Some are saddened. Some are disgusted. But no one is surprised. She had, after all, practically been pre-announcing her own death by overdose for years.
When I read about it, I immediately thought back to a speech I gave in a public speaking class at IUS two years ago. The subject was the connection between creative talent and madness. One of the examples I gave was Kurt Cobain, who was also a talented young musician who died a self-inflicted death at 27.
It’s a subject very close to me. I’m a working creative who has struggled with mental health, including suicidal thoughts, since my teens.
The “tragic doomed artist” trope has been with us pretty much forever. I’ll admit our modern culture seems to idolize celebrity foolishness more than any before it. But when it comes to the belief that the truly talented and creative are, by nature, doomed to brief lives of madness, addiction, and stormy relationships; I don’t think that’s anything remotely new.
It wasn’t new a decade ago when it was Kurt Cobain. Or when it was F. Scott Fitzgerald a century ago. It wasn’t new when it was Van Gogh a century before that. It’s a story as old as Orpheus, who literally went to hell and back thanks to music and a bad romance.
Perhaps strangely, my thoughts also turned to two older men. Men I’ve never formally met, but whom I consider mentors and influences.
Last fall, my son and I went to a talk by Harold Best as part of a conference for artists and creatives within the church. It was an incredibly refreshing talk for me. Best is the author of Unceasing Worship and Music through the Eyes of Faith. He spoke with compelling wisdom and humor about how artists tend to overidentify with their talents and gifts. We lose perspective, but we also lose tools that make us better artists– a sense of workmanship and craft, and a sense of being an Anybody, a human being, first.
I also thought immediately of Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art, which I just read this last year and The Legend of Bagger Vance (which, weirdly, I just referenced in the novel I’m currently working on this week). Pressfield also emphasizes that writers and creatives focus on just doing the work. He also attributes our tendency to get sucked into addictions and personal drama to Resistance. Not going to try to describe Resistance here, because I won’t do it justice in the amount of space I could give it right now.
I’m not trying to write a treatise or a sermon here. I’m just collecting my scattered thoughts on a sweltering summer Saturday that has been the strange end to a very strange week. I went to an audition (and I’m probably going to post about that separately). My blow dryer burst into flames. We listed our house for sale (again, probably worth a post of its own).
There has been a lot to process this week. But at this moment, I just find myself playing Amy Winehouse, looking back at the 27 year old version of me. I’m a little breathless at how close I came to being another tragic story, and very grateful for the people that walked along side me when I was racing towards the edge of a cliff, and managed to turn me around.