There was an interview in Spin this month with the only constant member of the prolific band The Mountain Goats, John Darnielle. Darnielle is a former heroin user who noted that his drug-using period did not coincide with his music-making period:
“…the idea of drug-fueled creativity is weird to me because I think a proper addict puts his creativity into his using: ‘Why should I worry about making something when I could be getting high?’ You can’t court two mistresses, you know?”
This makes sense to me, and yet we do often associate addiction with creativity – from the Beatles to Charlie Parker, from Keith Moon to Keith Richards. With maybe the exception of hallucinogens (which can actually conjure new images in the mind), there is no way that the use of drugs in itself can enhance creativity. I think that successful artists and musicians are often addicts because there might be some underlying trait that causes people to be vulnerable to both the curse of addiction and the curse of creativity. After all, there are “addictive” personalities, and these personalities are rich tapestries of features. Having a creative mind may come with the side effect of liking unnatural reinforcers a bit too much. Who knows?
Another possibility is that the variable behind both drug use and artistic expression is some sort of mental instability. After all, there is a strong connection between mental disorder and creativity, which has been explored by many researchers, including Kay Redfield Jamison (a victim of bipolar disorder herself, she is a gifted writer – see “Touched by Fire” for her treatment of this particular subject). Schizophrenia and mania are especially likely to influence the creative mind. I’m not saying that drug addiction isn’t also a mental disorder, but it is an externalizing one, and one could argue that art is just another form of externalizing some inner torment.
On a related note, the Strokes are back together after a hiatus. Part of the reason they stopped recording in the first place? Albert Hammond, Jr. was in rehab. Yup.