor to have good access to treatment and medicine, Nugent notes, he “would have gotten extremely sick, if not died from it.”
Nugent describes the song as starting off with a “swampy” feel but it ends as a normal rock song.
Other than its title, there isn’t much to connect the song explicitly to malaria, Nugent said. Rather, it is the pattern of the lyrics, and the general feeling of the song, that makes it similar to the experience of having malaria.
Another musician Nugent performs with—a drummer—has also had malaria and can attest to the feverish pace the disease puts your body through. “There’s a certain amount of circularity to the song and to the delirium you feel when you have malaria,” Nugent says. “You just get these ideas spinning around like a carousel in your mind.”