The Dark Arts
Today I had my weekly Sunday music session with my coach, Mette. Come hell (hangovers) or high water (assignment deadlines) we have kept up our weekly meetings since I moved from Copenhagen to London. Mette knows me better than most; she has to. If she didn’t know my emotional monologue, this partnership wouldn’t work. After all, Mette is the first person who gets to see the drafts of my experiences and feelings written down on paper in the form of lyrics and melodies. Each session starts with a catch up and a check in of where I’m at emotionally. Today we spoke at lengths about the death of Swedish EDM brainchild, Avicii (real name Tim Bergling) at the young age of 28. Just under 48 hours ago, news broke of his death. While no statement has been made as to the cause of death, all news stories I’ve come across emphasize his health battles: acute pancreatitis partly due to excessive drinking, and his battle with anxiety and stress that led him to retire momentarily in 2016.
I haven’t been able to read one article without crying. Levels dominated my iPod when it came out, I listened to Seek Bromance excessively when I lived in London the first time, and I thought his Aloe Blacc collaboration on Wake Me Up was nothing short of genius. His untimely death is a massive loss to the music community, but it also reminds me of the dark side of the arts. As said, no official statement as to the cause of death has been given yet, but reading about his struggles raises the issue of the creative mind.
I have never come across a musician who isn’t sensitive to his or her surroundings. Most musicians I’ve met, wear their heart on their sleeve and channel this unique relationship with emotions into music. Many musicians I know battle depression, anxiety and have dabbled with self-harming behaviours. Mette said it’s ironic that we call it “the music industry”. It’s an industry, like all others, where you have to be tough as nails to do it, but the irony is that it’s an industry composed of people who have to be able to access raw emotions. It’s a very delicate dance.
Music can have you fist pumping in a sweaty club, humming calmly as you chop vegetables, give you the motivation to run an extra mile, and it can make you crumble. That is what music is; nearly human.
Avicii’s death is a sore reminder of how fragile life is. For me, it’s also a reminder of creative people’s needs to numb the pain, and the regularity with which creative minds are plagued with their own emotion. Laidback Luke commented on his fear of Avicii joining club 27 (musicians who have died at the age of 27) and Niles Rogers has spoken about his concern over Avicii’s drinking. What is clear when reading about Avicii’s life, is that it was punctured with struggles. He has not been alone in this.
On May 17th, 2017 musician Chris Cornell committed suicide. A few months later, his friend and fellow musician-genius Chester Bennington, frontman of Linkin Park, also committed suicide. Cornell and Bennington both suffered from depression. In 2011, the tumultuous and wildly talented Amy Winehouse died from excessive alcohol, and last year Prince died of an accidental overdose. After Bennington’s suicide, Billboard Music wrote an article stating that “70% of musicians say they have suffered from anxiety and depression”. Artists like Kesha, Demi Lovato, Lady Gaga, SIA, James Arthur, Zayn Malik, Florence Welch, Adele, Kanye West (the list goes on) have been open about their struggle with mental health. Justin Bieber commented to NME ahead of the release of Purpose “"You get lonely, you know, when you're on the road. People see the glam and the amazing stuff, but they don't know the other side. This life can rip you apart.”
To me, a great musician is someone who can access their emotions and translate them. Being able to tell a story, make sense of an emotion and create a format that gives someone, something to identify with, is what music is all about. Being able to feel deeply is a curse and a gift. It’s an overwhelming ride, but when you start channelling it into lyrics and melodies, you can create something so exquisitely beautiful you hope your ability to be raw, never goes away.
Mette said when she read the article of Avicii’s death, she thought of me. His death stirs something inside me, reminding me of many painful experiences and people I know who battle for their art. Mette told me that our emotions all live under one roof, and we have to find a way to make them live in harmony. She added “to write a song is to start with nothing. An hour later something new exists, and you cannot numb yourself for that process. It hurts when you’re not numb, but it can be exhilarating”.
Only time will tell us the exact cause of Avicii’s passing, but I’m reminded that creativity often comes with a price tag, and you owe it to yourself to make time for your well-being.
Rest easy Tim, you’ll be greatly missed.
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