News of Amy Winehouse's death gave me pause. I was saddened, but not shocked by it. I was really hoping that she would come out on top - kicking addiction's butt, serving as inspiration to millions who have had a front-row seat to her very public slugfest with this ape on her back. And of course, I waited with bated breath to hear what new music would come out of her journey.
I thought about blogging, and posting my favorite song of hers ("Love Is A Losing Game" Rhodes Version), but everytime I sat down to write, I felt like I should just wait... for what, I didn't know.
Then yesterday, while listening to NPR, I heard an interview with Jonathan Winters, who briefly touched on his personal experience of being diagnosed with bipolar disorder during a time when little was known about the condition, and the few treatment options available were potentially worse than the illness itself. Doctors offered him electro-shock therapy, in order to erase the pain that he was feeling. He declined the treatment, saying "I need that pain to call upon from time to time." Like choosing between scylla and charybdis. Pick your poison: The devil, or the deep blue sea? Artists often have to do this.
And I understood. And I thought of young Amy, her unique voice, and lyrics that revealed a wisdom far beyond her years. Perhaps the very thing that made her such a phenom at her craft was the very thing that drove her addiction. Perhaps she saw things more sharply than most people allow themselves to, and needed to dull the edges a bit. Perhaps she got stuck there. Perhaps. I really don't know.
And the fame. What do you do with the fame, when all you wanted to do was sing? To act? To write?
As artists, our emotional understanding is our lifeline. If you mess with it, you mess with the art. I stopped taking anti-anxiety meds for just that reason. But if you don't mess with it, your sensitivity meets lots of sharp edges and you end up with scrapes and bruises - some which are quite serious. What to do, what to do?
Some people dismissed Amy as "just a junkie," and wondered (aloud and in various media) "Why do celebrities do drugs, anyway??" I think they do drugs for the reason that anybody does drugs: it takes the edge off, and, depending on the drug and the setting, it can be fun. Same goes for alcohol, food, prescription medication, shopping, gambling... pick your poison: life, with the certainty of death, or life-lite with the possibility of early death. Mr. Winters chose the former, Ms. Winehouse chose the latter. We all make our decisions.
I would never advocate that people not get medical help when they need it, or not intervene when they see someone who is unable to do so for him- or herself. I do believe that the vast majority of human beings self-medicate in some way, and tend to point an accusing finger at people who self-medicate by different means. Let's not do that. Let's try a little compassion. There, but for the grace of God, go I. And you too.
Amy: Just one more time, please?