Friday, December 19, 2008

Drugs & Creativity:

I (born in 1973) was raised on the "war on drugs" propaganda and around age 18 began realizing how much of it was nonsense. Yet, I didn't need all of the "this is your brain on drugs" nonsense to understand there were serious dangers there. That many notable folks from John Belushi to River Phoenix to Jaco Pastorious to Charlie Parker to John Coltrane to Jimi Hendrix to Janis Joplin and on and on died either in large part or exclusively because of their problems with addiction to legal and illegal drugs testifies to their danger. And one didn't need "drug education," just a TV set and access to entertainment news shows to understand this.

Yet, I specifically listed those figures because each was in his own way a creative genius, who did the bulk of his or her creative genius work while high on drugs and died during their creative peak because of such (as Neil Young put it, they burned out instead of, like Paul McCartney or Johnny Rotten to use Young's specific example, faded away into the land of producing mediocre work). I'm not say that drugs made them more creative/fostered their creativity; but I certainly don't close my mind to this possibility. Just that drugs sure as Hell didn't stand in their way of maximizing their creative potential.

Though, I have also noticed that artistic talent -- not of the generic sort, but of the profound -- doesn't come from a place within one's soul that is always happy hunky and dory. From reading the biographies of numbers of notable artists it seems that a disproportionate number of them struggle with severe mental illness, depression and the like. The archetype of a "mad artistic genius" certainly, from my observations of human nature, has a strong kernel of Truth.

[BTW: I didn't mention Kurt Cobain even though he was addicted to drugs and that may have led to his suicide. Cobain also, apropos of this post, struggled with severe mental illness. Indeed he perfectly captures the archetype of the mentally tortured artistic genius. But folks who struggle with severe depression OFTEN take their own lives regardless of addiction to illegal drugs and that's where I put most of the blame for Cobain's suicide.]

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