Friday, September 20, 2013

A Fly on The Wall, September 20, 2013

The Madness Within
by Jim Murchison 

Last week I talked about a world that seems mad and how art can save you from it, but there is a dark dangerous side on the edge of genius that sometimes is exploited with complete disregard for the artists that bring light to so many other lives.

Sometimes when a commodity is hot and developed too quickly it cannot keep up with the force of the publicity machine nor bear the weight of the pressure brought on by unrestricted adulation and disproportionate wealth and fame. A spotlight can be a formidable weight and talent is a commodity bought and sold as readily as farm produce and flipped as quickly as real estate.

“There is a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased that line.”

People often shake their heads not understanding how someone that has everything can throw it away. No one has everything or is free from suffering and the balancing act is difficult. Some artists like Van Gogh go mad and never feel that they were truly appreciated or understood. Others can never reconcile the loss of privacy as everyone feels they are entitled to a piece of them. 

In the world of the performing arts there are people that can only truly relate on stage or in concert. People said of the great Canadian jazz guitarist Lenny Breau that he was a wonderful spirit but that he really only knew how to do one thing well. 

The 27 club is full of examples of people that burned too brightly too early. Most people were shocked at the death of Heath Ledger. Almost everyone saw Amy Winehouse’s demise coming. Theatre, not having the same level of exposure generally has less examples or at least less public exposure of these gargantuan falls, but certainly they are there as well. 

The multitalented and dryly witty composer, pianist and actor Oscar Levant probably summed it up the best, “There is a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased that line.” Oscar Levant had a clear understanding of his own addiction and instability in the real world. The producers of his variety program would yank him out of the institution where he had been committed to do the program. The ratings were still good, so why not? If you see the clips of him playing piano live while sweating and looking completely zoned out, you get an understanding of what might be a criminal neglect on the part of producers and promoters. 

Since I am on this line and could go on for a long time about how we are fascinated by the quirky and strange and the thin line between survival and destruction perhaps next week I'll talk about great plays about madness.  I think what I am really speaking of is humanity and how it moves you; how all the great performers and writers have it in some form or other and how difficult it is to harness but thank god for us that people take those risks.

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