The other day I saw a Facebook post that just said, “Amy Who?” I can’t blame the poster. It seems like the media latches on to every calamity like pit bulls. People are no doubt tired of hearing all the tributes and commentary.
I myself had not listened to a single Amy Winehouse song before hearing of her death. I did not really even know who she was. Out of idle curiosity, I looked up some YouTube videos. When I finished, I decided I need to get out of the house more.
Call me jaded, but I simply cannot bear most popular music. Aside from vapid lyrics and mechanical production, most singers are not singers at all, but spokespeople for a personal brand. Music producers seem to find a bombshell or a hunk who can stay in the vicinity of a melody and dress up the rest with technology. The result is a chorus of robots.
My first exposure to Amy Winehouse was “F-Me Pumps.” I knew from the first ten seconds that I was listening to a rare talent. The shock of hearing a soulful voice and the ability to carry a tune without the help of a machine was enough. To see her deliver straightforward, no pretense, no-nonsense music put me over the edge. “They Tried to Make Me Go To Rehab” was next. Where had I been all this time?
My point is not to praise Amy. There are plenty of music critics better qualified to explain her talent. It is her death that started me again to wondering what it is that takes over an addict’s life.
My own problems with alcohol were more easily managed, but I hesitate to be too proud about that. Even though I was able to quit by myself, I often look back and wonder what was happening while I was drinking. What made me do what I knew perfectly well was bad for me and those I love?
The short answer is that no one made me do it. No one ever pried my jaws open and poured beer down my throat. It was me and only me. Yet when I see a case as sad as Amy’s, I wonder how she must have felt in her final days. Was there a spark in there somewhere that could have been fanned, as was mine? Could someone have said just the right thing at just the right time to wake her up, as someone did with me? We don’t know and we never will.
Life is cruel. Human existence is struggle. We just struggle with different things than did our primitive ancestors. A death by accident or a heroic death in the service of good is easier to swallow. We think that somehow the Universe will honor our demise because we either couldn’t help it or we were working against its vast indifference to our existence. A death by self-destruction is indigestible. It violates all that life represents–its own urge to survive in the face of everything that is set against it.
There is no lesson here. There is no comfort and no refuge. Death stalks us all and some people are inexplicably compelled to give it a hand. Let us accept the gift Amy gave us and let it go at that.