Highway Hi-Fi Podcast

We go track by track through the underbelly of music history using research and trivia to locate the roots of our obsession with vinyl records. Proud part of Pantheon - the podcast network for music lovers.



episode 84: Albums Conceived in Institutions (Episode 83)

There is an unproductive trope of there being a fine line between genius and madman. Constantly, we are encouraged to believe that the works of “artists in asylums” are somehow this perpetual motion machine where mental illness fuels creativity which, in turn, fractures the creator even more creating a cycle toward an inevitable dark end, where we are only left with the work to scrutinize or admire. The truth is a lot less dramatic, but no less sad. Social circumstances, interpersonal relationships, biology, substances, and societal expectations each play relevant roles in determining the well-being of every person: artist, genius, or just the poor soul sleeping on the street. Art and artist are separate. Just as a mental condition and person are separate. Influenced and interlaced, certainly, but we so often forget that works do not define the person, rather the person defines the work.

Many of us are captivated by albums that were created while the artists were in mental hospitals. They are rare artifacts that unfortunately end up defining the artist for their careers while giving an undue amount of weight to the condition of their mind rather than the beauty within it. The artistry that comes from the pain and confusion of confinement . . . in a hospital and in one’s mind. The records are snapshots of musicians on the brink that utilized songs to communicate their struggle or alleviate suffering. Today, we are exploring Institutional Albums by Roky Erickson, Skip Spence, and Danial Johnston.

Sources used for this episode include:

13th Floor Elevators: A Visual History by Paul Drummond

Eye Mind: The Saga of Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor Elevators, The Pioneers of Psychedelic Sound by Paul Drummond

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 August 25, 2020  1h30m