July 24, 2011

This Is Not About Amy Winehouse

I lied. It kinda is. At least, as a jumping off point. As everyone (except, as it seems, her father, which is incredibly sad) knows, Amy Winehouse died today at age 27. It took less than a tenth of a second for the "OMG JIMI, JANIS, MORRISON, KURT NOW AMY" tweets. This was immediately followed by the inevitable jokes, of which I supplied my fair share. It's not out of any malice or joy in her death. It's just...what I do. If I could explain it, I probably wouldn't do it.

There are a lot of separate points to this post, one not necessarily having anything to do with the next. So I'll attempt to address each individually.

Amy Winehouse Died, Yo!

This is the most immediate point. An incredible talent and unfortunate addict, she left behind family and friends, as well as an enormous amount of unfulfilled potential. Potential is nontransferable. What she left behind will not be rolled over to, say, Adele or Joss Stone. It's just...gone. Never to be realized. A few weeks ago, video surfaced of a performance by Ms. Winehouse in Serbia. Incoherent, stumbling, muttering nonsense and scratching at her arms. As I watched it, I said to myself, "Well, this isn't gonna end well." But really, how many times has someone said that about her? It's just a coincidence that this time, these performances were all too prophetic. In a way, her talent was a contributor to her downward spiral. There will always be people willing to look the other way in the name of talent. If she was just Amy Winehouse from Southgate, with all the addictions she had, she likely wouldn't have been surrounded by so many witting (and unwitting) enablers. That list stretches from friends, to record labels to managers to fans. Yes, fans.

We love to watch what we shouldn't. Car accidents. Eclipses. Public breakdowns. None of us put the drugs in Amy's system, but the constant attention lavished upon her antics did nothing to help her. You could call her entire career a public scream for help. But there were a lot of people who made more money from her being a mess on stage than healthy and dealing with her demons. I'm not exonerating Ms. Winehouse, or alleviating her of any personal obligations towards her own well being. But that's another point entirely. This particular point is about disease (namely: addiction and greed) winning out over talent and genuine care for another human being. That is the tragedy here.

White Lines (Don't Do It)

Here's where the idea of personal accountability comes in. If I choose to eat fast food 24/7, and don't exercise, I've surrendered the right to place blame on others for my decisions. I enter McDonalds knowing the risks I'm assuming. That is both my right and my responsibility. If I become addicted to the McRib (and let's be honest, we've all been there), the addiction that stems from those choices I made is my cross to bear. I may become addicted to the point of needing others to intervene, but the initial decision to try the McRib (and the knowledge of its addictive nature and what could happen) lays squarely on my shoulders.

In 2011, we've all gone through the travails of addiction. Be it first hand or with a friend or loved one. It could be an addiction to gambling, sex, food or, in Ms. Winehouse's case, drugs. So I won't get into my personal experiences, except to say I believe in the tough love approach. I will not enable an addict. If that means distancing myself, advocating their removal from my life or being hated by them, so be it. My love for them will not allow me to in any way help them get what they want.

I believe that when someone crosses the line into addiction, a personality split occurs, kind of like what happens when someone is involved in a traumatic event. Which, I suppose, addiction is. There's the addict, and the person within the addict. The addict is a selfish hustler who will do anything to get what it wants. The person is scared shitless, feeling helpless and despising themselves for what they've allowed to occur. They are not stupid or delusional enough to not see how they're hurting the ones around them. But the addict is in their ear, justifying the means so long as it gets to the addict's desirable end.

Tough love is a concept that works great in theory. But in practice, when you're looking at your son or daughter, whom you've raised to the best of your abilities and you see them struggling, you just want to ease their pain. And so you do things you know you shouldn't. You rationalize it when you see that smile they showed you as a child on Christmas, reminding you that there is a very real person wrapped up in this addict. I suppose if it was easy, everyone would practice tough love.

This started as a meditation on personal accountability for addicts. I'm not sure how I veered off, but I'm ok with it. Onto the next point.

Oh The Outrage!

As I said in the intro, I've had my share of jokes about Amy Winehouse. It's become such a natural process for me when someone dies, I've stopped questioning why I do it. I think it has something to do with how ridiculous the concept of death is to me. To be here one day, vital, contributing and looking forward to tomorrow, only to be nothing but a collection of rotting flesh and subject for lamentation is something that I'll never understand. Think about this for a second: at some point, every single person who has read this blog will be dead. Few of our deaths will make sense. Why put a curfew on how much time we're allowed to spend on this massive blue merry-go-round? Imagine the things we could accomplish with ever lasting life! So many diseases cured, life's greatest mysteries solved. Perhaps if we were allowed to determine when we've had a good enough run, there'd be less problems in the world, not more. Of course, humans being the egomaniacs we are, few would be honest enough to pull the trigger at the point where they're no longer contributing.

Anyway, so, yeah, I make jokes. But these are the same jokes I've made about Amy Winehouse during her life. And no one seemed outraged then. What's the difference? You might say she's not alive to defend herself. Well, she never heard any of my jokes about her when she was alive to defend herself. She might not've been coherent enough to defend herself anyway, so that's probably a moot point. If I didn't make these jokes, and put on a long black veil and boo-hooed myself to sleep over someone I've never met who wasted her life, I'd be a hypocrite. And that's far more outrageous than consistently being an asshole.

And for the record, my jokes are not intended to shock or offend. In fact, most everything I say is tongue-in-cheek. I'm as much poking fun at those who derive real pleasure from making crass comments as I am at the deceased (or whomever is the subject of the joke). There's a saying that nothing is in bad taste as long as it's funny. Of course, sensitivities being what they are, your mileage may vary. So if you're taking my joke on the surface and disregarding the context, I can see how some might be offended. Context being something that doesn't always translate well to the written word, perhaps I should focus on being more straight forward.

I do offer this, in closing. How many of us snickered, judged and took an unconscious sense of superiority as we watched Amy Winehouse collapse before us over the last 5 or so years? How many of us showed genuine concern when her toothless, disshelved spector stared back at us from the tabloids as we went about our business in the checkout lane? How many of us wrote to her manager, or record label, placing an emphasis on the human over the performer? How many jokes were made about her throughout her life that never reached her ears, which we wouldn't dare utter now that she's dead, only out of fear of others judging us?  

Amy Winehouse is not a microcosm of anything. Her death is many things: sad, tragic, unfortunate, too soon. But it is no more any of these things than the death of the man who died due to the recent heat wave. Hers was more public, sure. But it still only counts as one death. The tragedy lies not in the death, rather, the avoidability of it, and all other death.


  1. The esotericism of her lyrics, paired with her amazingly strong voice, laden with conviction, and sang over seemly musical arrangements is dainty. I listen to a lot of females and bands with female vocalists. Few have what she had. Sadly, the majority of people who ooze talent of that caliber are tortured souls who die alone.

    I always enjoy reading your stuff, but I must say that the raw insightfulness of this piece was particularly refreshing.

  2. Thanks for reading. The mega talented who aren't in some way damaged by addiction or delusion (or both) seem few and far in between.

  3. Thanks, keener. <3