I found this article about Whitney Houston’s untimely death to be a bit of an eye-opener. I think it says a lot about the lifestyle of the entertainment and arts community. Living it firsthand, I notice some of these “symptoms” amongst my peers, albeit to a lesser degree.
Before I spoke to Questlove, I interviewed Rick Ross, who recently suffered two seizures in one day. He told me he blames the seizures on “exhaustion,” (which could refer to many things). He said he had been getting two hours of sleep a night. I asked him if he’d made significant life changes. He said he was sleeping more now. Like four hours a night.
The attitude that sleeping is for losers is endemic to America and especially the music business. “I used to think there was something heroic in not sleeping,” Questlove said, “then I ended up in the hospital for four days. Happened last November. I’d planned my time on two hours of sleep a day for 20 days in a row. I’d work out, go do the Jimmy Fallon show, work on the Roots album from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m., work on D’Angelo’s album from 2:30 to 6, catnap on his couch then go to the gym. Did that 15, 20 days in a row, but if you don’t sleep that long your immune system is worn out and you’re susceptible to all kinds of diseases. I got coxsackie virus, which adults aren’t even supposed to get. I couldn’t work for two weeks. Couldn’t even hold a drumstick. The result of not sleeping. You think it’s cool and rebellious, but it’s not.”
Sleep is not something a lot of us get. Insomnia is common, and working all the time is often mandatory to make any sort of dent in this difficult type of career. The anxiety, struggles, exhaustion, and stress that come with an arts career is something that forces many artists to quit. But for those who push through it, health issues abound – and at a young age. Personally, I’ve dealt with some anxiety and exhaustion issues myself, and family and friends have called me on it, worrying that I might burn myself out. But it’s a catch-22 because making a living doing this isn’t easy, and without putting in the hours it only gets further away from you. Entertainment is a results-oriented business. No one cares how long it takes you to produce a work, they just want to see a product. Output is the number one factor of success in this industry. For musicians, pumping out those albums to remain in the public eye is a huge pressure. And producing consistent hits on top of that packs it on even more. Still, it comes with the territory. However, the recent tragic deaths of many entertainers may be a frightening indication of how much the pace of society has changed. People want more and more often. Only the strongest survive. But to me, the scariest thing about it is that even the strong aren’t surviving very long anymore.