September 3, 2012 by NowhereButPop
If I’m insane, it’s for one reason and one reason alone: perpetual disillusionment. It’s funny, I’d suppose that’s a pretty big (and melodramatic) statement to say, but it’s nonetheless true, and it’s something I’ve only ever told one person. Then again, we may all be insane. A friend once told me “the only sane people are the ones you don’t know.” Nothing could be further from a lie. Everyone has their own shit to deal with, and everyone has their breaking point. It’s no surprise that madness and genius are only marginally different.
Pete Townshend, Pablo Picasso, George Orwell, Frederick Nietzsche and Ted Kaczynski (the Unabomber) are all much more similar than I’m sure any of them would like to admit. Without a doubt all of these men are very intelligent, if not geniuses in their respective fields of study, yet only two of these men are considered to be mad when in fact all five of them probably had the potential for madness.
I’ll start with the most obvious one first: Ted Kaczynski. A man who sent bombs to random people for almost 20 years is surely insane, and his manifesto proved him to be inane as well. Unlike his sanity, what is not called into question is his mathematical prowess. Despite his madness, he still claimed the title of child prodigy and enrolled in Harvard at age 16, then earned his Ph. D by age 25. And yet, the call of madness proved to be so overwhelming that he bought a shack in Montana and spent 20 years of his life terrorizing strangers. Besides his hobby of maiming strangers, he also spent this time perfecting his anti-socio-industrial manifesto in which he tries to relay how industrialization will lead to the destruction of humanity and how people will become slaves to technology. What no one understands is that even with madmen, there is a method to their madness. They are only considered mad when nobody else understands that method. Because no one cares about math, how then could people understand a mathematical prodigy of whom only about 10 in the country knew what he was talking about? The answer is: we can’t. So when no one listened to him, Kaczynski just killed people.
What many people either overlook, or just don’t know is that apparently Ted was part of an experiment where the students wrote down their personal beliefs, dreams, and goals. Without their knowledge a lawyer read their essays, and then proceeded to berate, belittle and basically bully the students using their innermost thoughts and hopes as a springboard for his attack. Naturally the participants grew increasingly livid and enraged, but were unable to do anything about it. How can you we someone has you by your most secretive of thoughts? It’s funny the things that are done in the name of science.
Friedrich Nietzsche, the greatest syphilitic of all time. Whether you love him or hate him, or are completely unaware of him as most people are, he is one of the most influential philosophers ever. The man who came up with such ideas as the abyss, the will to power, and the ubermensch was seen as a madman in his time, and yet his ideas became very prominent in the early 20th century with the rise of the Nazis and Freudian psychology. Besides having syphilis and trying to protect a horse from being whipped, his very ideas were interpreted as those of someone insane. And because that was the reality he endured, he eventually did go insane and spent the last years of his life in an asylum. Part of the fact was that no one listened to him, and so what could be argued as his genius dissipated to madness all because no one wanted to listen to him.
The society in which we live in places a high value on sensual stimulation, not intellectual stimulation. Is this a sign of the times or just an irrefutable statement on humanity? Either way it’s not a bad thing, it’s just the way things are. If all we did was think about everything there is to think about, then for sure we would all go insane. There isn’t as high an influence and value placed on things like math and philosophy and thought as there is on things like music and art and books. Despite the latter three having the capacity to be insightful and intellectual, more often than not they are at the very least construed to be entertainment. Anyway you cut it math is still boring, and philosophy is haughty and ruled by sophists claiming to be open minded thinkers….bullshit. For this reason, the next three men were able to be considered geniuses and praised by our society; it reached the masses and was accepted by them. The reason why is because they were good at what they did. In most cases adoration on a mass level is enough to stave off insanity.
Pablo Picasso, the greatest artist of the 20th century, and a man who brought abstract and cubism to the forefront of the artistic world may very well have had the potential for madness. Let’s say no one thought he had any talent as an artist, how do we know he wouldn’t have taken over a European nation and started a world war. There’s no way art critics saw any of his first paintings and thought to themselves “oh this guy is the spinning image of sanity…there’s probably nothing wrong with him.” Simply based on the fact that others thought he was talented did he become “Pablo Picasso.” He had to explain the meanings behind his paintings and in the obscurity of the underlying emotions did people understand what he was saying. Art as a form of entertainment is different than Math or philosophy, because people care about entertainment. Therefore whatever you do as an artist or musician or whatever is completely dependent on what others think of it regardless of if it’s good or not. A wrongful assessment would be enough to drive anyone mad.
Intellect is a terrible burden to carry. Its silence speaks volume, and the isolation that it brings is a pyrrhic price to pay. That’s why all of these men didn’t have any friends, because they couldn’t relate to any of the other shitheads around them. As a result, as was the case with Orwell, the person develops a superiority complex that acts as a veneer to guard their insecurity about not fitting in. One of the most well regarded writers of the 20th century, he was still described as being aloof and odd. His only few friends were other like minded individuals. I mean, this is the case with everyone, but bear in mind that there are way more stupid people than there are smart people. In comparison to that there are way more smart people than there are true intellectuals.
Despite the fact that he longed for his wife, he cheated on her incessantly, which I guess is a fairly common trait in all of history’s purported “Great Men”. It wasn’t because he didn’t love her, it was because he needed the validation to prove that to a great many women he was attractive. As a writer, and as an intellectual, the onus was always put on his smarts, and his literary skills and I guess not much was made of his physical appearance. As with all self aware people, I’m guessing that he realized this disparity and rationed that if he was being praised for his writing which was good, then the reason he isn’t getting any accolades (or head possibly) was because he physically didn’t look good. See, being smart isn’t all it’s cracked up to be; you just become more aware of all the things that aren’t said and let the doubt grow.
Pete Townshend is out of his mind, and I mean that in the best possible way. When it comes to music, he is the greatest musician there is. The complexity of Who songs are so intricate that they can’t be written by someone who doesn’t comprehend it on an intuitive level. There is no doubt in my mind that if he lived in any other time, he would be criticized as crazy. Music is a thing, and it’s a thing he does very well. Without it he would probably go nuts; again look at Hitler and what he did when he couldn’t be an artist. Townshend is very similar to Picasso and Orwell in that he is incredibly talented and creative but he does, or at least did, have a rather large sexual appetite.
As a quick interjection, the thing about rock stars, the good ones at least, is that they all have a strong sexual drive. This isn’t a by-product of the job. No, it’s who these people are as individuals and not rock stars. That same creative fuel that is responsible for whatever mastery they possess is also that same fuel for sex. It’s a tradeoff as are all things in life. David Lee Roth is still going to be just a gigolo even if he never was in Van Halen. And yes, there are exceptions such as Bill Wyman. The only reasons why he fucked 20,000 women is because he was in the Rolling Stones, and because he was trying that hard to purposefully bed 20,000 women. Just as genius fuels madness, creativity apparently fuels libido.
The thing with Townshend though is that we can never truly understand what he is talking about. We can try and we can get close, but no one besides him will ever truly comprehend what the hell he is talking about. That’s what he was trying to tell us in Tommy and it’s the exact same reason why Lifehouse so completely failed. Pete Townshend is the titular character in Tommy. He’s an outcast who finds the means to knowledge and inner peace, yet when he tries to impart that message upon his legion of devotees, they won’t have it because it means giving up physical pleasures such as weed, booze and sex. As a result, he is alienated even further because of his knowledge. What he’s saying is that people want the music and not the message. And that’s why Townshend went crazy.
It wasn’t in the conventional way; it was in the sad way when a person realizes that they are defeated. Later Who albums reflected this mentality. The most crucial piece of this puzzle is the failure of Lifehouse. It sealed his fate so to speak. That is when Townshend noticed that he could never connect to most people in the way in which he wanted to. Lifehouse failed because of everyone else; no one could comprehend what exactly he was talking about. The plot to the rock opera was basically a mix between 1984, The Matrix, and the Woodstock concert. It was supposed to be an ever changing experience based on the mood of the fans and of the band itself. It couldn’t be done for two reasons: 1) something of that magnitude is completely beyond the realm of practicality, 2) more importantly however, not everyone else is Pete Townshend. Had that been the case then the album would have been made and everyone would understand the explicit and implicit messages of the album. But because of the sheer impossibility of it, the band had to pick 9 songs and reorganize it into Who’s Next. It’s still a great album, but the disappointment that because of everyone else’s incomprehensibility the real album couldn’t have been made, without question weighted on him.
Enter Quadrophenia. Their third consecutive rock opera, yet the greatest Who album ever. It’s basically about Pete being pissed off at everyone, including himself. He’s disillusioned with everyone else because they neither understand what he is going through, nor care so long as he puts out another hit. He’s mad at himself for becoming this figure that no one, even he himself, can relate to anymore. And he went crazy in a controlled way. How else can someone who is so above everyone else in terms of musical meaning and writing, come to terms with the shortcomings of everyone else? What saved him though is the material mentality of the time. He didn’t have to channel his frustration mentally, instead he became a womanizing alcoholic….and then got better.
What these five men have in common are two things. The first is they all suffer from the “Lifehouse Conundrum”. A plight wherein a person is so apt and adept at a certain something that because of their intuitive knowledge of it, they are unable to relate that to anyone else and therefore have a difficult time communicating and connecting to others. Think of it this way: why does a great athlete usually make a terrible coach? It’s the same thing just applied to different circumstances. The second commonality is that they all tried to express themselves as creative individuals. They were all judged for it, some passed and others failed. The ones who were allowed to express themselves became adored and famous while the ones who failed to satisfy the desires of the masses became madmen. That last sentence isn’t necessarily true as I’m sure Kaczynski is nuts and I’m sure Charles Manson would still be a murderer even if he became the next Frankie Avalon. Society didn’t like how Nietzsche and Kaczynski (pre-bombing days) thought and expressed themselves and so it drove them to do terrible things. Again, I know there were other factors, but the point is that in a society so dependent on mass acceptance, madness becomes a totally viable and tangible option for those discarded and rejected by lesser minds. The adage about geniuses not being appreciated or recognized or whatever in their own time, has some merit at least. What does it say about us then that genius is only understood in terms of how it benefits us on a wide scale? Is this the abyss staring back at us then?