Wyclef’s inspiration

Bittersweet Distractor 2012-09-25

I read a piece on CNN blogs about Wyclef Jean’s new memoir, “Purpose: An Immigrant’s Story.” According to the article, in the book, Wyclef reveals that he was seeing both Lauryn Hill (his collaborator in the Fugees) and his wife at the same time. He was young and always in the studio with Lauryn, so he fell for her, and she for him. Eventually, however, Lauryn lied to him about her pregnancy, claiming that the child was his. This drama led to the Fugees’ breakup. Instead of regretting getting involved in this whole mess, though, Wyclef writes:

“The people that are blaming me for the breakup,” Wyclef said, “if you all have [the album] ‘The Score’ that y’all love so much, ‘The Score’ wouldn’t've happened without the love triangle of everything that you’re hearing. Inside of the mystery of ‘The Score,’ there’s always a passionate undertone in it, and I don’t think that the music actually would’ve came out like that if we [weren't] going through what we [were] going through.”

This isn’t the first time that a musician (or any artist, for that matter) admitted that his music was inspired by real-life events, and the emotion behind those real-life events. In fact, the emotion that is simulated in music needs to be known by both the composer and the listener, for the music to be really appreciated. And the deeper the pain that a musician feels, then perhaps the deeper he can delve in his music. We’ve all heard of great art coming from people with mental illness; the unusual perspective that they have as a result of their illness probably leads to more creativity.

Then again, none of this has really been systematically proven. We have all experienced happiness, sadness, pain, guilt, regret, anger, jealousy, fear, etc. to some extent. Emotions would be far more difficult to explain if we didn’t all have some intuition behind what they are, and that intuition comes from experience. And let’s say that you have to be able to know an emotion in order to evoke it in your music. But is it true that experiencing these feelings more often leads to more insightful music? Is there a linear relationship between the amount of experienced emotion and the extent to which music is moving? I doubt it. I think that there comes a point where more pain in your life is just more pain in your life, and it doesn’t add anything to your product. Furthermore, I think that maybe experiencing too much of one emotion could desensitize you and even take away from your music. Sometimes, I feel that the claim that great art comes from struggling is just an excuse for not making a change in your life – an excuse to keep on struggling. There are lots of great musicians who are happy, who have overcome bad times. They can write about those bad times without continuing to live in them.

It’s great that Wyclef doesn’t regret his experiences with Lauryn, because bad decisions are always learning experiences. But he shouldn’t pin the success of “The Score” on those bad decisions – that’s just a cheap way to justify them.