Is it safe to go out now?

Musically I am definitely a child of the eighties. I was student in London, working in a radio station, and top 40 music gave a background to most everything I did. My favourite two bands were Madness and Squeeze, so you can imagine my delight when a few months ago I found out they were touring together, and I excitedly bought a ticket on the day they went on sale. The concert was last Friday at the big Arena in Glasgow and as the evening approached I began to feel more and more nervous.

Omicron was already beginning to spread and in Scotland, a group of those affected had been at a concert at the same venue a week before. This was the first time I had been out to any event like this. I had been to see a couple of films at the cinema, but this was a single room with thousands of singing fans. Should I go?

Well, in the end I decided I would go. I have had all three jabs and was feeling fighting fit. I wore a mask throughout (although most did not). I stayed on the outskirts of the crowd so that I could maintain some kind of social distance. And I left before the encores so that I could get ahead of the crowd.

Was it worth it? I really did love the songs and a great show was put on. And I did not catch Covid. It is now a week later, and tests show me still clear. It was a managed risk. If I had got ill, the chances are it would have been mild.

But I spent the evening on edge. After nearly two years of pandemic we are still nowhere near back to normal. Is it time to live with this disease or is it time to stay safe? What do you think?

How close are genius and madness?

This week I watched the 2014 film about Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys – “Love and Mercy”. I had only been peripherally aware of the story and found it fascinating. Wilson was the creative leader of the band behind such great pop tunes as “Surfin’ USA”, “California Girls” and “Fun, Fun, Fun”. Then in 1964 he had a nervous breakdown and stopped touring. He concentrated on working in the studio and wrote & produced the “Pet Sounds” album, generally recognised as one of the greatest records ever made. He then started on what he saw as his legacy – “Smile”. It was never finished as a Beach Boys album. His mental illnesses and use of drugs had caught up with him and his genius had turned to madness.

Wilson is now diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, an illness that amongst other things, gives him auditory hallucinations (voices in his head) . He also used a great deal of psychoactive drugs. He credits his illness and these drugs for helping him write great music. He is famous for long, complex sessions in the studio where he would bring together arrays of musicians to build the layered sound that became his trademark. If you listen to “God Only Knows” for instance, you can hear such weird instruments as orange juice containers, and Wilson uses two different musical keys at the same time. Without much doubt he is a musical genius.

But I also listened this week to his 2004 version of the “Smile” album he never finished with the Beach Boys. It received great critical acclaim, but I found it hard to listen to. Lots of great musical ideas mashed together. Like eating ice cream, a curry and pasta all at the same time.

During my life I have only a few times worked with creative geniuses. And each time I have found their strong emotions to be unnerving. Perhaps because as a white middle class Brit, my own emotions are so stunted. I could never allow myself to get that close to mental fragility to release the best of my creativity. That is certainly a gain for me. I wonder if it is also a loss.

What do you think? Do you need to be at least a little mentally unstable to create great beauty?