Still from the Video for "Back to Black"
I cheated myself like I knew I would.
I told you I was trouble,
You know I'm no good.
Amy Winehouse, "You Know I'm No Good."
After some eight, needless to say, "odd", years of teetering on the edge of oblivion, the careening train wreck otherwise known as Amy Winehouse finally jumped the tracks some time this afternoon, not so much crashing into the glorious hallows of rock 'n' roll suicide, as hitting the floor of her Camden Town flat with a resounding thud. Being not so much a fan of her music as an admirer of her immense talent, a "thud" was an apt description of the sound my heart made upon hearing that the Diva of Borderline Personality Disorder had given her final "fuck you" to the world. All I could think was, "Great, another bigger than life talent gone to waste." As I learned from obituaries in various publications, having checked out of this mortal coil at the ripe old age of 27, Winehouse joined an "elite club" of rock acolytes who also died at that age, including Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Brian Jones. More accurately, to echo Kurt Cobain's mourning mother, she joined "that stupid club."
"Jesus fucking Christ," I grunted at my girlfriend who had the misfortune of delivering the news to me, "I hate it when people have the whole world by the fucking balls then throw it all away!"
Winehouse cheated herself alright, as well as music fans, and the muse herself. She had more songs in her, as did the like of Cobain, Ian Curtis, et. al. But now we've been cheated. We'll never know if she could have gotten her shit together and become a brilliant songstress who would eventually leave the disasterous public persona of her roaring 20s but a faded, funny footnote to a legendary career. She could have been a contender, worthy of mention in the same breath as Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner, but now, we'll never know.
But is anyone really taken aback by her entry into the stupid club? It would surprise me to the highest heavens if a single sentient member of the human race were the least bit surprised that the Grammy Award winner had gone to meet her Maker, a deity which, in the Winehousian personal alcohol and drug-fueled mytho-theology, would most likely be nothing short of a titanic bottle of Maker's Mark. If anyone would wish the debauchery to continue into the afterlife, it would certainly be Winehouse whose epic pain would certainly follow her there. Though an autopsy is scheduled for tomorrow morning, its results may already have been crowd-sourced, the masses having already written the report with one big sigh of boredom and relief seeping through their pursed lips: "overdose."
It's rather embarrassing, if not downright callous, to admit that one had been full expecting the death of a fellow human being, not to mention an invitation to terminal irony. Perhaps I am wallowing in the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, but in the case of Winehouse, I'd daresay she'd been expecting us to expect it. After all, she'd been shoving her macabre personal theatre of self-destruction in our faces for years: The drugs, the alcohol, the shambolic marriage, the public displays of debauchery, and her recent quest to be the European answer to George Jones.
I know not what demons with which Ms. Winehouse wrestled, but I am quite certain that they are in the same league, if not the exact same ones, as those which sent the likes of "that stupid club", and other insanely talented and celebrated musicians to early graves: the colossal weight of "Great Expectations." This Dickensian gauntlet that we put our most talented darlings through is rather criminal to say the least. It is a tale replayed and examined endlessly in these times where the cultural meatgrinder of pervasive electronic media constantly seek out newer and better talents to raise, praise, then destroy, sustaining itself on the carrion as the victim for the next cycle is pulled from the dungeon of obscurity.
But our culture's "Great Expections" in our horrifically narcissistic age are not just about the pressures of creating the next great work of art. They are about stretching the borders of personal display, forcing one's entire existence into the sphere of performance. Winehouse's world went beyond music into a realm of life as dark performance art where one walks a razor thin edge between life and death, as your fans and the culture as a whole egg you on, deriving a twisted voyeuristic pleasure in your travails. Obviously, Winehouse was wholly complicit in this cycle, if not feeding off the media feeding-frenzy herself, finally biting off more than she could chew. Guilty as anyone else, I lapped up each miscue with glee. However, this final misstep is of a different variety. It is as though the horse I'd enjoyed whipping so much had died, leaving me angry, and with no place to direct my scorn. But that is my pathetic window from which I need to step away.
There have been those who have survived this tightrope act: Lou Reed, Iggy Popp, David Bowie, to name a few. Why would it kill some and and not others? One can never be certain, but, ultimately, I will venture to say that it comes down to a will to live and keep creating. Maybe Winehouse wanted that too, but couldn't handle it anymore. Maybe the public persona had become too burdensome. Maybe this was a cry for help that was meant to go unheeded. Maybe the drugs had completely taken over - yes, this assuming her death was an overdose. Who knows, maybe she'll resurrect and prove herself the Diva Messiah. Reed, Popp, and Bowie lived to play out their second acts and may now be on their third. For Winehouse, barring a Messiah act, there will be no second act. There will be none of the redemption she could have earned with her immense songwriting and vocal talents. We will be left with nothing but "what ifs." We have been cheated, and maybe we have no one but ourselves to blame. It will just be Back to Black forever.
What is your take on the sad, sad life and demise of Amy Winehouse and other talented, yet self-destructive people? Why do some survive the tightrope while others fall from it? What is the difference between someone like Amy Winehouse and Iggy Popp? Did the public's insatiable appetite for Winehouse's self-destructive impulses contribute to her death? What would Morrissey do?