Wednesday, April 6, 2016

"My Heroes Have Always Been Crazy"

Here’s a risky thing to ask a professional psychologist.

We are driving home after attending a Roseanne Cash concert – last one about this, I promise – and I am still noodling with the question,

“Why wasn’t she better?” 

when this accompanying question pops to mind, which I verbalize to my lovely psychologist wife; to wit,

“Is it possible to have too much therapy?”

She laughed.  Though I am not sure – and I did not check to find out – whether she laughed because it was funny or whether she laughed because it is impossible to have too much therapy and anyone suggesting it isn’t is an idiot.  Making it understandable why I chose not to find out.

Rosanne Cash (backed by her musician husband) had delivered a skillful and satisfying performance.  But she displayed none of the charismatic intensity, for example, her father Johnny would have definitely brought to the proceedings. 

The only recognizable identification with her iconic pappy was Rosanne’s (perhaps tributary) all-black ensemble.  (Her daddy was subtitled as “The Man in Black.”)  The sartorial distinction was Rosanne Cash wore a non-black jacket over her outfit. 

That jacket may have been holding her back.  Something was.  (Possibly too much therapy.)  Although gifted and personable, she was missing that explosive and dangerous “Full Throttle.”

The reason the idea of “too much therapy” came to mind was my belief – riddled with exceptions – that in order, not just to participate, but to stand out and “kill” as a performer (or writer, or artist, or, arguably, any “creative”) – a necessary element was that you were crazy.

Billie Holiday.  Lenny Bruce.  Janis Joplin.  Richard Pryor.

More than a subjective selection.  These guys are anyone’s All-Star list.  Invariably close to the top.

All of them – speaking generically– were out of their minds. 

Funneling them onto the fast track to greatness. 

Where they inevitably flamed out.  Due to excesses that boosted their sensibilities but tragically decimated their bodies.

(Note:  A lack of mental stability is a necessary but obviously not a sufficient ingredient for greatness.  At some point, at least temporarily, your act, whatever it is, needs to be gotten adequately together.)  

There have been studies linking artistic accomplishment with psychological aberration.  The question however is, which came first?

Were they crazy because they were exceptionally gifted?  Or were they exceptional gifted because they were crazy?

My personal vote’s for the second one.  Your individual wiring allows you to soar to phenomenal creative heights.  The onerous price is…

The life that goes with it.

Intensified, I believe – and here it becomes a circle – by what you did with who you were.

Your craziness makes you magnificent. 

And your magnificence – and your desire to sustain yourself at that level – makes you crazier.

(Note:  I apologize for the unscientific word “crazy”, which I employ lazily for its recognizable jolt.  Plus, I am unequipped with a more accurate diagnosis.)

Critics of this shadowy assessment trot out the likes of Tom Hanks and Jerry Seinfeld as outwardly stable counter-examples. 


Tom Hanks is delightful.  But is he Philip Seymour Hoffman?  Jerry Seinfeld is the “Master of Comedic Noticing.”  But can his comedy bring tears to your eyes?

Johnny Cash. 

Rosanne Cash. 

Check the biographies. 

Which one was the addict?

And here’s where leave this.  For now.  Although be not surprised if we return.
This all isn’t about Rosanne Cash.  Rosanne Cash is a convenient surrogate involving a question that has followed me into retirement because when I was working I was too busy to think about it.

The question’s not,

“Why wasn’t Rosanne Cash better?” 

The question, as you may have already surmised, is...

Why wasn’t I better?

1 comment:

Jes said...

Aww, wasn't it your inability to work well with others that...oh, never mind. I do have one viewpoint on the crazy though. A spiritual mentor once associated bipolar illness with a sort of conflict where the soul is living in two worlds at once, and the consequence is being pulled apart at the seams due to lack of congruence.

Creative types definitely walk that line, don'tcha think?