Sadness, as Nick Cave notes, has a bad reputation. "We can't live if we are completely impervious to sadness," he has said. American poet Anne Sexton felt "creative people must not avoid the pain they get dealt". It is an idea with a long history. Philosopher Spinoza felt that sadness recoils from desire, and it is desire (for life) that is the real anti-depressant. Nineteenth-century neuroscientist George Gray thought it was a gradual "unlearning of optimism". Now sadness is confused with depression, and thought to be a chemical imbalance in the brain.
But while most scientists have turned away from notions such as soul-loss to describe the numbness that comes with depression, British biologist Dr Lewis Wolpert thinks it is a useful term. "With such distress we are at the very heart of being human," Wolpert writes in his best-selling Malignant Sadness. No one has yet found the cerebral substratum of passion and discontent.
I stole those lines from an article on Paul Hester's death in 2005. Hester was the drummer for Crowded House who killed himself unexpectedly, as if suicide is ever expected. He'd battled depression for his entire life, apparently, as many creative types do. He was a smart guy, funny, talented, and sad. My friend Tod says he can't listen to Crowded House anymore, after the suicide. It does change the music which, though for me was always melancholy, really makes me want to cry if I think about Paul. A waste and a shame, and we'll never know what went through his head as he went out that night to walk his dogs, and ended up hanging himself in the park.