“The worse childhood you have, the better artist you become.”
The renowned visual artist, Marina Abramovic, made this statement during an interview for CBS Sunday Morning some time ago. It made an immediate mark on me and rang painfully true. I don’t know much about the details of her childhood, but based on this statement and the little bit I do know, it doesn’t seem to have been a very good one. For her, the pain of her childhood is the fuel for her art.
I think she is onto something very important with the above statement. For me, the most compelling music is that which seems to be borne out of pain, struggle, or discontent. When I was younger, I was all about angry and/or rebellious music. It’s what drew me to Rage Against the Machine, Project 86 , and U2. During the past several years, as I have experienced some significant emotional healing, I started listening to sadder stuff. The Civil Wars were the door into sad music for me.
The anger, rebellion, and sorrow that drew me to these artists and those like them came from my own childhood. Like so many of us (I would argue all of us), I was deeply wounded as a child. I experienced deep rejection, abuse, and neglect. In the years leading up to my healing experience, my response to these wounds was anger and rebellion. This anger was not healthy. It was aggressive and controlling. As I began to see with some clarity that I had been wounded, the anger began to melt into sadness and grief. Now that I have experienced some significant healing, I find myself drawn simply to what feels like genuine emotion. That’s what I write about here. And, I write about it because the emotionality of music has helped me fully feel what I have needed to feel as I have been getting well.
The reason I can relate to emotive music is the genuine emotion so many artists pour out in their music. Without that, I would not be able to connect with their songs the way I do. Furthermore, the emotion they share likely comes from similar places as the emotion I feel when listening to them. When I listen to Sanctuary Hum by Project 86, for example, I get amped up and angry. This makes sense, as the song focuses on emotional, physical, and spiritual abuse in a church setting, specifically by a church leader. This resonates deeply with me, as I have experienced spiritual abuse myself. My own wounds have led me to want to protect others from being wounded. The song is an anthem, encouraging the abused person to stand up in the truth and to not let the abuser win. Even writing about that, in this moment, has me a little charged up. The emotion and context of the song beat at the same rhythm as my heart. And, the obvious connection here is that the emotion and context of that song came from the writer’s (Andrew Schwab) own experience.
Here’s the simple truth: we are all broken. We have all, whether or not we see it yet, been abused and/or neglected. We are all “damaged goods.” If we don’t own up to that, we are simply fooling ourselves. We all need healing.
I am convinced that a powerful avenue of that healing is self-expression. We are all built with innate significance. Each one of us was given a voice. Among the different ways you may use your voice, one of the most important ways is taking what is in you, the good, bad, and ugly, and getting it out there for others to see. Sometimes, that simply means you share the story of your wounds with a trusted friend or with a small group committed to your recovery and well-being, like what we experience at Wounded at Valleybrook Church. Sometimes, it means that you create something that expresses the emotional responses to the wounds that live in your soul. For me, that has come out in a variety of ways: writing, creating “identity presentations,” and sharing my story verbally. These expressions have been a central part of my healing process. They have helped me gain clarity about who I am, as well as who I am not. They have helped me create a dividing line between the parts of me that are genuinely me and the parts that I have taken on from my wounds and from my negative responses to those wounds. They have helped me grow closer to wholeness.
If I was wired differently, my self-expression would also come out in music. But, alas, I am not wired that way. So, I am thankful for musicians and songwriters who are wired that way and who share their souls through their music. And, I am thankful for the ones that are honest about their brokenness, their woundedness. For me, they are the ones that create the most meaningful art.