Wild Men Blues

The tortured artist abuses his privilege in Sound Unseen's painful docs

If Amazing Grace worships Buckley, an incredible stylist, for his emotional authenticity, imagine what happens with another documentary, whose subject suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. Derailroaded: Inside the Mind of Larry "Wild Man" Fischer (Oak Street, October 12 at 7:30 p.m.) contains so many scenes of comfortable white men lauding the onetime street singer as "pure" and "real" that I began to think he was a bar of soap. When Mark Mothersbaugh--a cerebral artist if there ever was one--starts talking about Fischer mainlining the creative unconscious, he seems downright condescending. Indeed, there's a great deal of condescension in the whole myth of the tortured artist: no credit given for the imagining and fashioning of emotionally resonant material. It's not Mingus's tics, or his blackness, that made him great, but what he made of them.

And what did Andrew Wood make of his nasty childhood? He sang some fuzzy lyrics, did a ton of drugs, betrayed his brother, and beat up his girlfriend. Does he deserve a documentary that makes a trippy rock video of his treatment center intake notes? Probably. Someone who cares will have to decide whether the sound he made was worth the pain he caused.

As for me, I'm sad that Townes Van Zandt's record company didn't put out his best album for 20 years because all the drugs involved in its recording left a bad taste in the owner's mouth. Would it have been pandering to accept it as it was? The bad taste in my mouth is that it seems Van Zandt created beauty not from his addiction, but despite it. And I wonder how many others believed what he did, craved what he did. And never attained an authenticity not of pain, but of art.

Still 'crazy' after all these years: Townes Van Zandt in 'Be Here to Love Me'
Palm Pictures
Still 'crazy' after all these years: Townes Van Zandt in 'Be Here to Love Me'

Also in this issue: Sweet Sixteen: Beautiful (mostly) and all yours, our sneek peek at the 6th Annual 'Sound Unseen'

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