Illustration: Vector Portal
Have you heard? Amy Winehouse is dead.
Girl was a mess, itʼs true, but was her death any less terrible because it was avoidable? Or was it avoidable at all? She had a disease and the treatment didnʼt work. Or at least speculation says the treatment didnʼt work; how she died — whether or not it was due to recent drug use — has not been officially reported . 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 didnʼt 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 itʼs 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 that romantic feeling is no longer present when youʼre 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 youʼre 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 donʼt 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. Itʼs almost expected that you have some kind of demon on your back. Van Gogh drank himself to death with absinthe, Hunter S. Thompson put a bullet in his brain, Salinger couldnʼt bear to face a world he detested, McQueen couldnʼt take it anymore. Pain makes great art, itʼs 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 canʼt 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. Winehouse wasnʼt gorgeous, she didnʼt have her shit together and she didnʼt pretend to, but damn, the girl could write and sing. And it wasnʼt that Glinda the Good Witch, high pitched, singing to the birds shit. It was all over the place, but controlled, powerful, heartfelt and pure. Pure in the sense that she sang from her heart; it wasnʼt 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 didnʼt 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? If Bradley Nowell were still alive, would Sublime just be some band seen as an anachronism rather than the voice of a twisted 90ʼs counterculture? We can all argue these points to death but weʼll never truly know. All we know is that their deaths certainly helped solidify their place in the history of pop culture.
Letʼs be honest: the media takes advantage of its sweethearts and it is no place for someone who isnʼt mentally stable. Though you canʼt really blame “the media” too much, they are responding to the demand. In the same way we canʼt 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 canʼt completely blame the media for exploiting these troubled stars. We bought the magazines, we watched the videos and 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 someoneʼs mental breakdown?
The media tells us, “No, itʼs okay, 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 arenʼt swayed by distractions because theyʼre not in it for the fame or fortune; theyʼre there for their art. They keep their private lives to themselves and stay as far away from the media as possible. Theyʼre 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.
Itʼs 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 that 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.