My colleague Hailie has chosen to write a thoughtful remembrance of Ms. Winehouse. I, however, will be addressing, let’s say, a darker side of the story.
This post started out in my head as a simple concept: Yeah, it may suck that Any Winehouse is dead, but – ya know what? – don’t waste your time feeling sorry for her or mourning her death. In all likelihood, she did it to herself. While the first autopsy was “inconclusive” (and, as of this writing, concrete evidence of C.O.D. is not available), she was widely known for drug abuse. The most famous story – at least, that I’ve found so far – dates back to 2007 when she collapsed after taking a combination of “heroin, ecstasy, cocaine and the horse tranquillizer ketamine.” Just…wow.
But then I realized that she’s not the first musician to (ugh, most likely) cause her own death via drugs.
Layne Staley of Alice in Chains also struggled with drug addition – most notably, heroin. His death, caused by a speedball overdose, was ruled accidental. True as that is or may be, he still chose to try either heroin or coke for the first time when ultimately led to his addiction which led to his early death.
Which, of course, is a great loss to rock.
He had a chance to clean up. Hell, he had many. A good chunk of AIC’s catalogue was written either about Staley’s drug problem ( “Down In A Hole”) or about the way his drug problem was viewed by friends and or family ( “No Excuses”). It’s depressing because those same songs were co-written by Staley. So I find it hard to grieve for a guy who wrote and sang lines like, “You can’t understand a user’s mind/ But try with your books and degrees/ If you let yourself go and open your mind/ I’ll bet you’d be doing like me/ And it ain’t so bad.” Or, worse, when he sang lyrics written about him by bandmate (and friend) Jerry Cantrell chronicling their troubled friendship: “Its okay, had a bad day/ Hands are bruised from breaking rocks all day/ Drained and blue, I bleed for you/ You think it’s funny? Well you’re drowning in it, too.”
Which brings me back to Amy. Like Staley, Winehouse sang songs about her own demons. Her biggest hit, in fact, details her refusal to get help: “They tried to make to go to rehab but I said, ‘No, No, No.'” Perhaps even more ridiculous: “I ain’t got 70 days, ’cause there’s nothing, there’s nothing you can teach me/ That I can’t learn from Mr. Hathaway.”
So why should I feel bad (beyond the loss of her talent) about her demise? Her own stubbornness – and, worse yet, her complete fucking ignorance! – probably did her in.
There’s an interesting blog post over at Huffington that wonders whether the music industry should have tried to save Amy. In the post, Natalie Cole, a former addict herself, was interviewed on the subject of Amy Winehouse and argues that, yes, labels (or just someone in the biz) should have picked Amy off of the ground:
[Cole] said the industry has a responsibility to step in and push an artist out of the spotlight until they get their personal act together.
“Somebody in that circle needs to be there to go, ‘Uh uh, you’re going to have to sit down and get some help,'” she said. She said she has seen past examples of a record label halting production of new albums until an artist gets clean.
Perhaps Cole has a point. The piece concludes with Cole stating, “Somebody needed to care about that girl, and I don’t know if she had that.” Maybe she did need an exec to step in. Maybe a lot of things….
But, in the end, she did it to herself.
And here’s the thing: I understand that addiction is a powerful entity. I understand that it can take control of your thoughts and emotions, thus making it damn near impossible to make a coherent decision. I understand that addiction is a mental disease. I get all that. But it’s not like getting pneumonia or cancer. In order for to a dependency to occur, you have to try a drug first.
So that doesn’t excuse musicians singing songs about their very fucking drug problems while continuing to indulge in them. To me, that’s more than a little disingenuous. Imagining Layne singing, “Down in a hole/ Losing my soul,” taking that royalty check, and buying the very goddamn thing that he just wrote and sang about? Fuck that. Here’s the thing: if you’re writing and/or singing a song about your own battle with drug abuse (especially if you’re writing it!), you’re not too far gone that you can’t realize you need help. Any other rationalization is absurd.
Maybe there’s at least some blame to given to the music industry for allowing songs and albums of this nature to be released. But it starts with the musicians themselves who write and/or sing them.
Or maybe I’m way off base. Maybe Amy and Layne and Jimi and Janis and the rest of ’em just didn’t do enough drugs or do them in the correct order. After all, Keith Richards is still alive.