Amy Winehouse died this past week and the real grief is in the knowledge that no one was surprised at all. As of this writing the cause of death was still undetermined, but lest we fool ourselves, is there really any wonder?
Winehouse – whose breakthrough (2006’s fine, if overrated BACK TO BLACK) cemented the route for other Brit-soul contemporaries like Duffy and Adele to conquer intercontinental shores – didn’t “struggle” with addiction – she flaunted and reveled in it. She was a talented singer/songwriter who lived a stupid, foolish life and now she’s another stupid, foolish dead Rock star. She squandered her intrinsic gifts for years for pure hedonism, permeating her whole existence in drug-induced stupors, coked-up public performances, heroin-induced soporifics and a lifestyle that prodigiously overshadowed her musicality. Her brief skimps at rehab only solidified her lack of seriousness of getting any help. And because of that profligacy, she was the inadvertent queen of the tabloids, those subhuman succubi who lick their scabbed lips in deviant, debased glee at every fucked-up antic that befall any caliber celebrity. (Though we can scorn the tabloids for their evil, we can only blame ourselves for their successes.)
I’ll not belittle addiction. I understand the colossal power of control it has over the core of the mind and body and soul. And I also know that there are enablers and sycophants who are willing participants in someone’s destructive behavior (Winehouse associated with plenty, and even married one). But at what point does one’s self – the captain of that soul – take responsibility for the sinking ship? Millions battle addiction. Millions have beaten addiction. Millions will continue to do both.
Addiction is often touted as a disease, and perhaps it is – I can’t claim to be erudite in the science of medicine. But if it is indeed a disease, it’s the only one that is curable by the afflicted. Those who cannot – or who do not – overcome this malady are not wholly to blame, but do bear the crux of responsibility. Those who cannot are merely prisoners of the encumbrance of the albatross. Those who continue on their suicidal sojourn (which is what addiction is) understand the ultimate price payable. And they accept it. Those who do not wish to accept the obvious sober up. If it’s too late, then it’s merely another sad cautionary tale. And a cliché.
Or, in Winehouse’s case (or Jim Morrison’s case, or Janis Joplin’s case or Jimi Hendrix’s or Judy Garland’s, or John Bohnam’s, or Billie Holiday’s or any other icon who played one final game of Russian Roulette that cost them their lives) a dead Rock N Roll cliché. By joining a list of dead musicians, she has solidified her place in the annals of music history (that the tragedy of Winehouse is greater than her genius is foretelling – with a mediocre-at-best debut and a strong follow-up, many – post-mortem, of course – have histrionically declared BACK TO BLACK a classic).
On a website earlier this week, I drew ire when discussing my innate beliefs about Winehouse and addiction. One response I received after voicing these sentiments read:
“It’s disrespectful, whether you know Amy Winehouse or not, to simply pass her off at the end of her life as a “stupid, foolish dead RnR cliche”. I hope that you don’t have the misfortune of someone saying these horrible things about one of your loved ones one day.
My reply was simple and true: if someone in my family or one of my friends dies as a result of addiction, I would say exactly what I said about Winehouse. If accusations of cold-heartedness are hurled my way, so be it. If that mendacity makes you feel better, I’m glad for you. Only, it’s not. It’s the polar opposite. It’s a truism, and anger often deflects truth.
My empathy is miniscule for life-wasters. My sympathies are limited to the devastation of the loved ones and family members and friends that addicts inconsiderately leave behind.
This week, they buried the woman who possessed such promise but cared so little in nurturing it. Family and friends gathered in somber reflection, serene sadness and devout mourning.
Another daughter. Another sister. Another friend. Another artist. Suicide by selfishness. Another addict.