It has been a season of programmes about poetry on BBC4 recently, to coincide with the switchover in poet laureates, and I found myself watching one documentary about previous holders of the post. What struck me was not the quality of the poetry, but rather the emphasis there on the mythology of the individuals concerned. Watching other programmes in the season confirmed this thought, because, even though there was some very good poetry on offer, the main focus was always the poets.
I suspect that's true of other areas of the arts too. More people know about the myth of Robert Johnson selling his soul to be able to play the blues than would recognise his music. Probably more people know about Ozzy Osboure biting the head of a bat than would recognise 'Bark at the Moon' or 'Crazy Train', even before we throw his reality TV forays into the mix. Even with long dead writers, some aspects of their personal selves survive at least as well as the work they produced, whether it's Marlowe dying in a knife fight or Shakespeare leaving his second best bed to his wife.
I'm not passing judgement on the process, I have an annoying tendency to remember medieval figures in terms of the same sort of event, but merely find it interesting that something about people makes them at least as interested in the gossip and myth that surrounds the creation of art as in the art itself. What is it that drives us to mythologise them rather than just appreciating the work? Or do they need to build up a cult of celebrity just to stand a chance of being heard in the first place? If so, should those of us inclined to write a bit be booking scale replicas of Stonehenge and finding drummers to sack?