I had hoped that Amy Jade Winehouse would be one of those who made it out of the frightening forest of addiction and emotional instability. It’s not unusual for the indiscretions of artists and performers to be tracked and publicized…it goes with the territory. But I was often surprised at how people revealed their own limitations with their responses to the limitations of others.
My brother’s ex-wife (fortunately) said once she would never watch actor Stacey Keach because of his conviction for possessing marijuana. Recently a friend said casually she couldn’t stand Amy Winehouse because she was celebrating her addiction and whatever happened she got what she deserved. It made me wonder if these people had never made mistakes, gotten hurt, felt tortured or miserable? And did they have as strong a reaction to serial rapists? To war mongers?
I am not prone to prayer but I know I sent positive thoughts out to the cosmos for Robert Downey, Jr. I want him to keep beating his addictions as much as I’d always hoped my Aunt Jo would beat hers.
The triumph of Drew Barrymore over her addictions is a good thing just as anyone’s. Stars have the advantage of paying for rehab, but they do it in public with a barrage of negativity which is unsettling. When I see the misery of addicts on the street I hope there is someone, somewhere who has not given up on them like people seem eager to do.
I don’t know that AJW was an abused child or neglected or any of the things that led to the dysfunction of her life. I don’t need to rummage through her closets and find excuses for her humiliating behaviour or her untimely death.
I would like to mention a couple of things though: she was the first British female singer to win five Grammys with her amazingly compelling 2006 album, ‘Back to Black.’ The album’s popularity helped to keep Universal’s Music Division afloat, kind of like blues empress, Ma Rainey’s albums helped save Columbia Records in the 1920s.
Winehouse’s style led to the popularity of current favorite British ‘soul’ singers like Adele and Duffy. Her eye make up and bouffant hair were an homage to the ‘60s girl groups, especially the Ronettes. And her singing was as good as any of them.
I’d hoped to hear more of her work; and that she’d figure out the path out of that dense forest. Even with the ongoing support of those of us who loved her, my Aunt Jo never did. I’ll never know what it is that makes one person resilient enough to recover and leaves others to languish in what seems like a living hell.
Amy Jade Winehouse was young, talented and troubled. Hearing people (who didn’t know her) dismiss her death (or Marilyn Monroe’s or Billie Holiday’s) feels like it diminishes who we are as people. We don’t have to celebrate the mistakes others make but we can celebrate a star that flashes through the sky. So I put some Winehouse on a CD alongside the legendary Sarah Vaughn, another troubled singer who died too young, and sing along really loud in my car. The art lives.
Jewelle Gomez is the author of 7 books including the lesbian vampire classic novel, The Gilda Stories. Her new play about James Baldwin will be produced in September 2011. Follow her on Twitter: VampyreVamp. Or her website: www.jewellegomez.com