I’ve been holding off on commenting on the death of Amy Winehouse. My thoughts and emotions have been dissonant at best, intangible at worst, but most of all they’ve been veiled by public reaction to her almost predictable demise.
Being a lover of unconventional emo music, her Back to Black album hit me in a lot of squishy places inside. It’s been at the top of my playlist for a few years, but her music was not all that I loved about her. I’ve held a quiet fascination with her since her debut, mostly because of her tumultuous personal life and the parallels I can draw into my own. I’ll admit I cried when she died… less for her life cut short and more for the rapacious perception and judgement the world held over her.
Loved or despised, I have to respect Amy for at least one thing: her honesty. In a society that breeds Beibers and Ke$has and other Hollywood-manufactured playthings, Amy stood out as the incendiary – vulnerable and volitile. Reeking and raw. But to most, she was a lamentable pariah. We reject what’s not pretty and we rebuke what we don’t understand. The world wasn’t equipped to handle Amy, and sometimes when I’m vainly self-piteous, I can relate. I can recall nights of sinowy torment, dragging my drunken battered carcass around a dishevled apartment scribbling pages of blasphemous blah in hopes of exorcising my personal demons onto paper and out of my miserable head. Artful? Doubtful.
But Amy was artful. The value of a genius is not what they can make you believe, but what you never wanted to hear but respected anyway. It’s the stuff you can’t understand but you know it when you feel it. Amy made people feel. Even if they had no idea what they were feeling. And her battered affect? It just never occurred to her to act anything other than authentic. How many of us can say that about ourselves?
In this society of pretense, we punish those who are brave enough to be real.
How many seemingly perfect lives are simply veils for disfunction? How often are our wounds, flaws, and psychoses hidden behind picket fences and fictitious virtue? We all have a seedy underbelly, but Amy wore hers like an loose garment.
People call her life a waste. I call her life a triumph. What would we say about her 20 years from now if she cleaned up, dressed up, and washed up? We’d say she sold out. Forgot who she was. And those who would mock her for her undeniable affliction surely have their own personal axes to grind that had nothing to do with Amy. Glass houses, and such.
In the end, I believe it was the loneliness that killed her. Recent reports show that her death was secondary to alcohol withdrawal. She was going cold turkey. She was trying to be what we wanted her to be. She was just too broken to ask for help.
I write this as an homage not to a woman damaged, but to an artist untethered. If only we all had the courage to be so transparent… our subtle cries for help may not be so drowned by our pathological desire for attention and acceptance.