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Declan Lynch's tales of addiction

 

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Football superstar: Diego Maradona

Football superstar: Diego Maradona

Football superstar: Diego Maradona

In recent weeks, we've been getting through a lot of TV programmes that we recorded in the vague hope that we might some day find the time to watch them - now that time has come.

And there is a strange satisfaction to be found in this, just as there was a strange dissatisfaction every time we'd flick through our recordings and they'd still be there, unwatched.

But we've been getting though the backlog at last, and for me there were two documentaries in particular I was glad to have saved - Diego Maradona, directed by Asif Kapadia, and Birth Of The Cool, about Miles Davis.

Remarkably, though one was about football and the other was about jazz, there was a deep similarity at the heart of them - and it wasn't just the fact that both subjects were men of genius of the most extravagant kind.

No, they were united by something else that became the dominant theme of their lives and all but destroyed them - an addiction to cocaine.

Their respective stories had roughly the same structure - not only were they brilliant at what they did, they were brilliant in ways that nobody had been brilliant before. Their talents were epoch-defining.

And then in each of these documentaries, there was this devastating description of their descent into darkness - all the more so because it followed about an hour of exhilaration at the scale of their glorious achievements.

The circumstances in which they found themselves addicted to cocaine need not detain us here, except to say that very famous people such as Maradona and Miles will always have plenty of people in their vicinity who are willing to exploit any weakness they might have.

In this regard, they are as vulnerable as they are powerful.

And in each case, there was clearly a spiritual dimension to it, a sense that they could only find peace doing what they were apparently born to do - playing football or playing the trumpet. That 'life' in the usual sense had little meaning for them, and frankly, they weren't very good at it.

Life was football; life was jazz.

And when 'ordinary' life started to get in the way of all that, they just couldn't handle it - except by devouring enormous quantities of cocaine.

Miles would have indulged in heroin too, though it had destroyed many of his brothers in jazz. And Maradona was 'partying' a great deal with some of the most dangerous people in Naples. But it was the cocaine that seemed to define their journeys into madness; it was the cocaine that seemed the most intractable element of their various addictions.

So for a period in their lives, they were lost. There are pictures of them during that time, in which they seem to have lost their very souls; pictures which are as desolate as the pictures of their triumphs are inspiring.

Personally, I never expect people of genius to behave well in 'ordinary' terms. I really don't care what they are like in real life - there are enough people who are behaving well in real life to allow at least a few renegades to behave in whatever way they see fit, as long as they're supplying some sort of magnificence to the rest of us.

Yet it is still amazing to see how far they can fall - an 'ordinary' person would think it inconceivable that a Maradona or a Miles Davis wouldn't be eternally satisfied with what they're doing, and what they have done.

Yet they discover that somehow there is more to life than the life they have created for themselves, and that they want no part of it - there are simple things that they do not understand.

Like genius itself, there is a mystery to it, always a mystery.

Sunday Independent