Amy Winehouse is dead, have you heard? Girl was a mess, it’s true, but does that make her death any less terrible, because it was avoidable? Or was it avoidable at all? She had a disease and the treatment didn’t work. Or at least speculation says the treatment didn’t work. It has not been officially reported how she died and whether or not it was due to recent drug use. Videos from her recent concert in Belgrade would argue that it did. Whatever the case, it is truly sad that her incredible talent has been seriously overshadowed by her demons, a la Michael Jackson.
I think we are all aware of the fact that addiction is a disease. Amy Winehouse was a hard and fast addict. From crack to ketamine, she didn’t dabble in drugs, she showered in them. She was so obviously on a dark path to destruction since way before Back to Black was released. We all watched this woman deteriorate before our eyes. She was Marilyn Monroe, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix...all over again. In a twisted way, we were entertained by it.
Do we glorify the drug-fueled deaths of famous musicians/artists/actors? In a way, yes. Is it entertaining? Of course. Is it perverse? Absolutely.
Why is this particular form of human suffering so eye-catching? I believe it’s because there is a type of excitement, rebelliousness to addiction that those who have never experienced wonder about, maybe even want a taste of. Yet those who have truly dealt with these demons can assure you, that romantic feeling is no longer present when you’re living in the throes of addiction.
There is a romanticism surrounding drug use and even rehab. I have often wondered why shows like “Intervention” get so much viewership, myself included. Is it because we can all connect to that out-of-control feeling in one way or another? Do we all in some subconscious way covet the ability to let everything go and literally have no other concern in your life other than where your next hit will come from? Do we all in some way desire to see just how far our friends and family would go to bring us back from the depths of our suffering? Shows like “Intervention” and “Celebrity Rehab” show the dark side of addiction, sure, but they also promote the idea that when you’re ready (you hit your ‘rock bottom’) you get a shiny rehab center in Palm Springs where you can rehab in luxury, all paid for by your friends at A&E. I don’t think we are naive enough to believe this to be true, or even effective.
As an “artist”....(I feel pretentious even using that term but I suppose it applies to anyone who creates art, yes?) I feel that there is a certain romanticism constantly applied both consciously and subconsciously to the struggle of an artist. It’s almost expected that you have some kind of demon on your back. Van Gogh drank himself to death with absinthe, HST put a bullet in his brain, Salinger couldn’t bear to face a world he detested, McQueen couldn’t take it anymore. Pain makes great art, it’s absolutely true, but are the two mutually exclusive? It would seem for some people they are, for many of the most famous artists who have dealt with these issues, they are. But, do we glorify their work because of their struggle? Or is it always the case that their work is worth glorification?
I can’t speak too much on Amy Winehouse except that I do believe she reopened a genre and allowed a much easier passage for female soulful artists like Adele. She wasn’t gorgeous, she didn’t have her shit together and she didn’t pretend to, but damn, the girl could write and sing. And it wasn’t that Glenda-the good witch, high pitched, singing to the birds shit. It was all over the place, but controlled, powerful, heartfelt, pure. Pure in the sense that she sang from her heart, it wasn’t cleaned up or smoothed out.
The question is, is this always the case? Would Kurt Cobain have held our attention for so long if his mind didn’t get the better of him? Would we still care what Elvis had to say at 76 years old? Would anyone care about Marilyn Monroe once her figure faded? Even Bradley Nowell, would Sublime just be some band seen as an anachronism rather than the voice of a twisted 90’s counterculture? We can all argue these points to death but we’ll never truly know, all we will know is that their deaths certainly helped solidify their place in the history of pop culture.
Let’s be honest, the media takes advantage of it’s sweethearts and it is no place for someone who isn’t mentally stable. Though you can’t really blame “the media” too much, they are responding to the demand. In the same way we can’t get angry for recurring seasons of Jersey Shore because apparently there are a whole lot of people in the world who watch it (wtf?), we can’t completely blame the media for exploiting these troubled stars. We bought the magazines, we watched the videos, we saw the downfall happen before our eyes.
We see the manipulation of the media all the time, Britney Spears is a prime example. In what other circumstance would we feel as though we have a right to be front row to someone’s mental breakdown? The media tells us, “no, it’s ok, you can watch, these people sold their souls to you”.
The artists who truly succeed seem to be the ones who know who they are and refuse to compromise their values. They aren’t swayed by distractions because they’re not in it for the fame or fortune, they’re there for their art. They keep their private lives to themselves and stay as far away from the media as possible. They’re also the ones who are lucky enough to not battle with addiction or if they do, they received help quickly. Lots of money, lots of access, and groups of people seemingly encouraging your behavior are a deadly combination for an addict. Amy definitely had the odds stacked against her.
It’s almost uncomfortable to listen to her music. To get so much out of something that came from so much pain is a strange thing but truthfully, the basis for a lot of amazing art, writing and music. It really is too bad the no one around her was able to guide her through her struggles. It seems selfish to say she was cut short in her musical career (think of what she might have produced if she pulled herself together!), when really, she was cut short in her life. And the 27 Club grows.
If you’re interested, check out Russell Brand’s eulogy, I thought it was quite eloquent.