Amy Winehouse in the black for real this time

Amy Winehouse died today, and you can read all about it on the righteous Huffington Post obituary that reminds us her demise was just a “slo-mo car crash.”

Her death is not altogether shocking, but it is disturbing nonetheless.

In a sense, her artistic marketability stemmed from a bad-girlification of 1960s soul music.  She was a skinny, tatted-up tough girl from working-class London, with big hair and a voice to match.  Her struggles with (or seeming acceptance of) drug addiction only enhanced her reputation as a true entertainer, one with moxie, attitude, and presence.

Fans relished her bad behavior, cheering lyrics like “You love blow and I love puff” (Back to Black”) and “I told you I was trouble / You know that I’m no good” (“You Know That I’m No Good”).  Her refusal to go to rehab was celebrated in a Grammy-winning song (“Rehab”), in which Winehouse admits to suffering from addiction and depression.

This glorification of mental illness and self-destructive behavior sends mixed messages to those who also struggle with these issues.  Winehouse’s drug use was not only acceptable but legitimized by her celebrity status.  This was a double validation:  Her drug use fed into her being perceived as a rock star, and her being a rock star forgave her drug use.  And now she’s dead, and no one’s surprised.

So what does it take to remove the idolatry from substance abuse?  The wasted talents of Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and many others including Amy Winehouse now, have all developed into a tragic mythos of “forever young,” without acknowledgement of what really ripped these creative beings from our midst.  The real scourge is untreated illness, the exaltation of which prevents honesty, recovery, and true grit from being communicated to a public sold on the dangerous cheapness of entertainment.

6 thoughts on “Amy Winehouse in the black for real this time

  1. In my opinion, I don’t think it’s “forever young”, I see it as “forever self destructive despite the god-given talents you had” Selfishness.

  2. I hear that, but I think of it more as a societal forgiveness (or more obliquely, encouragement) of self-annihilation in the interests of drama and escapism at the expense of actual human beings (ie: Amy Winehouse). That is to say her very real problems energized an entire fan base around her downward spiral. Her death fits in the “bad girl” narrative that at once embraced and destroyed her.

  3. Thanks for the thoughtful post. American culture has long consumed the excesses and degradations of its talented/tortured/ tempest-tossed creative artists, and then spit them out. The entertainment articles lamenting her premature demise ring especially hollow when one considers how the same media outlets so thoroughly savored her self-destructive hi-jinx.

  4. I disagree on several points:

    – Recovery would likely extinguish the burning pain that required these artists to express themselves in the manner that they did.
    – Have you considered that perhaps untreated illness is not being exalted? What if it’s simply a popular scenario in these cases because it’s a problem that’s so many people can relate to that it’s has most of the qualities of a universal truth?
    – Is it really “cheapness of entertainment” that the public is sold on in these cases, or is it the relavant truths in the struggle of it? There’s considerably more depth in the music of Amy Winehouse or Kurt Cobain than someone like, say, Justin Beiber. However, the way you framed things in the last sentence, if the public were discerning and knew what’s good for itself, it would opt to listen to the naive musings of Justin over the others who wrote about real issues in ways that actually make us think.

  5. Hmmm. I don’t agree w/your reasoning Earl, especially as laid out in your last sentence. I don’t believe mental illness/substance abuse/personality disorders/etc are prerequisites for deeper insight, true art, or creative blessings. Yes, many creative minds do indeed suffer from imbalances, excesses, and unfortunate tendencies—the nexus of creativity and pain is fascinating and well-documented. I especially enjoyed Kay Redfield Jamison’s book ‘Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament ‘ , Free Press (October 18, 1996).

    However, I don’t believe, nor could I suffer, a world where mental health equals a life relegated to listening to the inane warblings and plinkings of Justin Bieber & Co. Rehab need not equal prefab, drab, or too work-a-day sad to be borne.

  6. To be honest, I really don’t know how I feel about this subject. But I think my many years of being unwillingly subjected to the craziness of someone else’s addiction (including violence) has hardened me to the point that I can’t have any empathy for them. I can love the music or the art but I can also hate the selfishness and destruction of the artist. That’s just the truth of it.

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