“You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall.”
– Col. Nathan Jessep “A Few Good Men”
“For those who never had to deal w/addiction, incarceration, depression, mental illness a/or a hard life, collect your cookie & STFU.”
A tiny girl, who sounded, and ultimately looked, far beyond her years, lost her life. People will have varying opinions about whether or not it was deserved. There will be calloused people who will scoff at her lack of self-care, as though the loss of a 27 year old life for any reason is not an immeasurable tragedy. People will play her songs in tribute, and remember how her words helped them through tough times of their own. There will be a barrage of tweets, articles and blog posts, attempting to make sense of this senseless thing.
There have been so many “blue eyed soul” artists with a soulful affect, but something was not quite there. There were far too many “soul parrots.” When I first heard about her, I dismissed her as another one of those wanna be soul artists. I was at a Mos Def concert. Mos was late, so the DJ entertained us. They played this song that was vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place it. My friend Kalia said, “You’re bobbing your head, but that’s the girl you were shit talking. That’s Amy Winehouse.” Even without seeing her body language, her voice was deep, rich,raw and, most of all, believable. The girl who looked like a 60’s coffeehouse reject was WHOOPING.
She wasn’t like Joss Stone, who was fresh and bright eyed, and sang as though her voice was an off-handed blessing. Amy sang what she lived from her toenails. When I discovered her addiction, in an odd way, it made her voice that much more realistic to me. Far too often, artists who possess such great talent often draw from a place of great pain. Even for average Joes, addiction consumes and overwhelms. Combine that addiction with an overwhelming pressure to be great, and you’re considered among the lucky if you hit rock bottom and live to tell the tale. If you’re not so lucky, you get to be Jimi Hendrix or Kurt Cobain…and now Amy Winehouse.
The consuming public is a thankless lot. We demand greatness from artists, with little thought to where it originates. The pain the write through and about doesn’t matter, as long as we are entertained. When they start to fall apart, rather than looking at the pressures of fame – the pressures we applied – we blame them, look down on them, call them weak and treat their pain as grotesque performance art.* As a stranger, I can’t force a drink or a needle into someone’s hand, but as consumers, we MUST acknowledge our culpability. The people around those artists too, the opportunists and enablers – they should be called to the carpet as well.
Of course, she’s already been added to the “27 Club” – the group of great artists met their end at that almost cursed age. Theories about why this happens abound.** One thing, however, is certain: 27 is far too young to be chewed up and spit out by the world. Beyond the music and beyond your enjoyment beats a human heart. As my friend Feminista Jones put it, as people become more accessible via social media, we’ve become increasingly dispassionate, and just so damned selfish when it come to the needs and pain of others. I don’t have an answer, outside of employing The Golden Rule. What if it were your friend or family member being overtaken by addiction? What if the addict was you? Would you want people to reconsider their disdain? Only you know the true answer. I hope your conscience is moved to treat people as you would have them treat you.
*I personally stopped reading Perez Hilton blog when it seemed he would not be satisfied until Britney Spears ended her life. If memory serves, I remember him saying something remarkably close to “she should just kill herself and get it over with,” as though she were a used commodity, rather than a human being.
** I happen to give great weight to the phenomenon known as Saturn’s Return.