Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse Dead Of Addiction At 27

I was driving on the turnpike last evening and saw there was a new text on my phone. It was from my friend P and it said:

I can’t help but the death of Amy makes me sad.

“Wait-wait-wait,” I said to my son. I kept my eyes on the road and passed him my phone. “Check the news on the Guardian app. Is Amy Winehouse dead?”

I mean we all knew it was coming. Russell Brand says so today. If you can get past some of the more deplorable and self-regarding turns of phrase (“I was becoming famous myself at the time and that was an all consuming experience”) and the missing punctuation (“Winehouse, but for her gentle quirks didn’t especially register”), you’ll find he has some smart and helpful points about Amy Winehouse and about addiction in general, one of which is: when we love someone who suffers from the disease of addiction, we await The Call. Either they’ll call to get help, or someone else will call to tell us they’re dead.

I didn’t by any stretch of the imagination “love” Amy Winehouse, but I felt connected to her in that we both suffered from the same deadly illness, and I was hoping against hope that she would get the help we all need in order to keep on living. But she did not.

I’ve already said a lot of what I need to say about Amy Winehouse. I believe her desperate need for approval drove her addiction and ultimately killed her. This is not a personal failing on Winehouse’s part. It is partly the distortion of reality that underlies the disease of addiction, and it is partly the cultural pressure put on women today. (Who knows how her family background played into it.) I can’t tell you how many women seeking recovery I’ve talked to who are plagued, absolutely PLAGUED, by the desire to be seen as perfect—physically, intellectually, emotionally. I understand this myself, having wrought untold hatred upon my body because of its unwillingness to conform itself into the contours of females pictured on magazines and in films. (Especially my breasts. I have hated my breasts. “You’re too unkind to them,” my husband has always said.)

In addition to alcohol and drug addiction, Amy Winehouse suffered from self-mutilation and anorexia, conditions which in their compulsive self-destruction are related to addiction and which demonstrate the hatred she enacted upon her physical body and upon her spirit.

“Now she can join the Twenty-Seven Club,” my son remarked. He hadn’t even read this—he just knew about it. Every 13-year-old today who is half-musical (my son is fully musical; he is a natural guitarist) knows about all the musician-addicts who have died at 27 as the ultimate consequence of addiction.

“They all OD’d,” he said.

“No, they didn’t, darling,” I said. “Cobain shot himself.”

My son “loves” Kurt Cobain. Nirvana ranks high on his playlist. No wonder: Cobain’s lyrics are smart and his musicality complex. His songs are dark, and teenagers are dark people, by and large. I harbor a bit of anxiety that my son might romanticize him and his choices.

“But he was high at the time,” he argued.

“Who knows if he was high at the time?” I said.

“He had no thoughts of suicide before he killed himself,” my son said. “I’ve read the biographies online. I’ve read the Wikipedia entry. They all said he never mentioned killing himself. It was the drugs.

It wasn’t the drugs,” I said firmly, feeling myself slipping uncontrollably into a motherly mini-lecture. “Drugs are not the problem. ADDICTION is the problem. Toxicologically speaking, drugs might kill people, but it’s the addiction that drives them to it. Drugs do not distort reality; addiction distorts reality. Kurt Cobain killed himself not because the drugs made him do it, but because addiction twisted his view of reality. Addiction made him think he couldn’t help himself; it made him think he wasn’t lovable, wasn’t worth anything; it made him think his feelings would never pass. Addiction is a disease that distorts reality. When we can’t see reality clearly, we end up working on incorrect assumptions and we do terrible damage.”

Sigh. Motherly lectures don’t work. I should know better. What I can do best is to let him see me living soberly today.

There’s a smart story in the Guardian about the lack of cultural understanding of what killed Amy Winehouse, which is the disease of addiction. Tanya Gold writes:

There is no meaning here, no wider parable about the relationship between addiction and talent … Winehouse was simply an alcoholic and drug addict who had no idea of her own worth or how to cure herself. … And she died for nothing because she thought she was nothing.

Well, nothing like another addict to understand an addict.

Brand says he was 27 when the folks at a particular rehab introduced him to the 12-step “fellowships for alcoholics and drug addicts . . . without which I would not be alive.” Gold mentions that “only the most enlightened doctors will recommend Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, self-help groups that sometimes get results, although no one knows why.”

They’re starting to understand why. The research of people like Brené Brown (also a recovering addict) is showing that 12-step groups can help because telling our stories to others who understand has the power to break shame, and shame—not just for what we’ve done, but more importantly about Who We Be—is one of the key motivators that drive the deep fear inherent in addiction. We start telling the truth to other people like ourselves, and there is something about surrendering our truth, and being understood and accepted, that doesn’t just “suppress cravings” or help us pay bills/keep jobs/approximate “sobriety,” but that heals us.

 

Amy Winehouse: Dying for Approval

Update 7/24/11: Please see the blog entry about Amy Winehouse’s death.

***

I love writing this blog: one day I get to think about university-geek doctors researching neuroplasticity, and the next day I get to think about train-wreck celebrities who are flushing their enormous talent down the toilet by saying “no, no, no” to rehab.

Amy Winehouse

 

In other words, Amy Winehouse. Who today cancelled her European tour after showing up drunk and/or wasted on drugs in Belgrade, Serbia a few days ago.

Amy Winehouse is dying for approval.

Catch this video of Winehouse shot Saturday night, in which the audience boos her:

She stumbles around, stops in mid-verse a few times, and drags a band-mate over to help her finish her lines. Aside from the fact that she’s completely wasted, here’s what I noticed about Winehouse in this video (and this may be simple projection on my part):

  • She gives two of her tall dark and handsome band-mates prolonged hugs and repeatedly seeks their attention during the song.
  • She is wearing a corseted skin-tight sequined tiger-print “dress,” which pushes her breasts up to her collarbones.
  • Her posture: despite the fact that she’s taken off her heels, she still can’t stop jutting her tits out in front and her butt out in back. She has learned to “present” her body in a compulsively sexual way.

What’s driving Winehouse is so obviously her need for other people’s approval. … Extremely insecure. I say this because I notice the tendencies in myself, OK?

So, you’re thinking, Yeah, so what. This is what performers do, this is how they’re motivated—by looking for approval.

It’s not what performers used to do. Performers used to be allowed to focus on their musicianship and their skill, and not sacrifice their health and sanity and life for a buck. Musicians used to be straight when they played gigs and they received fees that were sane and reasonable, which kept ticket prices affordable. Musicians wore suits, and dresses that covered their bodies. Think the Beatles. Think the Supremes, or Aretha. I mean even Janis Joplin, who was also dying for approval, wore clothes! … Then came Madonna, and MTV, and music became as much about using spectacle and voyeurism and pretend narratives—Yesterday I was Marilyn Monroe; today I’m a henna-tattooed Indian yogi; tomorrow I think I’ll be a disco cowgirl—to raise ticket prices. It’s no longer much about the actual music. Because as everyone knows, the art itself never makes you any money. It’s the tours and the merchandise and the peripheral press coverage, the celebrity.

So Amy Winehouse, a dyed-in-the-wool alcoholic and addict with fantastic pipes and something of a knack for songwriting, arrives at 20 years old, just a kid, in the mid-2000s. She’s getting drunk and cutting and starving her body. Of course she can’t agree to go to rehab! Fuckin-A. Her voice is being compared to Sarah Vaughn’s and Ella Fitzgerald’s, which may or may not flatter her and make her aware of her extraordinary potential. What’s important is, she is being called “controversial.” Newsweek is saying she is “a perfect storm of sex kitten, raw talent and poor impulse-control.” She gets this. When poor impulse-control is part of what makes you so top-dollar, what makes people APPROVE OF YOU so much, how can you go to rehab? Rehab is all about regaining impulse-control. It’s all about saying “no, no, no” to things that are going to kill you.

Like, for example, drinking, and smoking crack and ciggies till you come down with emphysema.

Like, making more money at all costs.

I have a couple good friends who enjoy Amy Winehouse’s music. I must admit I’d never heard any of her songs before I listened to “Rehab” this morning. I’m trained in voice, and Amy Winehouse has an amazing gift. The tune is catchy and the words are perhaps more ambiguous and lyrical than they might at first seem. It’s unclear to me, at least, whether the singer in “Rehab” means her lines entirely without irony.

The man said, “Why you think you here?”
I said, “I got no idea
I’m gonna lose my baby
So I always keep a bottle near”

What I notice in the 2006 video for “Rehab” is, she is being produced in the same sleazy way that she performed in her Belgrade concert. She frankly looks like a prostitute. A “slut,” as we used to say in high school. Her lips have been pumped up to porn-star proportions. A year or two later, so will go her breasts.

Stacey Earle in performance in Pittsburgh, 18 June 2011.

On Saturday (ironically, the same night Amy Winehouse was stumbling around in Belgrade) I went to a house concert. Stacey Earle, a sister of Steve Earle, and her husband, Mark Stuart, performed a two-hour gig for 40 people. I took a friend of mine who blogs about rock music. He wrote me later:

Their performance was so beautiful and sincere. Her songwriting and his guitar—why aren’t folks like this more ‘successful’ and others like (fill in the blank) fill stadiums? Its not the songs—the songs are BEAST!

I replied, “Others (fill in blank) are more successful IMO because they sell sex and youth.” What they also sell is spectacle. In Amy Winehouse’s case, it’s the spectacle of sickness. Pete Townshend used to destroy his guitars onstage. Amy Winehouse is destroying herself. When you watch her onstage, you get to feel like you’re witnessing the ruination of something beautiful that has become iconic, as though you were present at, I dunno, the ripping in half of the veil in the temple? the self-immolation of the Vietnamese monk?—plus, as a bonus, if you’re lucky and Winehouse isn’t too wasted, you get to hear a bit of beast entertainment thrown in. Same with Charlie Sheen.

Or you can choose to pay to watch Mark Stuart and Stacey Earle, who wears no makeup and doesn’t dye or even style her hair, and who hasn’t bothered to “fix” her crooked teeth (“I think if she fixed them, her entire way of singing would change, and maybe not for the better,” my friend mused), who has a different and equally powerful vocal gift and who is able to play two hours without losing track of her songs or her lines. She’s not dying for approval. She’s not filling up arenas, because why?—she’s healthy and sincere? “Sincerity” doesn’t necessarily make a million bucks. But it makes great music. And when you’re an addict, it might keep you alive.

 

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