“Only someone who is continually suffering could invent such happiness—the happiness of an eye before which the sea of existence has grown still and which now cannot get enough of seeing the surface and this colorful, tender, quivering skin of the sea: never before has voluptuousness been so modest.”—Friedrich Nietzsche, “Epicurus,” The Gay Science (1887)
Listening to Grimes’s new album Art Angels (2015) on the Mountain today reminds me that Nietzsche was right: life without music really would be a mistake. It reminds me, as well, that gifted musicians can smooth the edges off of any sharp rock: and envelop the most unbearable sources of irritation: in something pearly, and divine. Like oysters, they can transform that which causes them pain into a Pearl of Great Price. Perhaps this is why the greatest sufferers produce the smoothest art, whilst those whose afflictions are comparably small—“mosquito bites of the soul” (to borrow Nietzsche’s phrase)—produce the harshest art. Although Billie Holiday’s bearing witness to one of the great horrors of the 20th century in “Strange Fruit” (1939), she does so with a sly sweetness that’s simply sublime; meanwhile in the waiting room, the whiny adolescent pop star on the radio, whose name escapes me, makes his garden-variety suburban middle-class problems seem like the end of the fucking world! Like Baileys Irish Cream, his pain is intoxicating but it’s not particularly strong. He can drink it straight. Great sufferers like Billie Holiday and Amy Winehouse cannot. They need to mix the fire-water of their pain into something sweet, to make it palatable. My God! What would life be without these musical magicians, these sorcerers of the spirit, these alchemists, who can turn any kind of shit into gold?
—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2016)