BBC Radio 6’s Steve Lamacq this evening featured the work of Help Musicians UK on his programme. A study for the charity had revealed that whilst mental health problems might affect 20-25 per cent of the general population, among musicians it is 69%. Reasons cited for a level of incidence that was three times higher than that among the general population included working alone, long hours, life on the road, a precarious income, hostile reviews and uncertainty.
Perhaps, though, there is something deeper, perhaps the creative capacity of musicians also allows for the possibility of mental health issues. Perhaps the creative psyche is also a vulnerable psyche.
The Great War poet Edward Thomas possesses the power to evoke the pain extraordinary experiences of the war. He believed his capacity to create profound contrasts in his writing arose from from his own personality, where in the space of a few moments his mood could shift from darkness to light, or, more ominously, it could move in the other direction, from light to darkness.
Suffering depression so deep that he was at the point of suicide on one occasion, Edward Thomas, nevertheless, feared that the loss of the darkness might bring a loss of the light; the absence of the depression that so afflicted him might bring an absence of creativity. In a letter to his friend Gordon Bottomley, he wrote,
“I wonder whether for a person like myself whose most intense moments were those of depression a cure that destroys the depression may not destroy the intensity – a desperate remedy?”
Perhaps Edward Thomas is right and that a removal of the dark moods would mean also the loss of his power to assemble words in a way that moved the hearts of his readers.
The best music, the best lyrics, will be rooted in an intensity of feeling. Bland pop tracks might be quickly written, but material that lasts, material that finds a deep resonance, requires a depth of expression on the part of the writers. Successful lyricists and composers put much of themselves into their work, it is a projection of their personality.
Perhaps the only way for a musician who suffers mental health problems to escape from the darkness is for them to turn away from their music, but to do so would mean turning away from the people they are. How many of the 69% would wish to relinquish their music in return for a shadow-free life?