The Boss is Human

For forever, admitting to having mental health problems has  been acceptable only in Woody Allen films where they spend a fortune on therapy, though they never seem to get any better. Now  it seems to almost be an epidemic of it among the rich and famous.

Now The Boss has fessed up to suffering depression.

How can this be? The man called the hardest working person in rock, he of the marathon concerts,  the most productive singer songwriter and epitome of working class values: how can he be suffering doubt and mental pain?

He has confessed  to David Remnick in The New Yorker, that he has been in therapy since 1982. This manly man who seems to live in blue jeans, and in his keynote speech at South By Southwest festival this year showed himself to be one of the most passionate and lucid musicians of his generation, if not ever, has suffered isolation and self loathing, fear of mental instability and a lack of connection with his late father.

Yet in many ways this should not be surprising. In his huge output of songs, he has dealt with many of the problems of the human condition. He has penned some of the most uplifting anthems, but never shied away from exposing his inner pain and turmoil. If he didn’t suffer like the rest of us, how could he have written so many great songs that so many people connect with?

There is a theory that happy people cannot sing the blues, which holds a certain amount of truth, but beyond that is the question why artists exist at all.

Why not have a quiet life,  fall in love, raise kids, retire to the country.

Why struggle with life on the road? With the constant strain of having to come up with new stuff, to work without a safety net? Why do so many do it, even those who never achieve fame or fortune?

Maybe because they have to.

Maybe because there’s a bee buzzing in their heads that makes them different to the rest of us, and they have to tell people about it, they have to find ways of dealing wit h that buzzing that will never ever go away.

Most of the famous celebrities who have come out with their mental health problems have suffered, not just with the problems themselves, but also with how society treats them once the genie is out of the bottle. Those who have done this seem to be middle aged, they have established careers and by their success at least, seem to have  – if not conquered their demons, have found a way of living with them. Most of them seem to have turned to their families, or to therapy.

The Boss has taken a typically active method to deal with his demons. He has worked hard, harder than he had to, he talks of his marathon shows as “a tremendous push towards self-obliteration”, which maybe doesn’t resolve the problems, but it puts distance between him and them, so they loom lower on his horizon. Either that, or they leave him so exhausted he has no energy left to think about them. This puts songs like ‘Born to Run’ in a rather different light. Many young people want to escape where they come from, but it seems he was trying to escape his demons, trying through his music to find a better place.

We all have our own version of heaven, so also of what we define as happiness. Many self help books try to direct us to some form of nirvana, but negative emotions, emotional pain can be an incredible inspiration to great art. One of the greatest highs that are still legally available is that of completing a major work of art, whether it is a song, a poem, a painting, a piece of furniture, whatever presses your buttons. Such achievement can act as an antidote to whatever pain a person is suffering.

It is not a cure, because some things cannot be cured. They just are.

I recall the wonderful Jack Lemon film, ‘Save The Tiger’ in which Lemon asks the foreman of his clothing factory, a survivor of the holocaust, how he finds happiness, how he survived. He was asked in return what he wanted from life, and he replied, ‘Another year’.

Maybe that’s all we can ask for. Just putting one foot after another. Then maybe you wake up one day and we are somewhere else.

As Terence Blacker wrote : “Establishing the connection between inner restlessness and outer success, Springsteen is saying more about psychological problems than most of the blubbing celebrities who go public about their own fragility. Trying to attain a government-approved level of wellbeing is pointless. Sometimes the best ways to deal with demons is by looking ahead, and knowing that none of us have a right to happiness. ”

And never forget that having a life that allows us the luxury of discussing such matters is a rare thing. Most people on this planet, now and throughout history, have been too busy struggling to stay alive to be having such discussions. No matter how depressed a person is, they are still more fortunate than most, even if they are too depressed to see this.

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