Writer looks at his life through a glass, darkly Blues: Andrew Solomon's autobiographical 'Anatomy of Melancholy,' in the New Yorker, is a terrifyingly clear window on to the life of a seriously depressed man. JTC

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January 11, 1998|By Matthew Gilbert | Matthew Gilbert,BOSTON GLOBE

Reading intensely intimate accounts of depression can be like hearing tales of bad LSD experiences. Little objects and activities turn into giant obstacles, a roll out of bed in the morning is a row across the Atlantic, food is pointless, fear is constant, and the rawest, darkest, most ungenerous truths about being human become the only truths.

Andrew Solomon's autobiographical "Anatomy of Melancholy," in the New Yorker for Jan. 12, is a terrifyingly clear window on the life of a seriously depressed man. Solomon, author of a novel and a study of Soviet artists, is explicit about the depths of despair to which he sank during his worst periods, one of which coincided with a book publicity tour.

His impressionistic descriptions of his lows and his constant state of panic are haunting: "If you trip or slip, there is a moment, before your hand shoots out to break your fall, when you feel the earth rushing up at you and you cannot help yourself -- a passing, fraction-of-a-second horror," he writes. "I felt that way hour after hour. Freud once described pleasure as the release of tension; I felt as though I had a physical need, of impossible urgency and discomfort, from which there was no release -- as though I were constantly vomiting but had no mouth."

Solomon weaves together such dramatically detailed elements of his own story, in which his loyal father is the heroic friend whose support never wanes, with facts about various drug therapies, the blurry connection between psychology and biology, and the people he met along his road to respite. He talks frankly about his obsession with suicide, "the ultimate hallmark of depression," which at one point led him to a series of sexually unsafe encounters in the hopes of contracting HIV. And he even calculates how much money the illness has cost him so far -- about $70,000.

Bitten apple

Fiona Apple, voted best female performer in the Reader's Poll results in the Jan. 22 Rolling Stone, comes clean about her own depression and eating disorder in a long, good cover story by Chris Heath.

She's been on anti-depressants for years, she says: "What would happen to me is the most exhausting thing. I wanted to die before. I truly did want to die before."

Not that the 20-year-old Apple, who also has talked about her rape at age 12, would keep much from the press, since frankness is inextricably bound up with her creative drive. She's nothing if not a loose cannon.

For some reason, the "Sullen Girl" has been taken to task endlessly in the media for her spontaneous comments at last year's MTV Video Awards, when she told the audience, "You shouldn't model your life about what you think that we think is cool and what we're wearing and what we're saying and everything. Go with yourself."

To me, reminding young TV viewers to develop minds of their own makes a lot of good sense. Doesn't her big-mouthed impulse cut close to the teen-aged heart of rock and roll?

Like Sinead O'Connor, Apple has been criticized for making even the smallest of countercultural gestures.

Other Rolling Stone Reader's Poll winners include Sublime as both best band and best artist of the year. The critic's poll winners include Radiohead as best band and Puff Daddy as artist of the year.

More Seinfeld

Jerry Seinfeld is on the cover of Time, talking about his decision not to extend the life of "Seinfeld" and his refusal of offers he couldn't refuse.

Last year, everyone moaned and groaned about the abundance of "Ellen" press before the coming-out "Puppy Episode," but the extended anticipation of the final "Seinfeld," which won't air until late spring, will surely put that hype to shame.

Interestingly, the Time interview reveals Seinfeld's mixed feelings about his own medium: "Television is like a flier somebody sticks on your windshield. It's iridescent wallpaper. Sometimes I think people just like the light on their faces."

Grieving fans, and NBC, of course, know that's not entirely true. And so does Seinfeld, because if it were true then he probably would have sold out and committed to another year of new episodes.

"In my business, the only way you get as much money as I have," he says at another point, "is if you don't care about money and you care about comedy; then somehow you end up with money."

Pub Date: 1/11/98

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