Personal issues and and mental disorders, as troubling and disturbing as they might be, have inspired some of the most memorable tunes in history of guitar-driven music. Check out a few examples below.
Pink Floyd - "Shine on You Crazy Diamond"
We'll kick it off with a classic. Staple Pink Floyd tune "Shine on You Crazy Diamond," released as a part of 1975 album "Wish You Were Here," has a heartbreaking story behind it.
The story's protagonist is Syd Barrett, the group's former vocalist known for a plethora of drug and mental issues, which culminated with a complete breakdown and his departure from the band in 1968.
Which brings us to the "Shine on You Crazy Diamond" story. In 1974, the band is busy in the studio recording fresh material, as an unknown figure appeared in the studio. He shaved all of the hair on his body, eyebrows included, and was clearly beyond insane. That person was Syd Barrett, gone completely mad after years of drug abuse and mental struggles.
Initially, Barrett's former bandmates were not able to recognize him, and faced a dramatic emotional breakdown once they did. As they saw him, Syd was trying to brush his teeth by placing the toothbrush against his teeth and jumping up and down.
"Roger [Waters] was in tears, I think I was; we were both in tears. It was very shocking... seven years of no contact and then to walk in while we're actually doing that particular track. I don't know - coincidence, karma, fate, who knows? But it was very, very, very powerful," said late keyboardist Richard Wright.
The Beatles - "I'm So Tired"
"I'm So Tired" comes off The Beatles' eponymous 1968 studio record, and depicts John Lennon's troublesome state of mind, driven by heavy insomnia and love issues. The musician was in India during the time he composed the tune and used to meditate throughout the day, only to face insomnia when the bed time arrived.
The track complements one of the earlier Beatles efforts revolving around the same theme - "I'm Only Sleeping" off 1966 classic "Revolver." In this one, Lennon sings about the joy of sleeping, branding it better than any drug-related effect.
Back to "I'm So Tired," Lennon's state of sadness was in fact closely connected to Yoko Ono. He was madly in love with his future wife, but still involved with his then-current wife Cynthia Lennon. "I got so excited about her letters," the musician said about the postcards he used to receive from Ono. "I started thinking of her as a woman, and not just an intellectual woman."
Dream Theater - "Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence"
Dream Theater's epic 42-minute piece "Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence" is a very complex musical composition in all terms. The track's focal point are six individuals suffering from different mental issues, namely the bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, autism, post-partum depression, and dissociative identity disorder.
The mentioned individuals come from all walks of life, and include a Vietnam War veteran, a delusional schizophrenia patient, a mother who lost her child, and more.
The lyrics depict each of the disorders with great accuracy. For example, the bipolar disorder described in the second act "About to Crash" is represented with hectic lyrics ranging from "She can't stop pacing, she never felt so alive" to "Then one day, she woke up to find, the perfect girl, had lost her mind."
Alice in Chains - "Phantom Limb"
Switching to more current releases, "Phantom Limb" by grunge icons Alice in Chains revolves around an eerie medical condition called the phantom limb.
The condition is basically described as a sensation of having control of a limb that had previously been amputated. Persons who had their limbs, or even organs amputated, occasionally report feeling that the given body part is still attached to them and that they are able to control it. Making matters more difficult, the condition manifests itself in certain cases by giving patients the feeling of a broken, distorted, or painful limb.
The song comes off the band's latest studio effort, 2013's "The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here." It features the band's distinctive gloomy vibe, with vocalists William DuVall and Jerry Cantrell delivering the ominous chorus line "I'll just haunt you like a phantom limb."
Manic Street Preachers - "4st 7lb"
Released on Manic Street Preachers' third studio album "The Holy Bible," "4st 7lb" is based around anorexia. Specifically, it describes the eating disorder's advanced stage, the one in which the sufferer had reached the weight of 4 stones 7 pounds (29 kg or 63 lbs). Below the given point, death is widely believed to be medically unavoidable.
The song's lyrics sing of a teenage girl with a desire "to be so skinny, that she rots from view." Interestingly enough, the band's guitarist, the mysterious and legally dead Richey Edwards, also struggled with the disorder.
Edwards was a peculiar person, riddled with anorexic and alcoholic issues. About a year following the album's release, he went missing, and was legally declared dead in November 2008. At the time of disappearance, he was 27 years old, and the apparent link with the Club 27 only made the mystique surrounding his persona grow stronger.
Fall Out Boy - "7 Minutes in Heaven (Atavan Halen)"
"7 Minutes in Heaven (Atavan Halen)" is a song off Fall Out Boy's second studio album "From Under the Cork Tree" describing bassist Pete Wentz's suicide attempt through an overdose of prescription anti-depression drug Ativan.
"I got in my car. I remember I was listening to Jeff Buckley doing Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah' and sat there and took a bunch of Ativan in a Best Buy parking lot," he told MTV News.
"I called up my manager because I was, at that point, completely out of my head with Ativan. And I was talking to him and I was slurring my words, so he called my mom and my mom called me and she came and got me and we went to the hospital."
Fun fact - the Van Halen reference in the title was drawn due to the similarity of the track's intro riff to a well-known chord progression Eddie Van Halen used in several of his hits, for example "Panama."
Jimi Hendrix - "Manic Depression"
Manic depression happens to be an old term for what is now defined as a bipolar disorder. Late guitar icon originally presented the "Manic Depression" track on his 1967 debut album "Are You Experienced."
Although there is no concrete evidence that Hendrix ever suffered from the mentioned disorder, the song is inarguably driven by despair, angst and confusion of the world we live in. And according to the axeman, the only salvation can be found in "music, sweet music."
Some sources indicate that "Manic Depression" came to be as Jimi's manager Chas Chandler told him during a London press conference that he sounded like a manic depressive. Reportedly, Hendrix delivered the song the very next day.
As for the mental illness, bipolar disorder is characterized by severe mood changes, as sufferers quickly shift between periods of euphoric, manic behavior and severe depression, resulting in poor reasoning, a pessimistic life stance, and often bad sleep.
Nine Inch Nails - "Hurt"
There's a solid chance that you recognize "Hurt" as a Johnny Cash tune, and considering the quality and significance of the Cash rendition, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise. However, the song was originally written by Trent Reznor and performed by his band Nine Inch Nails.
It delves into a string of dark matters, such as self-harm, heroin addiction, depression, and ultimately suicide. As Reznor himself noted, he wrote the song as "a way of staying sane, about a bleak and desperate place I was in, totally isolated and alone."
Interestingly enough, the quote comes as a part of Trent's opinion on the Cash cover, and in full reads as follows: "I pop the video in, and wow... Tears welling, silence, goose-bumps... Wow. [I felt like] I just lost my girlfriend, because that song isn't mine anymore...
"It really made me think about how powerful music is as a medium and art form. I wrote some words and music in my bedroom as a way of staying sane, about a bleak and desperate place I was in, totally isolated and alone. [Somehow] that winds up reinterpreted by a music legend from a radically different era/genre and still retains sincerity and meaning - different, but every bit as pure."
David Bowie - "All the Madmen"
The focal point of "All the Madmen," a David Bowie track off his 1970 album "The Man Who Sold the World," is insanity. Essentially, the tune depicts "a world so bereft of reason that the last sane men are the ones in the asylums."
According to "The Complete David Bowie" book by Nicholas Pegg, Bowie's half-brother Terry Burns was the musician's key inspiration for the song. Terry suffered from a series of severe mental problems, and had ultimately killed himself in 1985. After escaping the mental hospital he was in, he put his head in the way of an oncoming train...
In the song, the protagonist insists he'd rather stay in the asylum with "the madmen" than face the real world filled with "the sadmen." Basically, he wants to stay true to himself at all cost, and would pay any price rather than conforming himself to the society.
Green Day - "Basket Case"
Green Day's "Basket Case" comes as another song entirely based on personal experiences, namely the struggle frontman Billie Joe Armstrong went through while dealing with anxiety. Armstrong was diagnosed with a panic disorder years later, but prior to that, he basically thought he was going full-on insane.
"'Basket Case' became this loser national anthem [laughs]," the frontman told Rolling Stone. "But to say it's about panic attacks is limiting. It's about going through total confusion. I think of a song like 'American Idiot' as feeling, OK, there is a lot of chaos in the world, people getting murdered. There is no way to make sense of a world like that. You feel like a victim of it. 'Basket Case' is the same way."
For Billie, panic issues started way back in the day, during the time he was growing up. As he once explained, "the only way I knew how to deal with it was to write a song about it."
The song comes off the group's breakthrough album, and their third studio effort in total, 1994's "Dookie."
Can name more songs driven by insanity? Write them below.