The Price Others Paid…

The price others paid for John Martyn’s creativity.

I love John Martyn’s music. But I had the misfortune to be sitting near his party in an Edinburgh bar in the early 1980s. It took me a while before I could reconcile the sweet romanticism of his songs with the rude, drunk, aggressive and demanding boor who had dominated everybody’s evening.

It was tragic to observe over the years that he grew no wiser as he grew older, even though his self destructive ways led to leg amputation, then early death. Like a lot of creative types, Martyn, right, died believing that his dreadful behaviour was justified because of his art, and even that the latter would not have existed or thrived without the former.

It’s a great shame that he never ever stopped to ask why so much of his most celebrated work had already been completed while he was still a young man, less damaged by the ravages of his poor lifestyle choices. It’s amazing, really, that even though the spectacle of talent squandered in such a way is ubiquitous, the myth of the desirability of creative chaos, and artistic “suffering”, maintains such a firm cultural hold.

Deborah Orr
The Independent
31 January 2009