copyright Victoria Mary Clarke 2007
Updated August 2011
It is a strange thing to be updating this article, having been genuinely saddened, as have been a great many people by the news that Amy Winehouse has indeed passed onto wherever it is that we go when we are no longer inhabiting our human forms. Wherever it that Amy has gone, I hope that she is feeling no pain. And singing.
The other morning, as I was on my way home from a party, somebody told me that the singer Amy Winehouse had overdosed and died. I was shocked and saddened by the news, but not surprised. After all, I had rarely seen a mention of her in the media which was not in some way connected to drugs, and her most famous song is about not wanting to go to rehab.
When I found out later the same day that Amy was not actually dead, I was relieved. I like her music. She has an ability to convey emotion in a song which is even rarer than her amazing voice. When she sings, you not only believe in her agony, you actually experience it with her. The only other living female singer who can make me cry like that is Sinead O Connor. But there have been others, women like Janis Joplin, Edith Piaf and Billie Holliday all of whom lived painful lives, coloured by drug and alcohol abuse. Women with emotions so raw that they could make ‘Jingle Bells’ into a sad song, if they felt so inclined.
Many people that I speak to cannot understand why, in a world where millions of kids are desperate to be stars, a girl like Amy who appears to have everything a person could wish for (youth, fame, money, talent, beauty, enormous critical acclaim and even a skinny body!) is needing to take drugs to be happy. On the surface, it seems downright ungrateful and even greedy to not be satisfied with all that, when millions don’t even have enough to eat, let alone thinking about fame, careers, money or beauty.
I am not one of those who criticise Amy, or any of the other people like her, however. Because when I was her age, Shane, my boy friend was one of those singers who people considered to have a rare talent, but who seemed to be throwing away his talent and success. When Shane and I got together, he was already hitting the bottle hard, but the more successful he became, the more out of control he also became. People had been predicting an early death for him ever since he was eighteen. And just like Amy, he was adamant that he wasn’t going to rehab. It was torture for everyone connected to him, to be constantly worried that he would die, and that we could or should have been able to force him to get help, which he never wanted to get. And even though things have calmed down a bit now, I would be lying if I said that if I could be granted one wish in the world, I wouldn’t wish for him to decide to go to rehab and give up drinking for ever, but there’s nothing I can do about that except learn to live with it.
Who knows what makes one singer turn to drink and drugs for comfort and support, and another one to jogging? It does appear that the more a person is able to convey real feeling in their singing, the more likely they are to develop destructive habits. Elvis Presley was a classic example of someone who could fill a cheesy song with feeling, but who was addicted to prescription pills. Kurt Cobain was so raw that you could not help but feel with him as well as for him. And he died of suicide, a hopeless junkie.
Having been around drugs for most of my life, I have tried pretty much all of them. In my youth, I also drank inordinate amounts of every kind of booze, got very little sleep and smoked constantly. Luckily for me, I didn’t enjoy any of the illegal drugs enough to want to keep doing them. And eventually I kicked the fags and cut the booze down to the odd glass of wine. So my only remaining vice is my sweet tooth, thankfully. Although I sometimes wonder, as I struggle not to eat a piece of chocolate cake (which will only add to my midriff bulge) if I might not look more streamlined if I were to turn to cocaine instead of chocolate, in my moments of misery. For me, a line of coke is like a triple espresso, it only makes me more jittery, more anxious and more paranoid than I already am, whereas the chocolate is soothing, sensual, pleasurable and peaceful, even if it is fattening. Maybe all the drug addicts in the world should give it a try? But maybe it wouldn’t do it for them.
The unfortunate thing for people like Amy, compared to people like me is that their drug of choice is not always legal, which only adds to the misery and the tragedy, because when drugs are illegal, gangsters get involved in selling and smuggling them, and lots of people get hurt. And because coke is expensive, as well as illegal, those gangsters cut it with other substances, so that they can make more money out of it, there is no quality control, no government supervision of contents, which often means that people who consume it don’t know what they are consuming, and this can lead to poisoning and accidental death. I can guarantee you that if chocolate were illegal, the exact same thing would happen with that, as was proved by Prohibition in the US, but even though Prohibition never stopped anyone from drinking, but instead made a lot of criminals very rich (including the Kennedys) none of our governments seem to have learned anything from it. Nobody seems to realise that it is never the actual drugs (whether they be heroin, or hamburgers and fries, cocaine or cigarettes) that are the problem. The problem starts with the individual who is unhappy with their natural state of mind and wishes to ‘fix’ it with some kind of mood altering substance.
Granted, the substances usually do make you feel better for a little while, or at least different to how you were feeling. But inevitably, they wear off. And from my memory of being twenty four (as Amy is) what used to happen when the hangover set in was that I would feel really bad, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. The world would seem like a really, really shit place to be in. So depressing that I wanted to die, or at least to escape from the misery. And even though I wasn’t stupid, I didn’t make the connection between the negative thoughts and miserable feelings and the physical effects of the alcohol or the drugs. I didn’t even consider that things might not really be as black as they appeared to be, and that if I were to detox my system, I might have a different perspective. It took years before I learned that simple fact.
It will be tragic if Amy Winehouse becomes another one of those great singers who dies of a drug overdose, or suicide. Maybe it wont happen, maybe she will get help. What would be wonderful would be if hearing about her inspires even one person to realise that taking drugs to fix your feelings doesn’t work. At least, not long term.