Sunday, May 26, 2019

Depression, Substance Abuse and Lyrical Genius

No need to list them all here. If you have ever thought about great lyricists you must surely have noted have many of them died from alcohol or drug addiction.

Since I was a child I wondered what the connection between emotional pain and lyrical talent was. I was particularly struck by how many great composers from the south who could put pain to pen lived and died so tragically.

In short, why do Southern mothers so often raise drunken poets?

I am not trained in psychology. My idea could be completely off the mark.  I think that the link is long term bouts of clinical depression that serve as an incubator for substance abuse is also an incubator for profound insight.

It does not take long for someone with clinical depression to notice that they are not like other people--that other people feel things that they don't feel. And they wonder why. And they spend many hours trying to understand. And they look deep within themselves for answers.

And when they finally have some answers they realize how difficult it is for other people to understand what they feel. They search for the words that can help them explain themselves to a world that they do not fit in. They search for words, phrases, comparisons, anything that can help them explain.

And some of them get very good at it.

Joshua Wolf Shenk's spectacular book, "Lincoln's Melancholy"  helped me understand the link between Lincoln's depression and his eloquence.

Only a man who had climbed out of the abyss could come up with a phrase as beautiful as "the better angels of our nature."

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