Why Amy Winehouse Matters: Threads in Human Compassion
// JJ Brewis

This past July, when British recording artist and five time Grammy winner Amy Winehouse was found dead in her Camden flat, the recording industry lost out on arguably the most promising talent of this generation. Though Winehouse was gifted with an incredible voice, backed by a dark-yet-compelling lyrical prowess, her career was cut short due to an unfortunate battle with substance abuse. Even though her accolades in such a small time frame of a career were plentiful, the public and members of the media have not only failed to pay proper tribute to an industry great, but also tackled the news of her death with a lack of support or compassion.

But compassion does not run freely the way it used to. People are quick to attack or degrade one another, and for one reason or another we have defaulted to this type of negative behavior, rather than allowing support systems. When the status of a celebrity is involved, issues of jealousy, idolization, and over-exposure open the floodgates to the rest of us feeling entitled to remove the ‘person’ from the persona.

Winehouse, who passed at the age of 27, joins a small but alarming group of other musicians who all died at the same age; Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix among them. Within hours of her death, the Internet had (naturally) over-analyzed her departure, placing her among the aforementioned rockers in “The 27 Club”. As Kelly Osbourne, Winehouse’s friend, posted to her Twitter page, “It’s a tragedy and a curse, not a fucking club.”

The response to Winehouse’s death, however, contrasted greatly with others in the “club”. When Cobain killed himself back in 1994, music fans and critics alike focused on praising his talents, saddened by the loss of such a young star. Despite a long-time history of heroin use and depression, Cobain’s life and legacy was immediately focused on his music in Nirvana and his personality as a bandleader, husband, and father. Even those who chose to address the whole story, including Cobain’s struggles and substance use, shifted the focus to portray him as a “rock god” whose flaws were just a part of the enigma, a propelling force in the creativity that was his music. Conversely, Winehouse’s death, seventeen years later, has been treated in an entirely different social scope.

“She should have gone to rehab,” became a popular Twitter slogan. “Not surprising in the least,” became a repeated phrase both in Facebook status updates and ‘memorial tributes’ found in the press. Winehouse’s struggles and career lows were pivot points in such articles, which often barely brushed on her successes, leaving out career triumphs in exchange for exploiting the hard, emotional road of a very obviously heartfelt and troubled young woman. If Winehouse’s life hadn’t been overexposed to full capacity by the paparazzi and media in her lifetime, they made up for it in her death. Yet news rags plastered her face in the tabloid news one last time, alongside such headlines as “No, no, no,” the epitaph-worthy and posthumously haunting hook from her biggest single “Rehab”.

Why, then, is Kurt Cobain celebrated in death as a rock star whose substances were part of the greatness, while Amy Winehouse is called a “dumb bitch” for succumbing to her addictions? [Autopsy reports came back inconclusive, yet no drugs were found on the scene. Reports have been raised listing ‘alcohol withdrawal’ as a possible cause of death, a heartbreaking possibility of an attempt at bettering her life.] Reasons for the Cobain-Winehouse shift can be speculated. Perhaps in a male- dominated culture such as the music industry, a man is to be praised for his talents, despite his flaws. In the Internet age of chasing famous women down with cameras and catching them upskirt, the public is saying it’s still more than a little bit sexist.

Winehouse, as a female, did quite well for herself in a very short time. Yet, as a troubled woman, she is pegged a failure due to her personal problems. People as a whole can tend to have the inability to root for each other, especially among the celebrities. Perhaps jealousy is part of the issue. But, as noted time and time again, society has a fascination with putting people on a pedestal just to knock them down.

Look at Britney Spears, the one-time princess of the pop music world: an attempt to keep her personal life private was seen as an invitation by paparazzi to egg her on, and essentially kick her while she was down. Michael Jackson, the man with the greatest selling album of all time, was also no exception. In the mid-80s there was likely a copy of Thriller in everyone’s house, and you couldn’t walk down the street without seeing a product placement or album promo for him. Yet just a decade later, his career was already on the decline, and the media and public never gave him a second chance, nor the benefit of the doubt, despite the fact that he was never even found guilty of any charges he was accused of. What is unique in Winehouse’s case is that she was never even accused of harming anyone other than herself: the only headlines she ever made were for topping the charts and for appearing thin after drug use.

When I told colleagues that Amy’s death had affected me, and that I felt like I had lost a friend, people reacted rudely and said I was stupid. I heard the same people laugh and call her a failure. Yet this creates an even more perplexing stigma: why is it seen as odd to feel that a celebrity can be a positive personal connection through their work, yet it is socially acceptable to personally attack someone that you have no connection to? Society passing judgment on someone it doesn’t personally know is destructive. It’s as damaging to ourselves as it is to those we point the finger at, which suggests we are not all that satisfied with our own lives, requiring a scapegoat to rest our insecurities upon. It’s almost as if to say, “Well, if she can’t get her shit together as a millionaire, I don’t have to feel so bad about myself as a struggling middle-class person.” However, in the case of emotional and mental capabilities, money isn’t necessarily going to make a difference.

As a society, we need to lean more toward helping people out, rather than closing doors and causing misery to the already troubled. And in death, we should be taking our last opportunity to either say something positive or keep our mouths shut entirely. Sure, maybe nobody was surprised when Amy Winehouse passed away. However, her death is not something that should be mocked and jeered at. When it is no longer surprising when another person dies, that in itself says so much more about all of us than about Winehouse herself. But then again, that’s part of the problem.

// JJ Brewis
Art Director

Enjoy it? Share this on Facebook


© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com