I’ve not watched a lot of TV over the Xmas period – I’m even waiting to watch Doctor Who until I’ve got my new monitor set up – but one of the things that I did was a documentary on the late comedian, Bill Hicks.
I never got into the whole Bill Hicks thing when he was at the height of his popularity. Some friends were but it largely passed me by. I’m not sure whether I would have liked it had I been introduced to his comedy back then. In those days, there were very few comedians who made me laugh and it was only when friends kept riffing off Eddie Izzard that I discovered that comedian.
But you know, every so often a friend will post a Bill Hicks Youtube clip on Facebook and I’ll wonder whether humour now 20 years old would have appealed to a 20-year younger me. I can’t honestly call it.
Bill suffered with substance abuse and died tragically young of cancer, and it’s the abuse, rather than the comedy, that had me really interested in him.
You see, I have a can of lager after work and I’m unable to do anything even resembling productive so I’ve always wonder how these creative geniuses, people such as Hicks, Philip K Dick, Hunter S Thompson, etc., managed to be completely off their heads and yet still manage to produce such incredible pieces of work.
It’s puzzled me for years, yet I think the documentary I watched finally answered it for me. It did a good job of not glamourizing the substance abuse but instead discussing how it affected his art.
It’s always quite comforting for me to see that geniuses also suffer with self-doubt . The substance abuse allows them to turn off those nagging voices and really push boundaries and probably explains why so many works of world-changing art are the product of an addled mind.
I’m not advocating that every writer should get drunk before sitting down in front of the word processor, nor do I think that plotting sessions should be preceeded by magic mushrooms. In fact, I think if anything, this demonstrates to me the need to listen to that inner voice you’re afraid to listen to because it has something positive to say.
I have no doubt for every drunk genius, there are ten, a hundred, a thousand… drunks whose creativity is still bad when off their head. Substance abuse does not guarantee creative excellence. The creative excellence has to be there from the start for the substance abuse to build on.
For that reason, amongst others, you won’t see me doing this anytime soon. I suffer with as much self-doubt as the next man (although it’s come down from the insane levels it used to be at), but substance abuse (unless caffeine counts?) doesn’t suit my future. If anything, my takeaway from the documentary is to keep striving, keep pushing, keep doing your thing when everyone else says different. Being out your mind adds nothing that a little self-belief and maybe a splash of arrogance and ego can’t.