Archive for August, 2011

in which I discuss Amy Winehouse (unfinished)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on August 4, 2011 by darryl zero

I’m not the kind of person to get bent out-of-shape over a celebrity dying. People, despite their best efforts, inevitably die for one reason/cause or another, and rather than wax poetic about the void left by their absence, I generally tend to look at death in terms of what will or not be accomplished because a given person is not there to do or not do it. My indifferent attitude toward death stems partly from the fact that I really haven’t had anyone too close to me die–some friends here-and-there, my dad’s parents, almost all of my family pets, but that’s about it. Really, though, it has a lot to do with the fact that I don’t fear dying–and that, in turn, is not because I’m especially brave or tough but rather because I have yet to see any evidence suggesting death is anything other than a release, be it through the transition of a spirit or simply fading into nonexistence.

I don’t particularly enjoy seeing others in pain, however (unless they deserve it–but, really, how often does that happen?); I feel a particular sadness for the sick, the slowly dying, and the like. That, in turn, isn’t because I’m such a great and noble guy–it’s just because there’s a limit to how much suffering can really be useful.

With all that said, I don’t feel the slightest hint of sadness or sympathy for Amy Winehouse. Her death, while unfortunate in that there are people who legitimately loved the person beneath her much-publicized public persona, shocked only the thoroughly obtuse or the determinedly faithful; furthermore–as I said through various social media organs–it was hardly tragic, considering the other things that went on at around the same time. As is the case when something happens to someone famous, there’s the predictable acerbic, snarky internet asshole contingent just waiting and willing to lay into someone they don’t know with some completely unfounded judgmental commentary. But the subsequent indictment of those that dare have anything remotely critical to say about the late Ms. Winehouse–especially some of the more lucid arguments I’ve read in a variety of places, not the least of which being the Guardian–leave me feeling a little bit dismayed and lot bit offended.

When you’re a teetotaler (and something of a vocal one), there’s always the risk of coming across as condescending, self-righteous, judgmental, et cetera when broaching the subject of addiction, especially when it has something to do one way or another with a person’s death. On one level, I can completely understand and appreciate people being touchy about high-profile events surrounding an issue that’s a legitimate concern. Addiction is a tragic, unfortunate thing, especially when accelerated by genetic predisposition, and when it reaches the dangerous level Winehouse reached, it’s a potential hazard for both the addict and the people close to them.

It’s important to note I write all of this not as some kind of sermonizing pundit or professional, or even as someone with any significant firsthand knowledge of the disease. I don’t have any terrible-or-terribly-uplifting tale of how I once dealt with some “-ism” that I or my father/mother/sister/lover/close associate , be it through either good fortune, good discipline or good company, managed to conquer or keep at bay. Do I have people in my life that have dealt with addiction? Certainly–I can’t think of a single person that doesn’t, but I’ve been extremely lucky that my close ones, for the most part, have emerged from their addictions with a little permanent damage, a few cool scars, and some truly awful tattoos and hairstyles. There is no unifying element to their stories other than they once were hardcore users, they are (in most cases) no longer hardcore users, they recognize they have a problem but, eventually, consciously or otherwise, they realized they had to choose between their life or their lifestyle. Some of them used programs, some of them had accidental (or not-so-accidental) pregnancies, some of them merely blew significant amounts of blood, cartilage and who-knows-what-else out of their noses and decided they needed to make a few changes in their lives. The point is, my friends that succeeded in managing their addictions managed to do it because they wanted to or recognized they had to.

I’m not saying that addicts that don’t manage their addictions don’t want to get clean, or that they don’t recognize that they have to get clean in order to do whatever is required of them in their life. What I am saying is that, for the vast majority of addicts, there is no guarantee of a luxurious existence for any stretch of time if they manage their addiction. Hell, for most of them, there isn’t the guarantee of an easy or even happy existence beyond their addiction; part of the reason people abuse drugs in the first place (note the term “abuse”–I’m not applying this to all drugs users) is because they are somehow unhappy with their lives. For that matter, for a lot of addicts, getting clean is a time, money-consuming affair, the latter of which is sometimes mitigated through the time and efforts of one or more extremely patient, kind, giving people, many of whom have no particular stake in the addict’s rehabilitation other than the decency of helping a person in need.

I say all of this to illustrate that, if we are to believe (as I do) that addiction is a disease, that it afflicts some of us on a genetic level but could potentially exist in all of us given the right (or wrong) set of circumstances, then one must look at the entirety of one’s circumstances when considering the actions of a given addict. In short: the average addict is, for all intents and purposes, the average person, with average problems and average circumstances other than the fact that they’re an addict. Sure, addiction affects their entire life, but the depth of its impact–and, it could be argued, the profundity of their addiction–can only be within the realm of what is possible for an average person.

Which is why, frankly, Amy Winehouse running herself into the ground at age 27 was neither unforeseen, unexpected, nor particularly unfortunate. Nor, for that matter, was it tragic, or even sad.

Because, despite what the apologists and the “there but for the grace of [insert abstract] go I” crowd want to say, Amy Winehouse was not an average person. Nor, for that matter, was she an average addict. She was a celebrity–a talented one, to be sure, and in ways other than her ability to look pretty while fucking someone on-camera for free–but a celebrity nonetheless. She was part of the record industry, a mouthpiece of a corporate agenda, a bankable commodity just as much as she was someone’s daughter, friend, or lover–and, if you know anything about the music industry, you know that, especially these days, the industry will do just about anything to protect its investments. I say this without judgment or condemnation–again, Winehouse was a talented woman, and I’ll never fault anyone for taking a lucrative job for which they’re qualified if someone is willing to give it to them. But facts are facts, and the fact is that Winehouse’s employer was willing to use a variety of means at their disposal to ensure that, even if they couldn’t keep her clean, they could at least keep her functional or, perhaps, able to do her fucking job. Whether it’s pushing her onstage to allow her to limp tunelessly through one of the most notoriously awful performances in recent history or employing people for the sole purpose of making sure she didn’t get high, the people whose livelihood would be affected (if not completely derailed) by Winehouse getting too fucked-up to function on a professional level tried their damndest to make sure she could continue to make them money. What employer does that for its employees? Okay, what normal employer does that? Could you imagine what the professional landscape would look like if every employer did as much as Winehouse’s handlers did to keep their employees clean? For that matter, while you’re pondering how Arby’s could possibly turn a profit in such a scenario, how successful do you really think they could be? Where do you draw the line when dealing with someone so determined to destroy themselves?

Because, let’s be real for a second: Amy Winehouse, like Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and countless nameless, insignificant non-celebrities before her, destroyed herself. To put the blame for her untimely demise on a disease is to remove the most important element from the equation: her own decisions, desires, and general fucking accountability. When you say “Amy Winehouse was an addict, it was her addiction that killed her,” you’re putting distance between the addict and her behavior–and, if addiction is something that can just as easily take you, whatever your family or personal history, or me, thirty-one years sober and counting, then you have to take personal responsibility into account. If you want to believe that Winehouse was somehow ignorant of the effects of a rate of drug and alcohol abuse as pronounced as hers would have on her body, that’s fine–but truly, in an age in which everyone has access to any amount of information, that’s no excuse, especially considering Winehouse was rich and famous in one of the more technologically-advanced societies on the planet, with people paid to let her know she was running herself into the ground. The point I’m getting at here is, even if she didn’t know she was killing herself, there’s no way she could have not known it was a possibility, especially considering she’s most famous worldwide for a fucking song she wrote about people telling her she needed help.