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#1
Old 03-05-2006, 10:45 AM
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Name a great artist who wasn't a tortured soul.

I'm reading a biography of Dorothy Parker, and we're now ticking down the deaths of the members of the Algonquin Round Table. Most died relatively young, and most had substance abuse problems, or marital problems, or financial problems, or all of the above. This biography has also made the comment that some of Mrs. Parker's later troubles stem from her troubled childhood, but her troubled childhood (at least as explicated by this biographer) really wasn't so troubled. But there's no question that Mrs. Parker herself had issues, what with her suicide attempts, drinking, failed relationships, etc. (The biographer also argues that during the happiest times of Mrs. Parker's life, when she was first married to Alan Campbell and before she miscarried, Dorothy couldn't write poetry anymore, just Hollywood screenplays. In other words, in her happiness, she was creatively bereft.)

So this is a two part question. First, name a great artist -- literary or otherwise -- who lead an untroubled life: no substance abuse problems, stable home life, just a regular joe. Second, do you think that, because we think that so many great artists were troubled, we look for that as an explanation for their talent?
#2
Old 03-05-2006, 11:10 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Campion
So this is a two part question. First, name a great artist -- literary or otherwise -- who lead an untroubled life: no substance abuse problems, stable home life, just a regular joe. Second, do you think that, because we think that so many great artists were troubled, we look for that as an explanation for their talent?
It's chicken & egging - The reason some artists have unique perspectives is because of their unique personalities, and there is no doubt that adversity produces more interesting _dramatic_ art. My best poetry (IMO) came when I was under emotional stress.

As to all type of representational art the picture is more mixed. There are certainly numerous authors who have led relatively comfortable material lives and have produced great works of history and scholarship. On the painting side I don't think Michaleangelo or Leonardo missed too many meals or starved as kids. Many great composers were well fed and housed by their patrons and were not originally poor.

Many of the great painters lived quite well. I think Whistler was comfortably upper-middle class in background. Thomas Hart Benton came form comfortable circumstances.

Ansel Adams had a very indulgent and caring father even by modern standards.
#3
Old 03-05-2006, 11:27 AM
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Henri Matisse had a pretty bourgeois lifestyle.
#4
Old 03-05-2006, 11:35 AM
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Peter Paul Reubens seems to have been a well-off, sucessful, contented man as well as a very talented artist. I'm sure there were others. J.S. Bach was not a tortured soul, from what I've read of him.

My take on this modern belief in the artist's brilliance or talent coming from some mental condition like autism or schitzophrenia is a rationalization for laziness. Developing an artistic talent is hard work. It takes vast amounts of time and a lot of self-disipline, but a lot of people these days simply do not want to believe that. Considering artistic genius a product of a mental condition excuses them from the results of their lack of will. "I will never be a great painter because I am too well-adjusted," is a lot easier for them to live with than "I will never be a great painter because I don't want to put in the effort."
#5
Old 03-05-2006, 11:44 AM
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JS Bach always comes to mind. He came from a good family, was financially successful, and his sustained musical output was pathologically high. His was the era were musicians, composers, and even writers were considered [icraftsmen, barely higher in social status than wheelwrights or blacksmiths. They were expected to lead reasonably upright artisan's lives.

I believe this began to change in the 18th century with the advent of patronship. Beethoven, for example, was given a generous stipend and his own place to live by a wealthy patron in exchange for any flight of fancy he wished to set down on paper. This was markedly different than the regular output and teaching burden that was required of Bach in Leipzig. Bach had a day job that he simply had to discharge.

This was the first stage in the transition from artist as laborer to artist as personality. Bach was a staid family man. Berlioz, in a jealous rage, dressed as a maid an attempted to kill his former lover, Marie Moke, along with her mother and her new fiance. He abandoned the plan halfway between Rome and Paris.

Furthermore, the middle of the 19th century endured extraordinary political turmoil. Many of its leading artists were taking part in the great revolutions of Europe, which further estranged their experiences from the ordinary and mundane.

Returning to the modern world, many artists and musicians cannot count on the unconditional backing of a wealthy patron. They take university appointments, work on government and private sector projects, and often produce their own work. As such, there are strong incentives for them to behave more as Bach than as Berlioz.
#6
Old 03-05-2006, 12:15 PM
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I suspect that posterity will regard Ron Howard a lot more highly than Werner Herzog. And how tortured a soul was Fellini, anyway?
#7
Old 03-05-2006, 12:26 PM
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I don't believe Pablo Picasso was a tortured soul. He was an upper-level genius who could be difficult to be around, but he never developed substance abuse problems that I'm aware of, he was financially sound most of his life, and he led an active life both socially and romantically. (He was a ballsy little guy, too: during the German occupation of Paris, a German officer, upon seeing Guernica [depicting the horrors of the German bombing of the Spanish town of Guernica] for the first time, asked Picasso: "Did you do this?"; Picasso replied, "No, you did!")

As far as why people seem to have more interest or regard for art coming from a tortured soul, I would imagine that it's just because people find conflict more interesting. It may also help them to feel more comfortable with accepting the greatness or importance of artwork they otherwise feel they don't understand or appreciate fully.
#8
Old 03-05-2006, 02:31 PM
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Looking no further than the Algonquin Round Table, what about Harpo Marx? By all accounts I've seen, he was a very stable, generous and kind man. Although he married relatively late in life, he only married once (unlike his brothers). He stayed with Susan Fleming for the remainder of his life, almost 30 years, and they adopted four children together.
#9
Old 03-05-2006, 02:36 PM
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Oh, and to answer the OP's other question- I've always personally traced the tortured artist thing back to Lord Byron, but it probably goes much farther back. Perhaps we liked to believe that people who create works that produce feelings within us have to be going through much more intense emotions in order to make that artwork come to life.
#10
Old 03-05-2006, 03:00 PM
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I believe Wallace Stevens had, given his education and background, a very ordinary life apart from his poetry-writing. He was a New York lawyer by training and eventually vice president of an insurance company in Hartford.

As for the second part, I think the point is that artists can depict their inner torments. Though they are a small minority of all those who are troubled, the artists are the ones who can put explain it well, from a personal point of view.Since they can do this, we get a picture of poets being more tortured than, say, insurance executives.
#11
Old 03-05-2006, 04:23 PM
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Darius Milhaud (a French composer) titled his autobiography Ma vie heureuse (My Happy Life). One of his students at Mills College once asked him why he said he had a happy life, since she had always thought that artists needed to be tortured to be good. I don't have the book in front of me, so I'm not sure exactly what he said to her, but a Google search gives me this, his response to a fan letter regarding Wagner's theory that art comes from "suffering, unhappiness, and frustration."

Quote:
I am glad you decided to write me about your problem (with Wagner's theories); here is my point of view, if you want it. I had a marvelously happy childhood. My wife is my companion, my collaborator; we are the best of friends, and this gives me great happiness. My son is a painter who works incessantly, and he is sweet and loving to his parents. Thus I can say that I've had a happy life, and if I compose, it's because I am in love with music and I wouldn't know how to do anything else. Your Wagner quote proves to me once again that he was an idiot.
#12
Old 03-05-2006, 04:59 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Marley23
Oh, and to answer the OP's other question- I've always personally traced the tortured artist thing back to Lord Byron, but it probably goes much farther back.
Orpheus, perhaps?
#13
Old 03-05-2006, 05:10 PM
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Avant garde composer Charles Ives sold insurance, and lived a comfortable upper middle-class life.
#14
Old 03-05-2006, 06:06 PM
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ErinPuff, that's the perfect answer. I'll plagiarize it when I develop some kind of talent, become famous, and get asked about my non-tortured life.

Marley23, I don't know anything about Harpo Marx. I remember he was mentioned in the biography, but more time is spent on Woolcott, Benchley, Sherwood, etc., who I think were more of Dorothy's intimates. If my 1930s/1940s itch continues, maybe I'll look for something about him. (Although given his lack of tortured-ness, how interesting could it be? )
#15
Old 03-05-2006, 06:13 PM
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Well, he was funny!

Let's see....how about a few jazz trumpet players?

Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie were a couple of pretty darned jolly geniuses.

Clifford Brown was famous for NOT being hooked on heroin during the 1950s, when nearly everyone else in the jazz world was (makes y'play more like Bird, y'see). Unfortunately he got killed in a car wreck on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in 1956, at the age of 25.
#16
Old 03-05-2006, 06:19 PM
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Originally Posted by Ukulele Ike
Well, he was funny!
:uts two and two together, gets four::

Oh -- not Karl's brother, then?
#17
Old 03-05-2006, 07:29 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Campion
If my 1930s/1940s itch continues, maybe I'll look for something about him. (Although given his lack of tortured-ness, how interesting could it be? )
I've been meaning to get his autobiography, Harpo Speaks. Supposedly it's a really fun read. I've read one of Groucho's books. I wouldn't call Groucho tortured either, but he was a difficult guy for sure.
#18
Old 03-05-2006, 07:33 PM
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The ultimate disproof: William Shakespeare. Grew up in comfortable circumstances and was successful quite early. It didn't hurt his talent in the slightest.
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#19
Old 03-05-2006, 07:48 PM
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The starving, misunderstood artist with a substance-abuse problem living in his gramma's garrett is largely a conceptual product of the early 19th-c, with a few exceptions before that which were understood as exceptional (Hugo van der Goes, Fra Filippo Lippi, del Sarto, Caravaggio, Rembrandt perhaps). I'd say Goya was one of the last true innocently-tragic figures, and everyone since has been hamming it up. You mostly have absolutely bourgeois, happy, successful artists with wives and kids and nice houses like Hans Memling and Raphael and Rubens and Van Dyck and Josh Reynolds etc etc.
#20
Old 03-05-2006, 09:32 PM
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Norman Rockwell?
#21
Old 03-06-2006, 01:28 AM
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It's also probably likely that the artists from troubled backgrounds get more press and attention simply because their stories are more interesting. Say you're a soft-piece journalist/arts writer, and you have to hype two upcoming exhibitions: who's going to have the more interesting story, a former junkie from a broken home who has schizophrenia or a guy who's grown up in a comfortable middle-class existence?
#22
Old 03-06-2006, 01:52 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RealityChuck
The ultimate disproof: William Shakespeare. Grew up in comfortable circumstances and was successful quite early. It didn't hurt his talent in the slightest.
First person I thought of when I opened this thread.

I'm pretty sure that Jane Austen's life was pretty much normal - except for the fact she didn't get married, which was odd only because of the times she lived in, I suppose. At the very least, I am quite sure she didn't abuse any substances.
#23
Old 03-06-2006, 02:05 AM
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[Marge]Balzac![/Marge]
#24
Old 03-06-2006, 02:08 AM
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Well, remember also that if Shakespeare (not getting into the Oxfordian/Marlovian hooplah but just assuming it was the actual man credited) was sexually abused by both parents and was addicted to powdered mummies and cocaine imported from the New World and three times put in jail for breaking his wife's jaw for not of ripaste making appropriate the table in a manner most timely, we'd have no idea. We don't even have any records connecting him to the authorship of his plays from his own lifetime- we have next to no idea whether he was happy, sad, whatever. (We do know he outlived his son and had other personal tragedyes).

I just saw a Larry King retrospective on Don Knotts, who I think most would recognize as a genius. (Think Barney Fife was an easy character to create and play? Try creating some character who is that perfectly realized and consistently hysterical- it's way harder than playing a straight-man sheriff or a Law & Order detective.) By all accounts he was happy and beloved and a thoroughly positive person. True he was divorced a couple of times, primarily due to his workaholism, but even then he remained good friends with his ex-wives, and also by all accounts was quite the lady's man. His kids, co-workers, family and friends all seem to have adored him and none seem to have regarded him as tortured.
#25
Old 03-06-2006, 02:36 AM
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Thomas Kinkaid?
#26
Old 03-06-2006, 02:50 AM
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We know Mozarts personality rather well from the incessant stream of letters and diaries he wrote, and by all accounts he was a kind, generous and cheerful man who loved his wife and kids a great deal, was very happy making good music, and had no more money troubles then most people.

The movie " Amadeus" distorts his personality to make the story more interesting.
#27
Old 03-06-2006, 08:21 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Krokodil
I suspect that posterity will regard Ron Howard a lot more highly than Werner Herzog. And how tortured a soul was Fellini, anyway?
Or Kubrick, for that matter? From what I've read of him, he seems to have been a pretty well-adjusted, capable individual. I understand that he felt contempt for any artist who was not also a competent businessman.
#28
Old 03-06-2006, 08:26 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gerome
It's also probably likely that the artists from troubled backgrounds get more press and attention simply because their stories are more interesting. Say you're a soft-piece journalist/arts writer, and you have to hype two upcoming exhibitions: who's going to have the more interesting story, a former junkie from a broken home who has schizophrenia or a guy who's grown up in a comfortable middle-class existence?
One wonders if their admirers aren't using the artist's messy lives to rationalize their own: "Well, Poe was pretty badly screwed up, and he was a great writer. My life's pretty screwed up, too. It's 'cuz I'm so artistic, and bourgeois society has no place for me ... "
#29
Old 03-06-2006, 08:47 AM
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Me.

Unfortunately, mostly for all of you, I am not going to be appreciated until well after I am dead.
#30
Old 03-06-2006, 08:57 AM
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There's just one thing that's been bothering me, no-one has mentioned Peter Falk yet.
#31
Old 03-06-2006, 09:10 AM
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My first thought, reading the OP was Charles Addams.

I'm surprised that Bertie Wooster, of all people, didn't mention P. G. Wodehouse. From what I recall of his life story he was a reasonably happy, contented man, even in some less that idyllic situations.

There are a lot of artists who were tortured. There are also a lot who weren't. The presence or absence of torturing circumstances is not predictive of talent.

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As a mental health consumer I have a particular hate for a poster* that one can find in most centers where the treatment of those with mental health problems can be found. It lists a number of famous persons who can be reasonably diagnosed with mental health problems. It includes Abraham Lincoln, several writers, and Emporer Norton I.



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*The second article touches on the people listed, and their accomplishments.
#32
Old 03-06-2006, 09:18 AM
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Reading these responses makes me realize that the definition of "artist" is much wider than most would suspect.
#33
Old 03-06-2006, 09:39 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ranchoth
Norman Rockwell?
Rockwell wasn't an artist, he was an illustrator!

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#34
Old 03-06-2006, 10:22 AM
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I took a Japanese literature class not knowing much at all about Japanese literature besides the Tale of Gengi and found out that every single important modernish Japanese author that we studied did himself in one way or another. It got to be kind of funny, really. Particularly when that Dazai guy kept making suicide pacts with girls and they'd die and he'd live. How on earth do you find the next woman to make a suicide pact with once that gets out? And then we get to Ooka Shohei, who wrote Fires on the Plain, informed by his experience of the outright horrors of the Japanese campaign in the Phillipines, who comes home from the war, writes a book, lives happily ever after. So it goes to show you never can tell. Perhaps those other guys didn't have enough real struggle in their lives, like, I dunno, starving in the Phillipines, so they had to make their own drama?
#35
Old 03-06-2006, 10:59 AM
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Tolkien. He created a beautiful myth, several languages, and an entire world; yet he was an incredibly boring university professor. Even fighting in WWI didn't mess him up. While everyone around him was writing depressing and dull poetry he was inventing Elvish.
#36
Old 03-06-2006, 11:18 AM
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Originally Posted by garygnu
Thomas Kinkaid?
Karma will get him yet, you mark my word...
#37
Old 03-06-2006, 11:34 AM
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Originally Posted by garygnu
Thomas Kinkaid?
His soul will be tortured later.

Get your tickets now!
#38
Old 03-06-2006, 11:45 AM
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It can be difficult to gauge if someone was a tortured soul or not. Some hide it pretty well, some you wouldn't expect to be under any duress due to wealth, health, stable family, gregariousness, etc. Perhaps the artists listed in this thread really were tortured to some extent or another, thus contributing to their genius, but it wasn't apparent externally. I'm hardly an artist, but I dabble in a little writing and music and I find a little emotional distress can often add a little something to whatever I'm working on.
#39
Old 03-06-2006, 01:31 PM
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#40
Old 03-06-2006, 01:49 PM
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Many great SF and fantasy writers have been pretty well-adjusted fellows. Robert Heinlein, E.E. "Doc" Smith, Isaac Asimov -- none of them "tortured souls" by any measure.
#41
Old 03-06-2006, 01:51 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Huasat
Tolkien. He created a beautiful myth, several languages, and an entire world; yet he was an incredibly boring university professor. Even fighting in WWI didn't mess him up. While everyone around him was writing depressing and dull poetry he was inventing Elvish.
His contemporary T.H. White, OTOH, did have some struggles with his gender identity, and with depression.

C.S. Lewis never had any sexual or substance-abuse problems, AFAIK, but he was a "tortured soul" on general principles.
#42
Old 03-06-2006, 02:18 PM
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Frank Zappa.

In interviews with band members, many commented about how deeply he cared for his family.

I'm sure he had his share of idiosynchrasies, but I wouldn't classify him as a tortured soul.
#43
Old 03-06-2006, 02:19 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by garygnu
Thomas Kinkaid?

I believe the OP was referring to great artists, not "paint-by-numbers" hacks.
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#44
Old 03-06-2006, 02:20 PM
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Well, remember also that if Shakespeare (not getting into the Oxfordian/Marlovian hooplah but just assuming it was the actual man credited) was sexually abused by both parents and was addicted to powdered mummies and cocaine imported from the New World and three times put in jail for breaking his wife's jaw for not of ripaste making appropriate the table in a manner most timely, we'd have no idea. We don't even have any records connecting him to the authorship of his plays from his own lifetime- we have next to no idea whether he was happy, sad, whatever. (We do know he outlived his son and had other personal tragedyes).

True, but on the other hand, if he'd had a penchant for trouble equivalent to Jonson's or Marlowe's, we'd certainly have heard about that.

Robert Herrick seems to have had a long, respectable, and mostly rather mundane life, unless you count the fact that his father committed suicide when he was a toddler.
#45
Old 03-06-2006, 02:40 PM
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I was coming to this thread to offer Wallace Stevens, who is one of the greatest poets of the 20th Century, and who had a pretty middle-of-the-road mainstream lifestyle. other than the fact that his first book of poetry wasn't greeted as enthusiastically as he may have wanted, he didn't really have a lot of static in his life.
#46
Old 03-06-2006, 02:51 PM
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Originally Posted by Muad'Dib
Reading these responses makes me realize that the definition of "artist" is much wider than most would suspect.

Not simply "artist," but "great artist" is even harder to quantify.
#47
Old 03-06-2006, 03:26 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Huasat
Tolkien. He created a beautiful myth, several languages, and an entire world; yet he was an incredibly boring university professor. Even fighting in WWI didn't mess him up. While everyone around him was writing depressing and dull poetry he was inventing Elvish.
Hard to define "mess him up". It did effect him deeply. As I'm sure having most of your friends killed around you while you lived due to dumb luck would effect anyone. LOTR would not be the book it was without those experiences. Maybe it never would have been written at all. He was a very private person. It would not surprise me if he suffered from some type of PTSD. He did seem to be able to cope with it pretty well.
#48
Old 03-06-2006, 03:34 PM
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How about William Blake? Paul McCartney? Charles Dickens? Cannonball Adderley? Stanley Kubrick? Jerry Lewis? Hardly tortured souls...

mm
#49
Old 03-06-2006, 03:36 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mack
Frank Zappa.

In interviews with band members, many commented about how deeply he cared for his family.

I'm sure he had his share of idiosynchrasies, but I wouldn't classify him as a tortured soul.
He didn't like drugs at all, either. He went well out of his way to may his disdain for drug use plain to everybody, and hated to see people at his concerts who were obviously stoned. (Ian Anderson hated that, too.)
#50
Old 03-06-2006, 03:46 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mack
Frank Zappa.

In interviews with band members, many commented about how deeply he cared for his family.

I'm sure he had his share of idiosynchrasies, but I wouldn't classify him as a tortured soul.
He supposedly spent an amazing amount of time in his home studio, and he may have been kind of an obsessive figure - his Wikipedia bio has some examples - but I think he probably still escapes the 'tortured' label.

Aside from cigarettes, he was vocally opposed to drug abuse.
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