I remember being struck by something my father said once, trying to describe his sense of loss in hearing of Buddy Holly’s death. I cannot remember his exact words but they were something along the lines of, “That’s it: that’s all you get.” All that talent, that you hoped would bring even more music to this world, and that person is gone. Forever. There will be nothing more. I felt that way when I heard on the radio that Kurt Cobain was dead.
Neil Young, having been quoted by Kurt Cobain in his suicide letter: “It’s better to burn out than to fade away,” went on to emphasize a different line from “Hey Hey, My My”: “Once you’re gone you can’t come back.” I believe that the first quote presents a false dichotomy: because there are other options. I wish that truth had a bit more traction out there in the discourse, but I suppose it doesn’t sell advertising like scandalous gossip items about doomed geniuses.
Roll forward 17 years, and the world has changed: I found out about Amy Winehouse’s death via the internet. And having hoped, against all the disturbing indicators, that she’d somehow pull herself together and give us some more of her brilliant music; I wasn’t shocked. Just saddened.
Having watched her unravel before the eyes of the world, I had stopped listening to her music. It just made me sad to hear it. Her talent and her contribution slipped out of my focus for a while, as I waited for her to sort herself out and make that comeback and be her amazing self once again. But I cannot help but wonder if she herself believed that in order to be an authentic artist that she needed to suffer for her art.
I’ve read a number of pieces in the press about Amy Winehouse and her passing. A great deal of the coverage is sensationalizing the more sordid details of her personal struggles and reducing her to a caricature of herself. And that is even sadder. Yes, Amy joined “that stupid club”. She didn’t join it for mystical reasons. She died because she burned the candle on both ends for too long and her body gave up on her. She died because she lost her fight with addiction. I hope that her legacy is not to further the glamorizing of excess as a part of being an artistic genius. Russell Brand put it well in writing about Amy’s death,
“We have lost a beautiful and talented woman to this disease. Not all addicts have Amy’s incredible talent. Or Kurt’s or Jimi’s or Janis’s, some people just get the affliction.”
So there it is. Being a creative person does not require one to destroy oneself in the name of one’s art. Creation is the antithesis of destruction. Amy Winehouse did not need a pharmacy running through her veins to create music, just as F. Scott Fitzgerald didn’t need gin bottles rattling around in his dresser drawers to write. The whole notion that one requires the other is something I have a huge problem with because it just isn’t true.
Nibsy puzzled at hearing the news. She thought on it briefly and then said to me, “But we can still listen to her music? Right Mama?”
And what else could I say to her but, “Yes, baby.”
But I haven’t the heart to add what I know but hasn’t occurred to her, yet: That’s it. That’s all we get.
And I’ll hope that like Buddy Holly, Amy Winehouse will continue to inspire other artists: Not fade away.