Sunday, 12 February 2012

The price of greatness

Tonight, we mourn the passing of a great singer. Whitney Houston was found dead in her hotel room at the age of 48. In the last few years, her life had been marred by personal problems and drug abuse. Along with her wonderful voice and extraordinary talent, it seems, went emotional vulnerability and an addictive personality.

                                      Whitney Houston singing Run To You - YouTube

On 23rd July 2011 we mourned the passing of another great singer and songwriter.
Amy Winehouse was found dead at her home at the age of 27. She had a history of personal problems, drug and alcohol abuse. The inquest reported that she was more than five times over the drink/drive alcohol limit when she died.

                                        Amy Winehouse singing Back to Black - YouTube

On 25th June 2009 we mourned the passing of an extraordinary musical talent. Michael Jackson died in his bed at his rented mansion. He was 50. He had been addicted to prescription drugs and painkillers for a long time and died from an accidental overdose of a hospital anaesthetic administered by his personal physician. 

                                             Michael Jackson in Thriller - YouTube

Many more great musical and artistic talents have died young, and a high proportion of those have been from some form of substance abuse or another form of self-harm. Jimi Hendrix (27), Janis Joplin (27), Jim Morrison (27), Hank Williams (29) and Elvis Presley (42) all died from drug overdoses. Kurt Cobain shot himself after taking a lethal amount of heroin: he was only 27. Charlie Parker died aged 34 from pneumonia and an ulcer brought on by drug abuse. Karen Carpenter died from anorexia at the age of 32.

It seems to me that their greatness came at great personal cost. Do people with such talent suffer because of their talent? Would they have been so great if they were not so vulnerable? Perhaps it is their very vulnerability that makes them so able to connect with us. What makes them great is not just their wonderful voices, their great musical and artistic talents. It is their ability to express for us the feelings that we dare not experience. And in expressing those extreme emotions, they are caught themselves by the pain. Even I, a much less talented singer, must experience to some extent the emotions I wish to convey through my music. Perhaps these much greater singers, because they communicate those emotions so much better than me, suffer much more than I do - and when the pain becomes too much to bear, they numb themselves with drugs, alcohol and self-harm......

Whatever the reason for their vulnerability, it is certain that many of the greatest artists are not with us for very long. They burn out quickly and are gone, and we are left only with the memory of someone who was able to touch us deeply. Recordings and images are but a feeble reminder: the heart is gone, and we are bereft.

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