A bloke I was chatting to at a house party last weekend, at which most of the guests were musicians, told me he used to be a prolific songwriter, but had barely written a word since giving up marijuana two years ago. His skill for creative expression had disappeared, along with the drugs in his body.
The link between creativity and addiction is a common one. The Romantic poets of the 19th century are a case in point, with their penchant for laudanum. Samuel Taylor Coleridge apparently dreamt 100 or so lines of his epic poem Kubla Khan while in a laudanum-induced sleep, but most of the words never made it to paper, because while trying to scribble down what he remembered from the dream he was interrupted by a knock at the door. The “person from Porlock” who disturbed his work subsequently became a byword for anyone who interrupts important work, in particular of a creative nature.
Coleridge’s death in 1834 is believed to have been connected with his opium addiction and there have been many more cases since then of creative types meeting their ends as the result of drugs and alcohol.
Today’s tragic death of Amy Winehouse is just the latest, with many of the zillions of Tweets flying about this afternoon commenting on the connection between her creative success and her addiction problems.
My house party bloke – albeit with a drug of choice that was not likely to prove fatal – is one of those who has opted for health over the tempting attractions of a creative lifestyle.
I wondered, is there a choice? Can creativity come without the presence of artificial stimulants? A friend of mine who’s in Alcoholics Anonymous says there are some well-known names in the music industry who attend meetings locally. Maybe they’ve got to that place where they can produce good material while staying clean. As another friend, who’s himself a musician, pointed out, the prodigious work churned out by creative types while under the influence might, actually, be not as good as what they might have done had they taken the giant leap of faith to do it sober.