As I’m sure you’re aware, Amy Winehouse was found dead in her London flat this past Saturday, July 23. She was gifted with a towering voice, a sharp wit, and an artist’s impulse to not do what anyone else wanted her to. In this era of pre-packaged pop songstresses, hers was a raw talent; her music deftly mixed jazz, R&B, and 60′s pop. She released her debut album Frank in 2003, and her Stateside breakthrough came with her second and final album, 2006′s Back to Black (both released in the U.S. in 2007). Back to Black was everywhere four years ago. Not being the sort to listen to pop radio, I remember the very first time I heard Winehouse: I was at a Borders (which is also gone now, or soon to be), browsing the music section, and I decided to throw on the headphones and take a listen to this Brit singer I’d been hearing about. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t what I heard. Winehouse looked thin and serious on the cover, but the voice that emanated from those headphones was big, soulful. I was sold instantly.
So were many millions of others. Back to Black garnered five Grammy Awards and carried the instant classic “Rehab.” Winehouse ushered in a new wave of British soul divas including the likes of Duffy and Adele, the latter of whom has been experiencing similar levels of ubiquity this year. In the five years following Back to Black, though, Winehouse didn’t record another album. She wasn’t just a bold, terrific singer, she was also a troubled young woman struggling with alcoholism and drug addiction. The tabloids squealed and squawked about her personal life with mean-spirited glee, as they are wont to do. No matter her talent or the quality of her music, it seemed to many that since she was a junkie, she deserved to be jeered and laughed at and put on display. She didn’t help herself by putting up odd YouTube videos and stumbling through barely-there performances.
In the days following her death, the infamous refrain of “Rehab,” “They tried to make me go to rehab/But I said, ‘No, no, no,’” has been twisted in various shapes and forms to ridicule the mere fact of her passing, including by the New York Post. Yes, I loved Winehouse’s work. But even if I hadn’t, even if we were talking about one of those people whose tabloid prominence is justified merely by a famous surname, my disgust would still be valid. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t see the fun in mocking drug addicts, let alone dead ones. On Gobbledygeek, we’ve often jokingly referred to the fact that we “mock the dead,” but that’s an exaggeration. The time I mentioned Jack Kevorkian’s passing in our episode “Kill Bill & Ted” is a good example; we devolve into hysterics because Paul hadn’t heard yet, and I just dropped a bombshell on him. We’re not laughing because he’s dead. We’re taking a sad situation and focusing on something funny instead to lighten the mood. We have never insulted or made fun of a dead person, like the numerous Internet trolls I’ve seen in the past few days.
By the way, if you decide to take a moment of tragedy and make a joke at the expense of the unfortunate party, that’s exactly what you are: a troll. The anonymity of the Internet has given rise to an army of nameless, faceless bullies who seek to viciously tear down anyone and anything in their path. All the better if they’re dead or struggling. I’ve seen several people say that Winehouse’s death is nothing compared to the dozens who died during the recent massacre in Norway. They’re apples and oranges. They are both tragic, for vastly different reasons with vastly different meanings. That does not mean that both situations do not represent a loss of human life.
I’m going to assume that most of the people who have made fun of Winehouse don’t actually know any drug addicts. I do. The addict(s) in your life can frustrate you, annoy you, anger you. But they are still human beings, many of whom try to save themselves. Winehouse did go to rehab, several times. It didn’t help. Just the other day, I was wondering when she was going to get it together and make another album. But for some, that moment of clarity never arrives. Do you think that’s funny? Then I implore you to read Russell Brand’s blog post about Winehouse. He’s someone who actually knew Winehouse, beyond just a voice coming from a pair of headphones. More over, he was an addict himself. Addiction is not funny, losing the battle to addiction even less so.
Winehouse died at age 27, joining the fabled “27 Club,” whose regrettable roster includes Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Kurt Cobain, all addicts whose lives ended far too soon. That’s not an accomplishment that deserves to be romanticized or laughed at. It is to be pitied.
It is important to note that the official cause of Amy Winehouse’s death has not yet been revealed, and likely won’t be for another few weeks. I may be just as judgmental in assuming that it has something to do with drugs as the rest of the world, but being that it’s the current conversation, that’s what I wanted to discuss.