Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

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.



  1. Musical acts like Stacy and Martyn Joseph who do the right thing consistently and without fanfare are the real heroes in our culture. Spectacles like Amy fill the “bread and circuses” need of our society while contributing nothing to the furthering of what is good and true and right.

    Good Post, Guinevere, I’ll keep coming back for more of your writing.

  2. Hi G! I’ve been following your blog for a couple of months and I really enjoy your writing. I’m a recovering addict myself so I can identify with so much of your stuff. You really nailed it on the head with this post. This is EXACTLY how I feel about the music and entertainment of today. True talent is being replaced with trash. It makes me sad.

    Blessings to you!


  3. Yes yes yes! My daughter wants to be a singer and we’ve had many talks about how it has to be about talent and hard work, and not about what you wear or behaving to get attention. (I compared Britney Spears to Carole King.)
    Amy makes me incredibly sad, and I recognize that desperate need for love & approval. I’m thankful not to fight that one anymore, and I still have (naive?) hope that she will get it someday.

  4. guinevere

    June 22, 2011 at 9:51 am

    Thanks everyone for being here. I hope for the best for everyone in active addiction… I don’t necessarily believe talent is being replaced with trash across the board… But I do think Amy Winehouse didn’t have the ability to manage what was happening to her so early in her life. At the same time Amy Winehouse was being booed offstage in Belgrade and Stacey Earle was playing a 40-person house concert, Taylor Swift was playing to 65,000 people in my town. Sixty-five-thousand people. She’s 21 years old. … I think these girls are being made into stars much too early in their lives, before they have the skills not only to handle all the attention but also to manage their own work.

  5. Beast article G. I just love Steve, Justin and Stacey Earle. They are true artists. Step 2 is there for me in God is God on Steve’s latest album.

    For me art is an expression of spirituality -as a poem, song, sonata, painting, meal, play, performance or whatever. It does my spirit good to be around good art. I can live without almost all pre 12 months sober poetry personally.

    Poor Amy. As an ex hopeless case with miltiple relapses myself I wont give up hope on her. Like you say she has good pipes and though week there is still something of the spirit in her.

  6. Amy is a mess. Sad to see such her and any person being so wasted. Maybe she will eventually figure it out before it is too late. I hope so.

  7. I know it’s all history now, but …
    Sure, Ms Winehouse had problems and wanted to be loved (by whom is another question).
    We all do, but for some reasons, she tried harder than most.
    She also admitted to have depression problems since 16.

    But why do you have to pretend things like her lips were pumped (false – so keep your “porn star proportions” for yourself, please) or insinuate she was some kind of fake artist (false)?
    Do you think the fact you read Newsweek and listened to “Rehab” one time allowed you to know everything about her? By the way, of course she was ironic, who do you think she was?

    She went several times to rehab, it never helped, but she won over class A drugs addiction alone by herself. She admitted alcohol was still a problem periodically.

    Clearly you don’t even realise that she proved she was a major musician BEFORE her addiction problems prevailed. And that she STILL was after (you should listen to her incredible rendition of “Body & Soul” with Tony Bennett 4 months before her death; do it – you said you’re voice trained, maybe you’ll understand).

    I could partly sympathise with your view of the music industry, but your view of Amy Winehouse is mostly morbid imagination: you are just trying to USE her (as so many others did, much to her dispair) to have your point – wrongly – proved.

    Is that what you learned with your life?
    You’ve been very unfair to someone that was battling and half-broken.

  8. My view of Amy Winehouse is of a brilliantly talented woman who allowed the industry to get the best of her and make her into a spectacle, and I plainly say so in a number of blogs on this site. In my opinion her addiction (which magnified her self-hatred) unfortunately played into her submission to the industry. Far from trying to use her for my own benefit, I’m offering my take on the reports of her experience with addiction within the context of the cultural forces that influenced her and continue to influence all of us—one of the purposes of this blog.

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