“Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun. Now there’s a look in your eyes, like black holes in the sky.” The first lyrics from Pink Floyd’s “Shine on You crazy Diamond”, released in 1975 and written for Syd Barrett (noticed how the first letters of the title form his name?). It is a tribute to the founding member of the band whose mental illness led him to leave quite early in their road to success.
It’s not the only case of a talented musician being chased by his own demons. Another name that pops first in mind is Ian Curtis of Joy Division, who was also suffering from depression (his life beautifully depicted in Anton Corbijn’s film “Control”). Or Brian Wilson, leader and co-founder of the Beach Boys, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Or Sinead O’Connor, who once said that her being bipolar was “as a gaping hole in the center of her being”. And nowadays there are many artists that admit to suffering from mental illness, some cases more severe than others.
It is quite obvious from their work, that musicians that struggle with mental illness often get inspired by what they’re going through and find a creative outlet and catharsis in their creations. For us as the audience, these songs of suffering and sadness might keep us company through our worst moments, when we’re overcoming personal problems, when we’re feeling down and lonely. In other cases, it makes us feel that we’re not the only ones going through a mental breakdown, that these people have been there before us and have lived to tell the tale.
What we cannot grasp however, is the fact that these artists were able to make this beautiful music despite of their illness, not because of it. Creativity is very often linked to mental disorders, depression is seen as a creative force behind great works of art. But in fact the illness itself or the medication that’s prescribed to battle it can be obstacles for the musician and performer, blocking their ability to express their feelings, making them numb and unsure of themselves.
Unfortunately, mental conditions in artists tend to be glamourized, or treated like something extraordinary that we couldn’t encounter in our everyday life. This is starting to change in the last couple of years, with artists publically speaking about their struggles not in the form of confessionals, but more as an effort to lift the stigma from illnesses related to the psyche. That means a lot, especially to people who are going through such a situation themselves. It helps them to feel less ashamed, to seek out help, to fight their own battles, to be inspired. Such conditions shouldn’t be viewed as artistic blessings, that ignite the spark of creativity and make great song-lyrics material, but as a reality that we should all be aware of.
Following this path, this year’s edition of IN-EDIT festival shines a spotlight on films about people that have struggled with mental disorders in some form or another. Great artists and inspiring personalities whose stories could teach us to embrace ourselves as they are, to be open and ready to listen to the people around us and what they are feeling and most of all to be accepting and loving instead of prejudiced and suspicious when it comes to mental health. Every diamond has to shine.
Come on you raver, you seer of visions,
Come on you painter, you piper, you prisoner, and shine!
*Featured photo: The documentary “The Devil and Daniel Johnston” (2005) shines a light on this great American artist who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder