Every picture has its shadows
And it has some source of light
Blindness, blindness and sight
I recently heard the author Ian Rankin talking about his character Rebus‘ favourite album, which remarkably enough happened to be his too! The album is Solid Air by John Martyn, ranked by many as one of the must have albums. Nothing to worry about there then, I’ve owned it for many years since I first discovered Martyn in the 1980’s.
Up until the release of that album, Martyn had been a folk singer songwriter and whilst those roots still show on this album (notably on Over The Hill) there is more to enjoy here. The smoky jazz feel to the title track continues in the Fender Rhodes on Don’t Want to Know. This track and the acoustic Martyn signature song May You Never are truly beautiful. So different to the dirty funk of Dreams By The Sea and I’d Rather Be The Devil. Yet for the contrast between the edgy aggression of these pieces and the lyricism of others on the album it all works.
Now this isn’t going to turn into an album review blog. It was the paradox that intrigued me as I drove along listening to Rankin rightly raving, because both aspects were part of this very complex man. In his time he wrote some truly moving songs that can bring a tear to the eye, and with his puckish good looks when younger this doubtless endeared a number of female fans to him. Yet he was also a man for whom drugs and alcohol regularly showed a different side. His “disagreements” with long-term collaborator Danny Thompson are legendary; though whether there is truth in story that one awoke from a binge to find themselves under the carpet in their hotel room, which had been nailed back down by the other I don’t know.
So we have a man with the voice of an angel, yet an inner devil.
I was thinking more about the extremes of personality again this week when I watched a documentary about the boxer Frank Bruno and his battle with being Bi-Polar (or Bi-Polo as he puts it!). This was a poignant tale following his daughter Rachel as she sought to learn more about the condition and the challenges or whether or not to medicate. Many with a mental illness will resist this route because however much they recognise the problems of their personality, it is nevertheless their personality that is being chemically altered. When one of Frank’s other daughters had him sectioned, it took hours for police and ambulance staff to get him to go to hospital.
Which made me think – what is the evolutionary benefit of personality? Why are we all so different, and why do some have traits which seem to carry no benefit whatsoever, whilst often at the same time having so much to offer in other areas? I don’t have an answer, though I know that some evolutionary psychologists see the extremes of behaviour as being no more than variation from the norm in the same way that some are exceptionally short or tall. Maybe they’re right.
I was going to finish by creating a composite self-portrait of some of my extremes of mood, but I’m clearly not a good enough actor to make it work! (And looking at this mugshot, it would be character parts rather than leading man anyway). Nevertheless this is still a composite. The eyes are from a happier picture, the mouth from a more serious expression. Rather like Martyn, I think it works.