An Unexpected Tribute
So on Friday I get my new issue of Entertainment Weekly. It’s got two guys on the cover that I learned are going to be in the Hunger Games movie. I’m flipping through it to learn what’s in their Bullseye this week (it’s Jay-Z and Kanye with an Otis Redding tribute). I’m all eager to look at who was wearing whom at Comic-Con, when I see one of the saddest, most affecting photos I’ve come across in a long time.
This is Amy Winehouse during her last performance, on June 18 in Budapest. By all accounts, this show was a disaster. She was unfocused, babbling, staggering around, and mumbling. There are reports she tried to leave the stage a couple times but her bodyguards forced her back out. It was a breakdown in front of an audience.
If you’ve followed Amy’s life at all, this isn’t new. She’d been breaking down in front of all of us for years. She mopped up at the Grammys for her 2007 CD Back to Black, and that was pretty much it for her making music news.
I’d never paid much attention to her music, honestly. I wasn’t avoiding her or anything, I just don’t listen to the radio much. Her styling, with the beehive hair and over-the-top eye makeup and the tattoos, intrigued me, but even that was lost in the bright fashion light of Teh Gaga. All I really knew about Amy Winehouse was that she had problems with addiction. I recently bought a copy of Back to Black, and I wish I’d tried it out sooner. After hearing her music, her makeup made more sense.
People die from overdoses all the time. Amy being famous doesn’t make her story more or less tragic than anyone else’s. Yet her lyrics were so raw and her descent and her struggles so public, we were treated to a rare window into what’s going on with drug and alcohol abusers. I’ve seen lots of internet commenters sniggering that her first big hit was called “Rehab” and trying to make a non-tiresome joke about the song’s first line (“They tried to make me go to rehab, I said, ‘No, no, no'”). But the internet commenters were too overwhelmed with empathy to say anything profoundly stupid. (Ha! I might be lying about that.) Reading those lyrics now, they seem sort of hopeless.
I don’t ever wanna drink again
I just, ooh, I just need a friend
I’m not gonna spend ten weeks
Have everyone think I’m on the mend
Amy did go to rehab. She’d been in rehab off and on for years. Obviously, she couldn’t find what she needed there. Look at that picture again — that is not the face of someone who was fighting her demons. That’s the face of someone who just realized she was losing to them. There are a lot of pictures of Amy online, but this is the only one I’d ever seen where she looked scared and haunted.
Maybe I’m just getting overemotional as I get older, but I was so moved by this image that it was two days later before I noticed she had a boob tattoo on her arm. My boobdar is normally finely honed.
Just about everyone who’s written anything about Amy’s death has said some variation of “it’s sad but not surprising.” I guess I feel that way too. I’m struggling to understand how someone can get to the point where they’re in such obvious danger that even strangers across the globe can see it, but no one close to her could help. What a waste. And what a tragedy she couldn’t find peace.
(NOTE: Between the time I wrote this and the time it posted, Cracked also weighed in on Amy Winehouse. It’s a good article, but I think there’s a difference between being addicted and being suicidal. Amy also dealt with depression and eating disorders, and I’ve read stories that implied she was a cutter. I think it’s unfair to assume she was in control, or that she wanted to die.
As usual, skip the comments. I think there’s some contest online to be the biggest douchebag you can be. Winner gets a life of solitude, freeing them up to be online even more.)