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Editorial: The “Great Pain Produces Great Art” Misnomer

On January 15th, Dolores O’Riordan, lead singer of The Cranberries, passed away after being found unresponsive in a London hotel room. The Cranberries were a part of the musical fuel ramping my teenage years to heights. I don’t know many of age in the 90’s, regardless of their preferred musical genre, that don’t love (and try to sing) O’Riordan’s hypnotic vocals from their hit “Zombie.”  The said track was actually in the process of being revamped when the singer died.

As soon as the news broke, rumors immediately swirled about the potential cause of her early demise. O’Riordan had a known back pain issue that, despite her best efforts to continue, caused The Cranberries to cancel their international summer/fall tour  last year. Cue the murmurs of drug overdose. Those murmurs only increased when days later, the family of Tom Petty released a statement that the beloved singer had died from an accidental overdose of pain prescriptions, including the drug fentanyl. If that particular drug sounds familiar, it should. It was also named in the accidental overdose death of Prince in 2016. Petty, at the time of his passing, had been touring with a fractured hip among other ailments.

This brings so many different issues to light for me. As a fan, we are inherently selfish.  In order to hear our favorite songs, our love of music makes us oblivious or (let’s be honest) outright ignore the personal issues artists face.  When R&B singer Mary J Blige announced her divorce, I had multiple associates say they were sad for her but excited to hear what new music she would produce from the experience.

It all relates to the “great pain produces great art” misnomer.

Tragedy catapults the creative juices into trajectory levels no one can deny, right? I personally believe that to be false. Great artists produce great works regardless. Talent doesn’t exit the building just because life is on the upswing and it’s silly to think so. Inspiration can come from both good and bad situations of life. But do we put undue pressure on creatives? The fact that Petty felt compelled to tour even in the wake of such pain–does that speak to our own selfish fandom? Petty’s family did state he chose to continue doing what he loved, but I would’ve preferred him rested and present, making more of the music we love.

Then there is the flipside to a darker part of the conversation: opioid addiction. Surgeon General Jerome Adams has even made his own family struggles with opioid addiction public, in hopes of bringing more awareness to the problem.  Is awareness really a problem though? I still remember the shock of finding out Heath Ledger had died of accidental prescription drug overdose in 2008. These artists presumably had access to healthcare; meaning they had physicians, therapists, clinicians, and others available to not only monitor their usage but intervene on their behalf. Yet Prince was found unresponsive by opioid addiction specialist Dr. Howard Kornfeld’s son, Andrew, too late to provide the help he sought to give.

Because we feel we know our limits, drugs given to us by a doctor don’t seem to have the dangerous connotation an illicit one picked up in an abandoned house may have. But pain and circumstance is a hell of an equalizer. It’s important to remember that our beloved creatives are still people. People all go through their own internal struggles. Life happens to us–each and every one of us.  It is my sincere hope that it did not get the best of Dolores. 

*If you or a loved one are in need of help dealing with substance abuse, call SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP, a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders.*

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