Abstrakt: The Curse of the Musician

By ajcolores

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Just over twenty years ago, Kurt Cobain, the lead singer of Nirvana and pioneer of the grunge sound, took his own life in his Seattle home. The twenty seven year old was one of the most famous musicians in the world, battling drug addiction, marital problems and a band on the brink of collapse. His suicide note finished with "It's better to burn out than to fade away". Perhaps if he had understood the reaction that would follow his final act, it would have changed his perception of the squalid world around him.

But this isn't meant as another anniversary obituary to a great musician, the internet is flooded with those already and still they don't do justice to any light that has burned out. The mystery surrounding the lives of musicians such as Kurt's is matched by an equally inscrutable question; why are musicians so much more likely to travel such a difficult road when they seemingly have it so good? Of course it's a question that's asked following almost every celebrity's untimely passing, but rarely has it been answered adequately. Why do so many musicians choose to end up battling addiction, depression and anxiety?

The fact is no one answer will sum up the situation for every musician. People argue that it is exactly because they have it so well that they become depressed or start taking drugs. Famous musicians, actors and writers all battle personal demons because they have achieved the dream that so many aspire to, but still don't feel satisfied. This in turn leads to feelings of guilt because they have been provided with all the things in life we assume we want. Adoration, near unlimited funds, recognition that they are indeed unique to the world; all these things seem like the answer to happiness. Many musicians, including Kurt Cobain, argued that when these things failed to make them happy, it brought on depression, due partly to finally discovering your dream was not the answer you had been looking for. Part of it, they argue, is feeling guilty at having been supplied with all the finest commodities in life and still not finding happiness. They feel responsible for not taking joy in something so many people work all their lives for. In his suicide note, Kurt asks himself "Why don't you just enjoy it?" and admitted feeling ashamed that he doesn't find joy in performing or writing music anymore. When part of your persona belongs to the public, the pressure of expectation can weigh heavy.

Another reason is that these artists were always destined for a life of alcohol abuse, drug addiction and an untimely death. That's because of who they were as a person, and it is this same reason that led to them finding fame in the first place. Their environment growing up pushed them to reject both the concept of normality and the hope of a better future. These people are usually more impulsive, less inclined to consider consequences and often less interested in self-preservation. Combined with the ready access to drugs, alcohol and the offer of a more hedonistic lifestyle, it’s little wonder celebrities go off the tracks. Besides, who can resist the idea of a pulling up from a downward spiral and becoming a better person as a result? History is littered with people that have risen from the ashes of an addiction and now see things ‘in a new light’. The fact is, drug and alcohol addiction is glamorised in the media. We look at artist like Kurt, Ian Curtis, Jimi Hendrix, Amy Winehouse and see a whirlwind of self-loathing, indulgence and controversy and we think “Oh to have a life as interesting as that”. What we don't consider is the reality, running out of money to fund your addiction, the pain inflicted on loved ones and the well of narcissism that can swallow a person whole for years.

There are those that have pulled themselves back from the brink, of course. The most memorable of these artists will always be the ones that died too young. Johhny Cash, Ozzy Osbourne and Eric Clapton, to name just a few, have all battled with serious addiction problems only to survive and go on making music. These are the people that managed to conquer their demons and find something else in life, but it’s unsurprising that so many others never find their way back.

[This guy did drugs? No, surely not]

So since Kurt Cobain’s death over two decades ago, have musicians learned anything? The short answer would seem to be ‘no’. Musicians still die young and albums filled with tales of addiction and redemption are still selling by the tonne (well they would if everything wasn't digitalised now). The truth of the matter is it seems to be many musicians’ curse that they must endure a time when they battle with some kind of psychodrama in their lives. The drink and drugs often play an integral role in creating some of the world’s greatest musicians, leading to the question of whether taking addiction out of the equation would actually be detrimental to music. All of this is moot anyway, because the world is going to stay largely the same. Musicians are still going to die before their time and music is still going to be inspired by the darkest recesses of our lives. The drug dealers win, the public wins, in truth, the only ones that really lose are the musicians that don't make it back from the edge.

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