The news of Amy Winehouse’s death this weekend was, while perhaps not a shock, still devastating. And in the days since, much been made of her addiction, as though somehow she got what she deserved, or what she was looking for; that being an active addict is about having a death wish. But I don’t think Amy did drugs or drank because she wanted to die; I think she did them in order to manage living.
Like so many true artists, Amy seems to have felt things, deeply. It was exactly because of her ability to be so very expressive of her emotions that her music resonated so strongly with the rest of us. But being so sensitive may make life painful to live through, and many artists turn to a numbing agent — something to soften the sharp edges of life. Drink. Drugs.
Like some sort of show pony, Amy didn’t seem to have much of her life to herself once her fame hit, and she somehow seemed to be always walking around with a broken heart, perhaps never having quite gotten over her split from her ex-husband, “Blake Incarcerated.” And while she stumbled her way through her life, there was the entire UK tabloid industry sucking up her every failure and sloppy evening like vampire that can never get enough blood.
I was sad to hear about Amy, but it was watching the videos that were made in Belgrade, just a short month ago, that brought me to tears over it. Although the videos were passed around at the time as some sort of unavoidable car wreck, it is in these performances that we see what it may have felt like to be Amy, in her drunk and drugged-out haze, and why she so badly wanted to stay wrapped up in that cloud, away from the audience, away from the demands, away from her heartbreak, her disappointments, her fears. Protected from reality. Protected from us. An escape from life.
Of all the videos, it’s her performance of “You Know That I’m No Good” that seems to present in high, cruel relief, just what was going on with Amy. We watch this sliver of a girl as she makes herself even smaller, clutching at herself. At times she winks coyly like a pageant toddler, acting out a part of the performance on automatic pilot. Then she looks out at the audience a bit like a scared animal, and almost seems to start weeping. She goes on singing, and clutching, her face going slack, then falling. She’s there, but she’s not there. There is an audience watching her, but it’s clear the drugs and drink have enabled her to block them all out. She scrunches up her face in pain, then stares out into space, and her eyes roll back. She almost walks off stage, then stands in the center, facing the crowd, playing with her hair like an un-selfconcious child.[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMPBTDneqQk 425×344]
In the video of “Back to Black” we still hear a whisper of her former glorious voice, but she seems to be mouthing the lyrics without listening to herself. It is when she looks up to the sky, her eyes seemingly watery, playing with her hair as though she’s flirting with God, we can almost feel what it’s like as she slowly goes more, and more, and more into her own world, until she just simply gives up, grinning and stumbling when the song is done.[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ttJg8901qAU 425×344]
But finally, there in “Tears Dry On Their Own,” we see Amy smile. She’s grinning, dancing and smiling heavenward, reaching that private, protective bubble of pleasure and bliss that the drugs and drink always promise to bring. That’s what Amy wanted, I think. To achieve that state of happiness, of joy, of bliss. If it meant risking death to get it, so be it. She simply didn’t think the alternative was worth living.[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6m8o2wuxYbY 425×344]
But lest we forget, the world lost a brilliant, gifted artist this weekend. I’ll close with this video, made in more sober times, to remind us of that.[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Tu66NsP6rg 425×344]