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Always a Critic, Never the Talent

I began writing a review about Elliott Smith’s last, posthumously released album, From a Basement On the Hill, before his suicide at age 34, but then I decided that would have to wait. As I was doing research and trying to understand why such a talented guy would kill himself, it occurred to me that perhaps great talent can’t replace the underlying intrinsic value of happiness.

Maybe Elliott was tortured by his own perceived inadequacies. He wasn’t a super great looking guy, he seemed fundamentally disfigured to some degree. This reminded me of a bio I read about Charles Bukowski, a talented writer and poet who spent his life a drifter laying with whores and keeping company with fellow drunkards because of his own perceived inadequacies: inadequacies born of a grotesque acne problem from the onset of puberty that left him ridiculed and mistrustful of everyone but those lowly figures with whom he identified.

It makes you wonder about the whole nature versus nurture argument. Were he sheltered, showered with loved and not been homely, would Bukowski have achieved writing greatness, or did his greatness come from his pain? Is that where Elliott Smith’s talent grew from?

Life is a cruel place even under the best of circumstances. I have known individuals who have been bestowed with life’s greatest gifts: beauty, talent, wealth – the genetic jackpot, and yet somehow they managed to live desperate, miserable, wasted lives.

Regardless of the perils of greatness, I have always harbored great envy for the talented who graced the earth with their unique offerings, whether it be art, music, a way with words, aesthetically pleasing features, it didn’t really matter what medium. These individuals always seemed to effortlessly (and tauntingly) display their genius in a way that was unattainable. I didn’t even have the modest ability to mimic their art. Hell even someone with questionable talent, like say, Courtney Love, seemed far beyond my reach.

Maybe this is what drove Hitler to madness – a complete lack of talent. Perhaps he should have become an art critic instead.

I have truly felt anguished my entire life for being so inexplicably untalented. I have often felt I would be much better off if God had shaved the additional 10 points from my already average IQ and made me below average so that I wouldn’t even realize how truly unspectacular I was. Even an everyday hero like Harvey Pekar is a genius in the company of everyday average folk.

It is not without searching for a talent that I have come to this deeply depressing realization. I have tried music, art, education, science, corporate life – every possible outlet that I could afford to express, but the anchor of my own utter plainness just drags around my neck like a noose waiting to hang me if I let down my guard for even the tiniest fraction of a second.

Curses, how fair is it to be given enough wherewithal to know what the other side of the rainbow offers, but no map to get there?

I have found temporary consolation in the fact that I have been blessed with the ability to appreciate other’s gifts and bathe in their abilities – but it only stokes the smoldering ashes of disappointment in my own inadequacies. Is this what fuels the passions of critics?

If you watch enough educational kid’s shows, you will be fed the underlying message that “everyone has a special talent” but what a fucking lie. Some of us are just plain nothings, nada, worker bees, skittering through life’s drudgery doing the shit jobs that keep the lights on and the hum of activity going. What the fuck?

And then someone like Kurt Cobain (and there are many like him) who just throws that talent away like it was a used tissue. How can you feel anything but anger for such a wasted life?

So if joy can’t be found in the blandness of the average life or the gifts of the greatly talented, where can it be found?

About Dawn Olsen

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