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Amy Winehouse.


Photo via AmyWinehouse.com

When I heard the news on Saturday that Amy Winehouse had passed away, my impulse was not to write about her death…or her life. Although I am a fan of her music and have followed her over the years, I don’t know if I’m capable of deeply connecting emotionally with musicians that I’ve discovered as an adult. No, that kind of ability to attach ended for me when I left my teens, I think.

I think the saddest part of hearing that she’d died—and I’ve heard many others say the same thing—was that I didn’t have any sense of shock. I was stunned, yes, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that it was inevitable.

That isn’t true, of course; it’s impossible to chart the course of a person’s life based solely on addiction or tabloid new coverage. Everyone follows their own path—no fate was etched in stone for Amy. But here we are. She’s gone, and the world doesn’t get her back.

Amid all of the belabored chatter about the (in)significance of her age (enough, already) and her last performance and all of her many troubles that played out in front of the world, there was this article, written by Rabbi Shais Taub, who works toward recovery with Jewish addicts:

There is a lesson to be learned from every death. To anybody out there going through the living hell of active addiction—whether you yourself are an addict or you are someone who loves an addict—here is my message to you. Please know that it’s not that you haven’t tried everything there is to try. It’s not that you’re not good enough, strong enough, smart enough, determined enough. You could multiply your efforts and your will power by literally a million times, you could have the whole world on your side, and still face the same heartbreaking outcome in the end.

So who knows if this was inevitable, really. We don’t know. I do think Amy wanted to live, and I do believe that if she’d managed to get herself straight again she’d have given us a whole lot more music to enjoy. Let’s remember that no person should be defined solely by a tragic death or by an addiction. As it is, though, she’s gone, and we’re left with what managed to get out of her heart before she went down.

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39 Comments

  • Reply Ticara July 26, 2011 at 8:58 pm

    One of my favorites! I still have that ability to attach to artists, but I’ll blame the brain crazies. In any case, I agree – there was no real shock on my end, either. I was caught off guard briefly because I was out and not near news sources and assumed my friend texting me was just going to say she was back in rehab. Did you read Russell Brand’s comments on her? I have a love/hate relationship with him.

    • Reply Anna @ D16 July 26, 2011 at 9:05 pm

      I did read it, yes! I don’t have an opinion of him one way or another, but it was a relief to read something that wasn’t the usual “tragic crackhead” essay. He obviously knows things that I (thankfully) could never really understand or relate to, and I’m sure his honesty means a lot to others who struggle with the same illness.

  • Reply corrie July 26, 2011 at 9:00 pm

    believe it or not, russel brand wrote a touching essay about amy.
    http://www.russellbrand.tv/2011/07/for-amy/

  • Reply Jenna @ sweetfineday July 26, 2011 at 9:02 pm

    Beautiful, Anna

  • Reply Adam July 26, 2011 at 9:04 pm

    Very well said Anna, thank you. Such a sad event, I was truly hoping she would be able to conquer her problems and give the world more of her incredible talent.

  • Reply megan July 26, 2011 at 9:47 pm

    “tears dry on their own” is my favorite amy song; thank you for posting that video.

    i just hope that, wherever she is, she’s at peace.

  • Reply Brick Window July 26, 2011 at 9:57 pm

    I was surprised to see you tweet the Rabbi Taub article a few days ago, and I am again perplexed as to what your connection to it is. The point he is clear to make is no one can overcome addiction without a higher power. I don’t believe that. Do you? I am under the impression that you are an atheist–if so, can you explain what resonated in that article? You left out his last sentences–the ones where he is preaching.

    • Reply Anna @ D16 July 26, 2011 at 10:17 pm

      I find inspiration and meaning in all kinds of places and from all sort of people from every faith. I am an atheist, yes, but that doesn’t mean that I discount the wisdom of those who hold different beliefs. (An excellent program to check out if you’re interested in interfaith/non-faith gap-bridging is On Being on NPR!)

      “The point he is clear to make is no one can overcome addiction without a higher power. I don’t believe that. Do you?”

      I don’t believe it for myself, no, but I do think that this is the case for many who have faith in a higher power and who believe in God. If latching on to the belief itself can help someone to overcome addiction, I’m all for it. That doesn’t mean that I believe the higher power exists, but I can’t deny the power faith can have over others’ lives.

      • Reply Brick Window July 26, 2011 at 11:04 pm

        Thank you. I appreciate your honest response.

        • Reply Jules July 27, 2011 at 1:53 am

          The belief in a higher power is common among most treatment specialists and a requirement (step 2) for all 12 step programs to work, but the higher power is (very) loosely interpreted and, as such, not limited to deities. Anything can be a higher power, including your program. There are many atheists in 12 step programs who navigate this issue with success. AA program literature (and the 12 steps programs that have come to be thanks to AA) specifically address Atheism and the second step.

  • Reply Julie July 27, 2011 at 12:30 am

    Thoughtful comments, Anna. I’m 56 yrs old, and in general, she didn’t usually sing the kind of music I listen to. But I had heard her a few times on some standards, like “Will You Still Love Me”, “I Should Care”, “Teach Me Tonight”, and “Someone to Watch Over Me”, and there was no denying she was one of the truly great voices. I’m sorry the world won’t get to hear more from her. I certainly wasn’t shocked to hear either, but very sad that she wasn’t able to live long enough to have her troubles mentioned as a short footnote compared to her talent. I also wish her substance use problems were seen in the context of the mental illness (Bi-polar disorder) she was self-medicating, as the majority of those suffering do. I hope someday, but probably not in my lifetime, we get to the point that people’s mental illness and substance abuse will get the same compassionate treatment as a cancer patient or car accident victim, instead of broadcasting it for mass ridicule and entertainment.

    • Reply Anna @ D16 July 27, 2011 at 12:46 am

      I actually had no idea that she was bipolar.

      It is shameful that we continue to view the brain and its chemistry as being somehow separate from the rest of our bodies. Beyond how mental illness is regarded in the public eye, we (in the United States, at least) do not have a medical care/insurance system that is set up to handle these illnesses appropriately.

  • Reply Galit July 27, 2011 at 12:59 am

    Me, like you, was deeply saddened by her death. I’m a very positive and optimistic person by nature and so I was somehow hoping and believing she would find the strength to heal.
    I think what really amazed me was some reactions from people (some of them very publicly) that made a mockery out of her songs titles and disrespect in her choices in life and will power. I think in that sense what Russle Brand was writing is so beautiful as he doesn’t talk specifically about Amy but about the way society treats (and understand) addicts and addictions.

    I read recently a little paragraph that Karen Heller of The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote about Amy 3 years ago, and I believe that eve though her death was maybe unpreventable, maybe, just maybe, if she would have been treated differently (especially by the media), we would have heard news about her 3rd album release rather than her death.

    Those are Karen Heller’s words:
    “She’s only 24 with six Grammy nods, crashing headfirst into success and despair, with a codependent husband in jail, exhibitionist parents with questionable judgement, and the paparazzi documenting her emotional and physical distress. Meanwhile, a haute designer Karl Lagerfeld appropriates her dishevelled style and eating issues to market to the elite while proclaiming her the new Bardot.”

  • Reply Isabelle July 27, 2011 at 1:03 am

    “Let’s remember that no person should be defined solely by a tragic death or by an addiction.”

    This was passing through my mind when listening to the radio the first few hours after her death.

    What a weekend it was with all these sad news – the terrible tragedy in Norway. Europe for a long time has regarded such tragedies as something “possible only in the states” (and not meant with disrespect), and Europe has been proved wrong. Mental illness does not obide/ follow weapon laws, culture etc.

    • Reply Anna @ D16 July 27, 2011 at 1:19 am

      Isabelle, that’s interesting that you point out that Europe regards incidents like the one in Norway as being more typical of American culture. I thought the same thing myself when I heard the news and was immediately reminded of Columbine, Oklahoma City, Virginia Tech, Tucson, and so on—the type of thing that seems to happen here once every year or two. I think everyone thinks “not here”, though, even within the States—it’s just such an irrational occurrence that we can never plan for it, nor can we ever know how to cope when it does happen.

  • Reply kay* July 27, 2011 at 1:10 am

    Very well said.

    You know, just last week I was sitting in my little room here in Delhi listening to her “Back to Black” album – singing out loud – and thinking to myself, “Damn, this was/is such a freaking amazing album! I can’t believe it’s already 4 (or 5) years old…I wonder when she’ll do a new one…..” Then on the weekend when I spoke with my brother he told me what had happened…It’s hard to say how I felt because, like you – I find it hard to create “attachments” to public figures as an adult – but I immediately knew that music lovers had suffered an enormous loss…

    I saw a tweet that I think best summed it up. Amid all the people talking about her addiction, her antics, how it was “inevitable” and yadda yadda the tweet read:

    “Just because a tragedy is predictable doesn’t make it any less tragic.”

    I agree.

    btw – tears dry on my own is perhaps my favourite song of hers.

    • Reply Anna @ D16 July 27, 2011 at 1:21 am

      It’s my favorite, too, K—she perfectly nailed the upbeat breakup song. A genre unto itself!

  • Reply Fawn July 27, 2011 at 1:11 am

    Thanks for the lovely tribute comment on your blog. It is good to share amongst ourselves the love of arts and music – the power of music to get us round the invisible circle and listen to a voice. Too bad we had to lose another artist. Thought this Dazed Digital old interview article brings round the original Amy before it all went down.

    [link]

  • Reply Theresa July 27, 2011 at 2:30 am

    That quote you have in your post is so on the money. I lost my best friend a few years back due to addiction and it is heart-breaking. I still think of him every day. He, we, I tried everything we could yet he is gone. Thanks for the quote… and the link.

  • Reply Süsk July 27, 2011 at 4:28 am

    Such a great voice and it’s such a shame.

    I’ll always remember her on a pop quiz show on telly here- she was asked if she would ever do a duet with Katie Melua (easy-listening cheesey pop singer) and she leaned back in her chair and quipped “I’d rather have cat AIDS, thank you.”

    What a legend.

  • Reply Ceci July 27, 2011 at 9:32 am

    Thank you for this post! When I heard that she died it made me SO SAD! Not because she was an addict, or troubled, or that people followed her around like a circus act not making her situation any easier, but because she was a person. With a great talent. It made me really, really sad.

    “The bitterest tears shed over graves
    are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.”

    ~ Harriet Beecher Stowe ~

  • Reply Grumble Girl July 27, 2011 at 9:46 am

    My daughter sings the chorus of that song with so much soul, it kills me…

    I loved the Winehouse. Always did. I knew her music before I caught a glimpse of her, and I was shocked to see such a tiny little thing with the big voice… gone now. I’m not sure I’ll really write about her either, but her loss is tragic because she was a suffering human person – and I’m living very close to a dull-normal (by comparison) whose fate is looking similar… it’s jarring and scary.

    This “celebrity” loss pinches me in the worst way. 🙁

    • Reply Anna @ D16 July 27, 2011 at 10:47 am

      I don’t think it’s the “celebrity” factor so much as it is the fact that these are the people who create the stuff (music, art, film, whatever) that we all let into our lives and allow ourselves to relate to in ways that are intangible…but important. Maybe we need to stop apologizing for caring when someone who was creating things for the whole world to enjoy dies. Art matters, and so do the people who make it.

      • Reply Grumble Girl July 27, 2011 at 1:46 pm

        Art totally matters. People matter. And I think there are some people who are perhaps too sensitive for this world, and though brilliant in what they bring to others, cannot, themselves, be contained. Or content. Or something.

        And alcoholism in women often looks a bit different than it does with men… all of it bad though. The lines of function vs. disfunction get blurry sometimes, especially when a talented person is still “producing” the art. It’s just such a shame.

  • Reply tara July 27, 2011 at 10:14 am

    I found myself wondering, when I heard of her death, if you’d be writing about it. It is very sad. I wasn’t a fan, not my kind of music, really, but it is always sad when the world loses a talent, no-matter how troubled. If you’re interested, there is a really beautiful post written here that you might want to check out: http://thegirlwho.net/thunder-pie/2011/7/26/tooth-marks-in-the-wood.html.

  • Reply emily at thirtyeight20 July 27, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    I always felt sorry for Amy (who clearly fought many demons in her life) and am saddened by the lack of compassion some people seem/ed to have for her. I don’t think the life of a drug addict should be glamorized or romanticized — but our society desperately needs some education and sensitivity training on mental health. I guess we like to think of mental illness as a choice (or a mere consequence of certain choices) to trick ourselves into thinking it can happen only to other people. It can be a terrifying thing, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore it or ridicule it. The stigma just makes it worse for those who suffer.

    Bottom line is, it’s nice to read kind, well considered things posted about people. It is scary how judgmental humans can be — both of others and of ourselves. Thank you for not doing that here.

    And “Tears dry on their own” is definitely my favorite Amy song. Instant empowerment.

    • Reply Anna @ D16 July 27, 2011 at 12:32 pm

      I think Julie was on the money when she made the comparison to a car accident victim or cancer patient. We certainly don’t glamorize or romanticize either of those afflictions—we take them seriously and treat appropriately. Of course (and I think I may be roughly quoting someone!), when someone finds out they have cancer they generally don’t deny it, and that’s a huge difference. A diagnoses of mental illness or addiction is a little more arbitrary, and therefore acceptance/acknowledgment on the part of the sufferer must occur before healing can begin. Sadly, it’s the disorders themselves that often get in the way of the kind of rational, objective thinking that needs to happen for acceptance to take place.

  • Reply Sherry July 27, 2011 at 5:59 pm

    Thanks for this, especially for that quote. I wish I had heard it when we were in the thick of my sisters addiction to pain killers but it’s so true. I don’t believe in God but seriously sometimes it feels just like pure luck that someone you love was able to survive something so destructive and all encompassing. As evidenced by Amy’s passing there are many who are not so fortunate. It’s sad enough on it’s own, but she had so much talent and so much more to offer the world. You want people to pull through, even when the odds seemed stacked against them. I suppose that why so many are feeling pain with her passing.

    Seeing people criticize her family and friends for “not doing enough” saddens me. They have no idea how much you can do and in the end how little it can matter. Addiction is a hell of a disease, and people need to start viewing it with less judgement and more compassion.

    • Reply Anna @ D16 July 27, 2011 at 6:38 pm

      Thank you for sharing this, Sherry. My best to you. xx

  • Reply Maggie July 28, 2011 at 4:25 am

    beautifully said. I loved her amazing voice, I’m sorry she’s gone. I’m sorry for her family too, I saw her parents a couple years back on 60 Minutes (? I think) and they were an ordinary mum and dad worried about their beloved daughter.

  • Reply Caroline, No July 28, 2011 at 5:46 am

    It’s horribly sad news. Really tragic. She had so much talent, the absolute real deal.

  • Reply Rachel B July 28, 2011 at 10:50 am

    This is a beautifully, sensitively written post.

  • Reply Kimberley July 28, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    Amongst all the chatter, this is so well-said and gracious. It’s hard to understand the struggle of addiction, and that’s what I’ve found myself contemplating over the last week.

  • Reply karen July 28, 2011 at 12:11 pm

    i just wanted to thank you for deleting the comments that were made a couple of days ago criticizing you for writing about amy winehouse’s death but not about norway (or any of the other millions of sad things happening in the world). these are totally separate events and don’t need to compete with each other.

    this is about so much more than just one person, anyway. those of us who have been addicts or suffer from mental illness understand that, and it’s scary when someone who was as public about it as amy was dies.

    it’s so encouraging to read the comments here from people who are trying to understand and who do have sympathy. it really means a lot. thank you so much for having this forum, anna. and for keeping it clear from the naysayers.

  • Reply Michaela July 29, 2011 at 8:17 pm

    Thank you for this Ana. I want to echo what other commenters have said: this is a well written and thoughtful response. I’ve been disgusted by the jokes and lack of sensitivity regarding Amy Winehouse’s death. I count myself as a fan of her music, but also find myself aligned with her family in that someone I love has been struggling with the recovery process for years. I especially appreciate your reference to Rabbi Taub. His words are truthful and helpful (even for an atheist such as myself). The inclusion of Winehouse singing “Tears Dry on Their Own” really showcases both her self-conscious nature as well as an amazing, seemingly effortless voice. Her death really resonated with me and your writing is healing. My hope is that her family reads more responses like yours as they grieve her loss.

  • Reply Vivian July 30, 2011 at 1:33 am

    People should not have been so quick to judge or make assumptions about her death or about anyone who may have died from alcohol/drug related causes: [LINK]

    Just for background, the Canadian poet Gwendolyn MacEwan is believed to have died from alcohol withdrawal.

    • Reply Anna @ D16 July 30, 2011 at 8:17 am

      Hi Vivian, while I do agree that people are too quick to judge, these articles all cite the Sun (a tabloid) as their source, and are based on nothing but rhetoric. I think it’s import to not look for the answers we want to find by turning to tabloids—wait instead for toxicology results and official reports. Regardless, I don’t think there is any debate as to whether Amy was an addict and that she’d struggled with mental illness; she did not keep it a secret. My concern (and others’ commenting here) is not so much with the event of her actual death, but with everything that led up to that point.

      • Reply Vivian July 30, 2011 at 1:18 pm

        Hi Anna, Yeah I agree to wait for toxicology results for cause of death. I wanted to raise awareness of this other issue/side, that counters some of the haters comments. ‘People’ also said they confirmed the family’s belief themselves in their article, although they don’t say how. I’d say they are slightly more reliable than the Sun in getting quotes from people (and MJ’s estate said they referred the press to a certain 2004 ‘People’ article recently regarding a certain someone we won’t mention ;)). I think it’s important to remind people that she did make an effort and at least the first concert of her comeback tour went well.

        There was also no debate as to MacEwen’s longtime mental illness and addiction. It’s unfortunate that sometimes those with mental illness turn to substance abuse, possibly as self-medication.

  • Reply Vivian July 30, 2011 at 2:38 am

    *MacEwen

    “PEOPLE has confirmed that this is the family’s belief.” [LINK]

    “People who drink heavily and stop suddenly may go through alcohol withdrawal, …Sometimes, this can affect the heart, causing cardiac arrhythmia, and in rare cases, this can be fatal.” [LINK]

    Thanks for writing positively about Amy Winehouse and for moderating the comments. I’ve seen a lot of negative comments about her on youtube. Also, the media has been focusing on her disastrous last concert without mentioning that she was doing well at the beginning of her comeback tour in January: [LINK]

    There are videos her singing well at the Florianopolis, Brazil concert on youtube.

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