Eminentoes

Sympathy for the Revel

Will we ever stop sentimentalizing self-destructive boozers?

By 8.4.11

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The headline from the morning paper read: "Amy Winehouse Dead: Why Did No One Help Her?"

I never heard Amy Winehouse perform, but I had certainly heard of Amy Winehouse. Her name was part of the incessant pop cultural din that makes up the raucous soundtrack of our daily lives. She was, for a time, ubiquitous on the Web, on the television tabloid shows, and in the celebrity magazines one idly thumbs through while waiting to get a tooth pulled -- often a considerably less painful experience than reading the magazine.

Unlike her countless fans, I found it impossible to get worked up over the self-inflicted demise of someone I knew of only from tabloid photographs -- snapshots that featured a gaunt, sluttishly attired, heroin-chic young woman festooned with piercings and tattoos and usually falling down drunk. Nor did I long to place roses at the obligatory improvised shrine outside her London home, even though the Cult of Sentimentality demands we cloak her death as a terrible tragedy, instead of what it so obviously was -- the consequence of a reckless and foolish existence.

For some years, "Wino" as she was often called in the media, was the responsible parent's nightmare, celebrated more for her degenerate lifestyle than for her questionable musical talent. (Following her death, a TMZ poll asked if Ms. Winehouse would be remembered as a great singer or as a junkie. Seventy percent responded: junkie.) How to tell one's daughters not to emulate the beehived diva when she was a rich and famous pop icon beloved by millions? To many girls, the message must have seemed clear: behave like a complete degenerate and you could be a beloved superstar. Her death, apparently from overdose at 27 (according to the Daily Mirror, friends claimed she died from a cocktail of alcohol and ecstasy), seemed to restore for a brief moment the natural order of things. Parents were now able to hold the late pop singer up as a cautionary tale to copy at one's own peril.

BUT GETTING BACK to the headline, which reads like an indictment of her family, her friends, even her fans. Indeed, of every one but the person responsible for her death: Amy Winehouse. Why did no one help her? This is a bit like asking why no one "helped" daredevil and Jackass movie star Ryan Dunn. Dunn was reportedly drunk and speeding at 3 a.m. when he crashed his Porsche killing himself and a passenger. Winehouse expired following a weeks-long bender. Like Dunn, she died doing what she loved.

That's not to say that no one tried to help. That is, when they weren't making excuses for her, granting her victim status, or attributing her misbehavior to supernatural elements, like "her demons," as though she were blameless as Linda Blair in The Exorcist. One "critic" decided it was the death of her beloved grandmother that sent Winehouse off on her last pills and booze binge. Winehouse's father, for one, tried repeatedly to enroll his daughter into a rehabilitation center. But she was not interested. Apparently, she even wrote a hit song mocking his futile efforts: 

They tried to make me go to rehab but I said 'no, no, no'
Yes I've been black but when I come back you'll know know know
I ain't got the time and if my daddy thinks I'm fine
He's tried to make me go to rehab but I won't go go go

Her opposition to rehabilitation or living a dull, drug-free existence was so well known it inspired a video game called "Amy Winehouse: Escape from Rehab." ("Description: With a fistful of drugs and a dangerous beehive at her defense, Amy Winehouse is saying No, No, No to rehab!")

As far as I can make out, Amy Winehouse had one or two hit songs. The rest of her celebrity derived from her outlandish and degenerate behavior. That decadent lifestyle was her golden goose. It kept her in the news and in the gossip magazines.

Should we bewail the fact that a gifted young woman squandered her life away? At the risk of being attacked for speaking ill of the dead, I think not. If Amy Winehouse had suffered from some chronic mental disorder and had chosen to cut her life short à la David Foster Wallace, it would be only natural to feel genuine sorrow and pity. But by all accounts Ms. Winehouse's only affliction was hating boredom and enjoying drugs and booze too much.

Amy Winehouse had it all, but chose to live her life like a crack-addict from the ghetto. As my liberal friends say, we must respect her choice.

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About the Author
Christopher Orlet writes from St. Louis.