I (Caleb Rappaport) recently watched the “Avicii: True Stories” documentary on Netflix. It was released in October of 2017, but I finally got around to seeing it now.
As an artist, and someone who has dealt with mental health struggles in my own life, and in my family’s life, I had so many strong feelings after watching this.
If you aren’t familiar with the man (real name Tim Bergling), he was an electronic music producer who committed suicide in April of 2018, whose music you have ALL heard in some form or fashion, either on commercials, movies, TV, Etc. Even if you didn’t know it was him.
To reduce him to the title of “DJ” is simply wrong. He was a brilliant musical mind who had worked with some of the giants of the music world, collaborating with the likes of Wycliffe Jean, Nile Rodgers, Chris Martin, and many, many, others. Wycliffe Jean said that of everyone he’s ever worked with, only Avicii and Michael Jackson stood out as having the capabilities to compose everything from A to Z right from their head, without working it out on an instrument, writing it out, etc.
He was an introvert. Never looking for fame or attention, it found him due to his unique songwriting ability and creative hooks that floored even the most established artists in the world of electronic music production. His rise to stardom was meteoric. In no time, he was headlining major festivals across the globe, commanding $250,000 per show, and playing hundreds of shows per year.
This documentary followed him across the span of about 5 years of his life and career, which would sadly be among his final years of both. He never quite felt comfortable with the attention, and the demands of being a “superstar artist”. He turned to alcohol just to ease the nerves of performing. This became a regular thing, and led to serious illness. Even as he was treated for this, he recognized that the life of a touring artist was having a negative effect on his well-being both physically and mentally, and even on this documentary, he was very open and honest with his struggles with anxiety, depression, and overall terror that the life of a touring artist was having on him.
At one point, he even tells his team “This is going to kill me if I don’t stop”, talking about the lifestyle as a whole, which you can tangibly see the effects of in this film.
He finally works up the courage to walk away, and makes a public announcement regarding his retirement in 2016, but is met with stiff resistance from his own management and some others on “his team”, who are twisting his arm to keep going, keep touring, and to keep the money rolling in. In one infuriating scene, he discovers his booking agent never cancelled specific tour dates that he was told to cancel over a month earlier, leaving him in a no-win position and just adding to the stress.
By the end of the film, he is sitting on a beach, seemingly happy. He would go back to producing/creating again, which he always loved to do, even without the rigorous touring demands. Folks that knew him say he seemed to finally be in a good place, but on vacation last April, he took his life.
I felt a lot of things watching this. I felt ANGRY at the industry that used him up for every last drop they could get, even while he was dying inside and screamed to make it stop.
I felt bad that he didn’t have anyone on his team or close enough to him that cared about HIM enough to pull him out sooner when they saw him falling apart. A lot of folks seemed to be along for the ride.
I felt bad that he never found the peace and purpose that he sought.
And I was once again reminded that it doesn’t matter who you are in the eyes of the world; No one is exempt- This life is TOUGH! The people you think have it all are often suffering the most, and in many ways, they are chained to the icon that people see them as, with no way out.
To quote the great R.E.M, “Everybody hurts”.
If you are struggling with depression, or thoughts of suicide, there is help available! Even if you feel alone, there are people that will listen to you!
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255