There’s a notion at open mics, DIY spaces, and the backstage areas of larger venues: that the only difference between eccentric and insane is your talent. That there’s a fine line between madness and genius. That great inspiration can only come from great pain. Whatever made Van Gogh cut his ear off is also what let him make beautiful paintings. Suffer for art. We romanticize it. The 27 Club is a higher honor than living to Leonard Cohen’s age. The true rockstar: desperate and angst-ridden, smashing TVs in hotel rooms, going on chaotic tirades, eventually succumbing to drugs or suicide to escape. But man, he was a legend, dude. Too young, though, too young.
There’s a reverence for loose-association in thought and mood lability in artists. Means you’re the real deal. A true visionary likened to a mystic who’s been to the other side and returned with unknowable knowledge. Or a permanently heart-broken empath at a piano soaked in bourbon, lamenting existence. I mean Syd Barret – now that’s what I call a psychotic break. Shine on you mentally-ill diamond.
There’s a fear amongst creative types that getting help, especially medical help, will take away their uniqueness. They’ll lose their edge. They’ll be flat, uninspired. There’s no denying great works have been inspired by great pain, whether it’s the despair that visits the otherwise healthy, or any psychiatric disturbance. The pain creates the beauty. There’s a fine line between genius and insanity.
Or maybe there’s a fine line between a symptom and a personality trait. Maybe sometimes one’s talent is supplemented with a well of depression to take inspiration from. Or maybe sometimes you sit at your piano for hours at a time unable to play because every note sounds like nails on a chalkboard and every word you write looks like a lie and nothing can come close to capturing the confusion and pain eating your head from the inside. Maybe you find yourself punching the keys until they’re ivory shrapnel and the wires pop off inside the chassis. Maybe you cut yourself, pound your head against the wall until you’re dizzy. Maybe you smash a TV in a hotel room. Maybe the true rockstar needed help.
Some shout how back in the day we didn’t need feel-good-pills and psychiatrists. My response is sure, you drank yourselves to death and you liked it. Uphill both ways. Looking to unclip the velvet ropes in front of the 27 club? Maybe take a chance at shrinking your head on the off chance that your assumption that you need your pain to be beautiful is misguided. Sometimes we play prophylactic whack-a-mole with the symptoms of being alive, we try to medicate the natural tides of humanity. There are snake-oil salesmen and charlatans getting hand-jobs from Pfizer, but there are used car salesmen with bad suits and that doesn’t mean you don’t need a tour vehicle.
Maybe you’ll be able to sit down at the piano and be at enough peace to play something again. Maybe you’ll be able to get out of bed long enough to pick up your guitar. Maybe inspiration still won’t visit you, but maybe you’ll be able to accept that and keep working without losing hope. Maybe you’ll find you’re not a flat and uninspired, but rather finally okay enough to not be a flat and uninspired. Maybe it’ll change you. Maybe that’s what you need when you’re desperate and angst-ridden. Maybe it’s time to stop listening to the weirdoes telling you to tightrope walk the fine line between genius and insanity. That whatever made Van Gogh cut off his ear is going to make you beautiful.
You don’t need your pain to be beautiful. You don’t need to own your pain and identify with it. You are not your pain. It is your talent that gives you talent, your hard work that makes the art. For those of you scared of losing your edge, think about the edge you’re standing on. You are loved, you are beautiful. Help is out there, and there’s nothing wrong with getting it.
Will Wood and the Tapeworms are a five-piece experimental rock outfit based out of northern New Jersey, called “the most interesting and magnetic entertainers in recent years” by New Noise Magazine, and led by “intriguing and histrionic” (NJ.com) singer/songwriter and pianist Will Wood, who appeared entirely out of nowhere some time in 2015. Armed with cleverly-crafted and surreal anti-folk songs, unusual instrumentation, foreign scales, and highly theatrical performances with surprisingly catchy pop tunes, Will Wood and the Tapeworms are a unique and hard-to-define voice that refuses to be pigeonholed by genre.