Hemingway was a drunk. Coleridge was addicted to opium. Poe struggled with drinking and drugs. Cobain, Jagger, Hendrix, Joplin were junkies. Freud? Cokehead.
Why is it that many of history’s greatest thinkers and artists are also history’s most notorious addicts?
There’s one obvious answer, which is that some artists self-medicate in order to escape the crushing pressures of fame. Creative minds are also prone to experimentation, which explains away the drug use in many scenarios.
But I also think some part of it has to do with IQ. The brain of a visionary artist or thinker can be so overactive that they drive themselves mad with their everyday thoughts. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be Thom Yorke, constantly churning out these brilliant, provocative, depressing lyrics. People like Yorke and Edgar Allen Poe and Kurt Cobain probe into life, choosing to see what other people prefer to ignore. That can be a really scary business.
Ignorance is bliss; it’s trite, but it’s true. And it poses a huge dilemma: is it better to sacrifice knowledge for the sake of being happy, or should you force yourself to do the kind of difficult, between-the-lines thinking that sometimes brings your mind into really dark places?
Obviously, you choose the latter, and find some kind of outlet by which to express yourself. Or if you’re someone like Hemingway, you booze to make up the difference.
Sometimes the booze and narcotics seem to work in these artists’ favor. Coleridge could have never found the inspiration to write “Kubla Khan” without the opium-induced hallucination.
- “For he on honey-dew hath fed,
- And drunk the milk of Paradise.”
(We all know what you fed on, Sam.)
But inevitably, the drugs always get the best of these people. The lifestyle becomes too much for one brain to handle, the artists/thinkers either OD or they commit suicide, and America loses some of its greatest minds.
Tragic, really– but maybe that’s what they were going for.
Food for thought: In a world without artificial mind-numbers, would you rather be dumb and happy, or brilliant and (occasionally) miserable?