Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Interesting Article on Musicians and Depression

The Guardian has an interesting piece about the link between musicians and depression. This has long been a sort of "chicken-or-egg" discussion I've found fascinating. Do creative people create because they're depressed or are their mitigating factors about being creative that cause or worsen depression?

I think it may be a little of Column A and a little of Column B. On the one hand, creative outlets are an attractive way of dealing with personal demons, often giving a sense of catharsis to the creator. This is only broadened when, for example, one can get up in front of a venue full of people, and get positive feedback on one's self-expression. There is a sense of feeling not so alone - of feeling understood, even if only superficially.

On the other hand, much of what goes along with being a musician, reinforces the negative emotions. Most accomplished musicians I know are never satisfied with their work. There is a sense of "chasing the dragon", or seeking some imaginary ideal of perfection they most likely will never reach. Heaven forbid you receive a bad review or feel like the message you're trying to convey has been lost on the audience. Add in the conditions of touring (night after night of little sleep, excessive drinking or drug use, eating shitty food), and you have a recipe that would test even the most cheerful demeanor.

Depression is something that runs in my family and something I've dealt with on and off for a long time. I can honestly say that I think music has saved my life on many occasions. Even when the deck seemed stacked against me, even when I've felt my most hopeless, I've taken comfort in the fact that I can sit down behind the keyboard and lose myself for an hour or two.

Of course, history shows us that creativity in itself isn't some sort of panacea. We've lost countless brilliant artists, writers, and musicians before their time because their pain was too much for them to bear. But I like to think having a creative outlet at the very least gives you a leg up on those who don't when it comes to getting through hard times.

What do you think? I'd love to hear reader's thoughts on this topic!


David Winn said...

Tom, I suffer from Bi-polar disorder. I don't know...maybe suffer is too harsh a word.

I have found tho that you are correct in the chicken-egg comparison where I as a creative type might create my own depression.

The source of my angst tho seems to be in not having a paying job or career being creative. I am the ubiquitous starving artist you see.

Back when I was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, I had been using some pretty strong street psychotropics at the time (read LSD). So definitely that had a hand in the disorder.

As you point out though, I find that I am never satisfied with my work either. Funny how it works out, sometimes I will revisit a piece, be impressed by it, and ask who did it only to find out it was myself.

It may also be a case of the squeeky wheel gets the grease too. Where one is depressed, creates from that angst, then is rewarded for their creative behavior.

looking back on this comment, I realize I have not added anything, except to reinforce what you have already commented about.

lol...how depressing.

Alex Munnelly said...

I too suffer from depression. I totally understand what Tom means by finding a kind of solace in music.

However, I am also never really happy with anything I create, and furthermore I find it really hard to go back later and listen to music I've made in my worst moments. It just feels... "painful" I suppose is the best word.

I don't think I will ever stop though, despite the frustration. Music is just something I need to do. Sort of a catharsis I guess.

TJ Porter said...

The perceived wisdom that a true artist must feel pain is rubbish. It starts with the Van Gogh Myth - the poor, struggling, misunderstood artist who is posthumously recognized for his genius. Nine times out of ten, you are not misunderstood. Instead, you are not a genius and you wouldn't be poor and struggling if you were in a different line of work.

Next came the rock and roll / working class myth. For this, I blame the Americans, and, to a lesser degree, the British. The birth of this myth seems to coincide with the rising stardom of a former truck driver from Tupelo, Mississippi. The idea that rock music is for / a product of the working class and is therefore born out of a desperation sounds great if you are looking for street cred, (or writing a Springsteen song) but it conveniently overlooks the fact that some of the most influential bands ever (oh, just to pull a few names out of the air, like the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Kraftwerk) were formed when their members meet at university. Life does not have to be crushingly hard to create brilliant music, but the myth prevails.

Finally, rock music and its offshoots are firmly based upon the myth of manliness. Manliness, of course, has nothing but disdain for the weak. And, for many years, depression was seen as a sign of weakness.

The existence of these myths has meant that within the music community, people have been too slow to fully recognize depression as a medical condition. Now, I don't know what causes your depression. Me, I lived through several black years until I was diagnosed as a diabetic. However, I do know these myths have caused great damage to many people. Screw the myths, go see your doctor.

Adam Dubbleu said...

Musicians, and I believe artists in general, just see things differently.

Musicians in particular express their view through mathematics, rhythm, and tone. There is dissonance between the musician and the rest of the world that creates a natural separation. Humans need to feel connected to other humans physically, intellectually, and emotionally. It is the realization and exploration of this rift of mind and emotions from others that creates both the artist and sometimes, depression.

If the rift grows greater, it allows the musician a new view in to a world others won't, can't, or don't see. We seek to tell others what we see in this new window in reality's wall. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we fail.

By riding through the peaks and valleys of our successes and failures we create our own Ouroboros. Our musical dragon can take us to hell or salvation regardless of what depression or any other ailment may do to us.

Paul Seegers said...

I think I agree with TJ on a few points. My favorite acts tend to have been made up of connected and somewhat affluent people with brains and talent. My choices of enjoying darker music and doing darker music I think is just my personal choice and taste.
Creative people have a higher level of mental problems, but the shrinks tell us that most of us have some problems of one sort or another, be it musician, cop, doctor, housewife et al.
I think that we make art to say something we need to say, that and to impress women. :)

Darren_Halm said...

So Tom, you've referenced Bi-Polar disorder specifically in your songs. have you been diagnosed? Do you take meds for it? How do you deal?

Anonymous said...

the Drugs and alcohol create the depression and then increase it, when used to "deal" with the depression. X can mess people up for weeks/months/years. Yeah the truth hurts huh??

Now go see your fav DJ/Band and have a peak moment, that you pay for, over and over again.....