AKIE BERMISS: There is no tragedy in the death of an old man, so the saying goes. I tend to agree. At a nice ripe old age, death can rarely be ascribed tragic significance. It is often sad, unpredictable, or depressing. But if one has lived a long life (whether it has been fruitful or fallow) at least death is more of an expectation than for the young. What is usually ALWAYS tragic is the death of a young person. Be it violent accident, sickness, or simply lethal misfortune — its the loss of the potential for a full life that gives such circumstances their tragic coloring. And so, when it was announced this past Saturday that Amy Winehouse was found dead in her home in London at the age of 27, I immediately thought: this is a tragedy.
Now, I’m was no huge Amy Winehouse fan. I got hip to her in 2006 (with everyone else, it seems) when she came out with Back to Black and I rather liked the record. She had a great voice, flawless delivery, and a way with phrasing that could convey pretty complicated emotions from seemingly infantile lyrics. Am I in the crew of people who liken her to past artist like Dinah Washington, Janice Joplin, or Billie Holiday? No. Most certainly not. I was never SO impressed with Winehouse that I thought she belonged in the pantheon the greatest female singers of our age. Talented, yes. Indeed, very talented. But not Aretha Franklin or anything.
But you see, therein lies the tragedy. Winehouse could very well have been on of the greats. She had the chops for it, the versatility, and style for days. She had all the ingredients, but she’d barely reach the summit of even her barest potential. With the level of notoriety and visibility she’d attained after Back to Black she had the potential to be a force to be reckoned with in the music industry. Just look at the slew of next-to-talentless music personalities that have come along and jacked her style and her whole scene without having even an iota of her talent and skill. I’m hesitant to throw around words like “genius”, but I think it worth noting that genius is as genius does. And with Winehouse, it may’ve been a case of not having had the time to do very much.
For myself, I’m sorry to see Winehouse go. And so quickly as all that. And so unnecessarily. As a musician myself in a world where circumstances have often made me observer, witness, or scribe to so much death that couldn’t be prevented, its a damn shame to see such talent go to waste because of something that probably COULD have been prevented. Sad to say, I’ve seen it’s like before as well. Can’t say I was surprised to hear it, but still it is a shame. It is, in fact, a tragedy.
DAVE TOMAR: Kurt Cobain once wrote a song called “I Hate Myself and Want To Die.” I won’t bother telling you how the rest of that story goes. Suffice it to say though that in the annals of popular music history, those who succumb to the withering pressures of fame, addiction and depression rarely do so without first telegraphing us their intentions.
And so would this be the case on July 23rd, when Amy Winehouse succumbed to a short but excessive lifetime of self-destruction. At age 27, she joins the pantheon of artists whose appetites were greater than their considerable talents. Of course, it would be an over-simplification to suggest that addiction alone was the cause of her death. Though Winehouse struggled publicly with her vices—alcohol, crack-cocaine and heroine among them—it was yet the greater imposition of her own self-loathing that the toxicology reports will fail to diagnose.
With “Rehab,” Winehouse would have her defining moment as a pop star. She would also offer an explicit statement of purpose. Winehouse warned us that she would die alone at the bottom of a bottle and she kept her promise.
Sadly, at the resolution of a story filled with so many flashing camera lights, so much melodrama and so much potential, there is nothing much to say that hasn’t become cliché in the world of young celebrity death. As Bart Simpson once said, attributing the quote to George Burns, “show-business is a hideous bitch goddess.”
It swallows up individuals of singular vision, talent and identity like Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley. So the power that it has to utterly consume the young and disarrayed likes of Amy Winehouse is irresistible. All the demons that she failed to dispatch, all the self-doubt that she never laid to rest, any of the things that haunted her on her way to stardom, they were only incubated under the hot lights of public acclaim.
So the most troubling part of Winehouse’s death is not even that it happened. It’s that we all knew it would happen, we all knew it would happen exactly this way and we were powerless to stop it. And perhaps even if we could have stopped it, we wouldn’t have.
It’s happened before. It will happen again. And for all its predictability, it sucks every time.
Still, we look so fondly upon the mythologized figures of Hendrix and Joplin and Cobain that Winehouse now joins, less frequently bemoaning their passing too young and more often celebrating the miraculous artistic accomplishments that were made possible in equal parts by their talent and their pain.