Amy Winehouse Proved Drugs Aren’t Glamorous
“Old Marley was as dead as a doornail.”
– A Christmas Carol (1843)
Thank you, Charles Dickens, for creating such a wonderful, enduring story, and such an apt simile. If you hadn’t heard it before, that’s probably because it is usually omitted from the children’s versions of the oft-told (and filmed and broadcast) tale. With everyone from Michael Caine to (my favorite) Mr. Magoo starring as the wickedest man who ever snorted “Bah Humbug!” and was converted to the most ardent celebrant of Christmas by the end of the story.
A wonderful, happy story — and it deserves to live forever. But death is not terribly suitable material with which to start a children’s story.
Young women (and men) — some no older than children and many who could be termed “recent children” — were ardent fans of singer Amy Winehouse — who is now “dead as a doornail.”
I mean no disrespect, but Amy purposely lived her life (at least in the last few years) as a bad girl — partying to excess, obscuring her talent with drinking and drugs, engaging in a “fatal attraction” love affair with another self-destructive person and basically giving up her musical career.
I personally think it was a little bit far to go to push a bad girl image. If you saw her tattoos and piercings and the hair and makeup styles and the clothing she affected, you may agree with me.
I’ll admit to wishing she hadn’t been Jewish in origin. Such is my ethnic pride. For it is written that every person who does a good deed tips the judgment scales for Our People in the “good” direction, and vice versa. I don’t know that she helped a lot.
There is no doubt that she could sing, and that her musical talent was genuine. In a televised memorial special we saw her as a fresh-faced and innocent teenager singing her heart out at high school. She was a rarity — a child of the new millennium who discovered and revered the romantic balladeers of the swinging rat pack era. My husband and I just love that type of music. Amy had a strong voice and learned to write a certain type of music — and I didn’t mind that her music may have been criticized as “derivative” — it was new to her new generation.
She moved — in her short career — to another pop music era; that of the 50s and 60s girl groups. Her look was a blend of “Rockabilly” and Ronettes. Her music morphed from Frank and Dino and Ella to Shirelles and Crystals. She became the rebel girl singer, the leader of her own pack.
I am old enough to feel the pain for her long-suffering parents who kept trying to get her to stop drugs and get into rehab. She rebelled with a song with the refrain — “They tried to make me go to rehab but I said ‘no, no, no’.”
I remember wanting to cry when I saw a photo of her and her husband leaving the elite Sanderson Hotel after a three-day bender on booze and drugs and fierce fighting — both were wounded, bruised and scratched and bloody.
Yet, although those close to her said that her decline and addictions began when she took up with this man, she would still silently mouth “I love you” to him from the stage.
Yes, drugs are a problem — although it is not politically correct to point this out. Some people talk about “drug experimentation.” In my life you use that term when you have an ethics review board and somebody tabulating data for a statistical analysis.
This is a self-destructive urge, pure and simple. People who die from drugs daily are rarely venerated. People whose musical production I have deliriously enjoyed seem to have shared this drug experience — Billie Holiday, Edith Piaf, Judy Garland. It is not a “rock and roll” lifestyle — it is drug abuse, plain and simple.
Even my parents of blessed memory drove by the Institute of Living, in Hartford Connecticut, in a sort of pilgrimage, a few years later. I remember thinking then I did not want to be doctor who kills stars.
There are plenty of candidates for that post.
There is a popular notion that people have to live tragedy to sing tragedy. Just like the method acting notion that you take something from your own life and transform it into something you are supposed to be acting.
I still remember the schizophrenic who told me that I could not treat him because I had never been schizophrenic. He was in no condition for me to explain to him successfully that a schizophrenic would have trouble getting through medical school, let alone getting licensed as any kind of physician.
I think that everyone would agree that 27 is too young to die, whether or not they appreciated Amy Winehouse’s music. That seems to be a magic age, my husband told me (the champion at music trivia). Look on Wikipedia and find out about the “27 Club” or the curse of 27. Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain and many others not quite so well-known.
The question is if Amy knew or cared that drugs were risking her life. People in the early developmental stages often feel invulnerable, and cannot imagine how close an imminent end is, how they are flirting with it daily.
I think of a never-to-be-famous young woman who saw me recently, identifying herself as, among other things, a dancer and choreographer. Drinking nearly a liter of vodka daily, even though she was in terminal liver failure. I told her it was going to hasten her death. She told me that it would knock her out cold, so she did not have to think or feel about past abuse, at least for a few minutes. It was her interpretation of “one day at a time.” She simply did not care for how many days the sad formula kept working.
Me, I am perhaps “dull” in this regard, avoiding romantic legends. I want to be one of those stars who is pushing 100 and stands up and is applauded in an audience in Las Vegas, just for still being alive. An old, maybe even propped-up-by-her-husband, “living legend,” even if I am a legend only because I have said and done some stuff and I am still living.
Amy Winehouse did make some money for those who owned the right to her work. I am sure money seems like a meager compensation to her parents or her crying fans.
I believe drugs to be more potent now than when Billie Holiday wasted away.
If there is no regard for human life, how about recognizing the tragedy of losing one’s faculties — or in the case of the creative stars, the diminished capacity for artistic output?
I still remember the Palm Springs “gender illusionist” — a male who did a spot-on impersonation of a drug-addled Judy Garland. He won great acclaim and was a regular headliner in Las Vegas. But audiences were more interested in hearing their idol young, healthy, and singing nicely. I don’t think he’s around anymore.
How do we stop repeated tragedies? How do we establish an external locus of control for the young people with too much money who want to “experiment?
Maybe, with some luck, someone will get the message. Someone who needs to get it, and wants to maximize their artistic contribution, even if they cannot understand the significance of human life.