As soon as I heard the news of Amy Winehouse’s passing at about noon yesterday, there was no doubt in my mind that I would write and post something about it on this blog. The question I had to ask myself was whether I should make this a news piece with very little opinion, stick to the music only, or talk about how her image, issues and passing affected me. I’m self-aware enough to realize that we live in a very self-possessed world. However, I also imagine that many of you who read this do so because of the opinions that the team here have. So, it’s worth it to go all out. I think.
For my money, Back to Black was the best album released in the last decade. And this is not revisionist history brought on by someone’s passing. Two years ago, when I and the rest of the Popdose staff made individual lists of the best albums of the decade that was ending, Amy’s magnum opus was Number One. It was soulful and spunky in a way that most other artists (specifically young female vocalists) couldn’t duplicate. It was authentic, and it resonated with me. There was also no way you could listen to songs like “Love is a Losing Game” or even more upbeat tracks like the now-infamous “Rehab” and not think “this girl is troubled”, even before her public meltdowns occur. Back to Black gave me the same vibe as when I heard The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill or Fiona Apple’s Tidal. A sense that there was a lot of talent, and also a lot of very real pain behind the talent. Unfortunately, while Fiona seemed to get her shit together (or at least channel it into her music) and Lauryn doesn’t really possess a self-destructive streak (although she teeters on the edge of sanity, it seems), Winehouse indulged whatever demons she had in drugs and alcohol to the Nth degree. It made for interesting (and personal) art, but also led to an epic and sad flameout (similar to Kurt Cobain’s), which has reached it’s seemingly inevitable end.
Now that we’ve reached that end, the complicated process of figuring out her legacy begins. Already on social media, there have been several different schools of thought: the “who cares? She was a druggie” school of thought exists, which is what I imagine the exclusive province of people who have never seen a family member or friend struggle with addiction or any sort of demon. There’s also the “that’s sad, but there’s more important stuff going on in the world” tack, which…I don’t know. World tragedies happen every day. People (famous or otherwise) die every day also. Taking time to mourn the loss of an individual who meant something to you, either by directly being in your life or by creating the soundtrack to it, doesn’t reprioritize (or unprioritize) anything else going on in the world or lessen the impact of any other events.
In the end, I find her death and many things about it tragic. The fact that she was only 27, eight years younger than me, probably freaks me out the most, but there’s also the mourning of what might have been from a creative standpoint, and the most nagging question in my head: I wonder if someone could have helped her? What could have been done to save her? Was she at all interested in saving herself? Could someone have been more caring, more compassionate, more humane than those of us (including me) who laughed or shook her heads at her very public foibles? Damn, that’s a question I find myself asking way too much these days.
Although I knew and still now a great deal of addicts, I don’t have a lot of knowledge in specific reference to drug abuse. I know a few people who use or have used hard drugs occasionally, but don’t know anyone who abuses them (or at least does so openly). I would imagine that anyone who abuses alcohol and drugs isn’t doing so for the high or to feel good for a few minutes or even a night, but they’re doing it as a way of self-medicating, or as a method of committing slow suicide. So, my reaction to the callous comments about Amy’s death would have been the same if Amy had shot herself in the head and died. It’s the same thing, pretty much. No one goes to those types of lengths to destroy themselves unless they feel some kind of profound disconnect or sadness. It’s a shame that no one was able to fill the void Amy sought to fill with various substances. Even if she might have been too far gone for a number of years, I wonder if there wasn’t a point when someone could’ve stepped in and potentially reversed the course of her life.
There’s no point in trying to figure that out now, though, because she’s gone. I feel for her family and friends, and myself mourn her loss. At least (and this is a very small consolation for not only those that knew her personally but also those of us who were excited for what could have been) we have the music to remember her by. Rest in peace.