Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: Charlie Sheen

Amy Winehouse: Dying for Approval

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

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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.

 

Rob Lowe on Sobriety and Charlie Sheen

This is a few days late, but last Thursday Oprah had Rob Lowe on the show to talk about his new autobiography, Stories I Only Tell My Friends… which apparently includes interesting reflections about his addiction and recovery, his continuing sobriety, and how all that relates to his life as a big Hollywood star.

Rob Lowe and Charlie Sheen

Meanwhile Oprah asks him to open up about his longtime friendship with Charlie Sheen, whom Lowe has known since he was 13, and asks him to comment on wtf is going on in Sheen’s head (click link for video):

Rob Lowe: I LOVE him. And he and I agree to disagree on sobriety. I’m like, Dude, we have a chair for you, we’re ready for you over here in the anonymous group that we all go to and that saved my life. He doesn’t want anything to do with it.

Oprah: Is this just the public’s perception that it is out of control, but maybe this is control for him?

RL: He’s always been an iconoclast, and a true character, full of charisma, and WILD. And this is—he’s letting it all loose. He’s like, You know what? I’m really gonna go full throttle with what I’ve been keeping inside my whole life.

O: So when you saw him on all the newscasts and doing all the interviews and stuff, you didn’t think, “Reel it in”—did you just think it was Charlie being Charlie?

RL: Honestly?—it really is Charlie being Charlie. In, obviously, a more advanced, hopped-up version.

This struck me as authentic. He seems to know what’s going on with all this “winning” bullshit.

A sponsor told me that the best amends are changed behavior. … Lowe comes off as surprisingly normal. Everybody’s also talking about how his book mentions his sex-tape scandal, and then there’s the bit where he tells Oprah that the leaked tape helped accelerate his drinking so that he could get help sooner rather than later. The way he handles it (with obvious understanding that what he did was completely fucking stupid, but without going to great lengths either to beat himself up about it or pass it off as somebody else’s mistake) reminds me that sobriety—the kind I want, anyhow—is about accepting that we’ve all fucked up in major-league ways, but that our fuck-ups don’t create our identities. Just as our “successes” don’t create our identities.

There is no “winning.”

Charlie Sheen, Addiction, Interviews, And Twitter

Charlie Sheen

Charlie Sheen on ABC’s “20-20.

 

 

 

 

So, the self-immolation of Charlie Sheen.

From the 20-20 interview:

Q: When was the last time you used?

A: I don’t know.

Bullshit. Every addict knows when he last used.

Then, in a burst of recollection, he remembers WHAT he used (though not precisely when).

Q: What are we talking about? How much?

A: I dunno, man, I was banging 7-gram rocks and finishing them, because that’s how I roll. I have one speed, I have one gear: GO.

Q: How DO you survive that?

A: Because I’m me. I’m different. I have a different brain, a different constitution, I have a different heart, I have a different—you know, I got Tiger Blood, man.

They film his workout (bad curls, crappy form, flinging barbells around, not real lifting), flash a closeup of his skinny-ass abs, creep through his house, photograph his cigars, and look for drugs but can’t find any, though they do turn up a porn star and a model. He submits to a urine drop and apparently comes out clean (more bullshit).

He says his brain fires like “something not of this terrestrial realm.” “Judgment” is a word he uses a lot. “I don’t have time for their judgment,” he says of CBS execs who shut down his show, “Two-and-a-Half Men.”

Charlie Sheen joined Twitter two days ago and already has nearly 1 million followers. Not “friends,” followers. Watchers. Oglers. People just waiting to get notice in their feeds that he’s fucked the next thing up. So they can feel better about their own lives? Entertainment?

Meanwhile to the active addict this feels like adulation. He logs in and 48 hours later, instant audience! Viral! Power! “Winning!”

Charlie SheenI tried to find an image of Charlie Sheen from ages ago in which he looks healthy, but I couldn’t dig one up. There are photos of him looking younger, certainly, but he always looks pale, and his eyes are defended. (In contrast to Robert Downey Jr.’s eyes, which always looked sad and empty when he was younger—as if he were staring into blank space, an abyss.) Even when smiling, Charlie Sheen’s face always seems to bark: Get The Fuck Back Or I’ll Rip Your Fuckin Head Off. The Today Show’s Jeff Rossen remarks in yesterday’s interview, “You’re angry!”

Q: You say you’ve cured yourself of addiction. How have you done that?

A: I closed my eyes and made it so. With the power of my mind.

Jesus wept. His advice to other addicts? Fix yourself, close your eyes, change your brain, quit believing all this ancient, plagiarized nonsense.

A friend of mine with some sober years calls this not just ordinary bullshit, but Transcendental Bullshit.

And then there’s this gem: He reads from page 417 of AA’s Big Book. The famous Page Four-Seventeen. The passage on Acceptance Is The Answer To All My Problems Today. You just KNOW what’s coming.

He stares into the camera and tells his boss (his EX-boss):

You gotta accept me.

Lots of people watching all this and saying, “What a fuckin asshole.” From one perspective, they’re right. Addiction, persistently and willfully untreated, makes us into assholes. Plus the experts are right: he probably has some kind of mental illness. In any case, he’s a sick man.

Embarrassingly sad. I feel for him. I feel for his family, especially his kids. I can’t imagine how it is these days to be Martin Sheen. I mean yes I can: I’ve lived with addicted people who refuse to quit or get help; I’ve read blogs of friends who write about how to relate to their family members who are still active or in very early recovery after terrifying histories. But none of these people are watching their kid blow himself up in public.

The masses love to watch a guy set fire to himself, or piss his pants. It can turn us into voyeurs, into nasty seventh-graders whose expertise is finger-pointing and heckling. “Yesterday and very early this morning,” TIME Magazine wrote, “Charlie Sheen continued not going away.” As though they really expected him to. Or even wanted him to.

Why are we so interested in fucked-up celebrities? Is it fair to look at celebrity stories as allegories for our collective experience? … I reckon yeah, with limits. Charlie Sheen is not interesting because he’s an asshole. He’s interesting because he’s got addiction and probably other problems and is refusing to get help. Like many others of us have, and still are. And he has so many resources, including wealth and a concerned parent—unlike many of us.

Celebrities choose to live outside, on the Common, in the public square, instead of behind closed walls like everybody else. The magnifying glass trained on them shows up strengths and weaknesses shared by all of humanity.

“What is called for here is prayer—and plenty of it,” a friend of mine said. “For ourselves as well as Charlie.” I mean I’m not sure I’ve ever known how to pray, exactly, but setting some kind of intention other than being a Gawker helps me put the magnifying glass down. Those damn things can burn.

 

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