Amongst the graphic horror of the weekend, unfolded a much quieter horror of its own – Amy Winehouse passed away, at just 27. I’ve been reading/listening to what has been said about her on Twitter, on various internet websites, on Triple J and this great piece by Russell Brand, and just now, as I sat down to write this piece, The 7PM Project have told me that she was both Jewish (I didn’t know that) and inspired Adelle, Lady Gaga and Duffy.
I wasn’t actually a big fan of Amy Winehouse’s in that I didn’t have her music and I didn’t pay all that much attention to her. I thought her voice was amazing but recently her coverage in the media has been less than complimentary. I wasn’t surprised to hear of her passing this weekend and I think that has made me sadder. That really, in a way, we all looked on and watched but she never really got the help she needed.
I was noodling round the internet this evening because I wanted to write this piece on her and it turns out it was really really hard to find Youtube clips of her like the one below where she was performing at her height, where you can see her talent and hear her amazingly rich and timeless voice.
Most of the clips were of her drunk and behaving disorderly on stage, which was what was going on in her life in the last few months. There were a few dedicated to her looks, in the least complimentary way possible. And a few News clips discussing the drunken behaviour that kicked off her last, as it was to be, tour. Rather than reporting her clearly personal distress in presenting in such a way in her shows, these clips of News reporters were mocking, disgusted and appalled and how much she had wasted other people’s money by showing up drunk and not giving the performance these people had paid for. I was watching those clips with the hindsight to know how the sad story ends but it has definitely gotten me thinking.
When Princess Diana was killed, everybody blamed the paparazzi and they blamed their readers. And I thought long and hard about this and I decided, that if my reading all those magazines and looking at all those photos had in any way contributed to her death, then I would no longer read them. And I haven’t read one since. I take my own books to places like doctors waiting rooms and the hairdressers. I never ever read them. And as an aside, OMG you feel so much better about yourself when you give up that trash. I almost never see what those mags are covering but in the last couple of weeks, I’ve caught the covers whilst waiting to pay for fuel or in the line at the canteen and they are currently reporting how utterly disgusting some starlets look being uber thin. And I keep thinking – you fucking fucks! Those women can never win. When they look too fat, the covers say “Put on WEIGHT!? Look how FAT she is/ Throwing away the diets!!!” (see the latest reporting on the Kardashians for those stories) and when they heed and try and look better, presumably for the press, they get the shots of them in awkward poses leaning over to get something which shows all their bones poking out so that we can get disgusted at their skeletal thinness. I would not trade for that kind of scrutiny for all the lovely things in the world. Those women are scrutinised to such an extreme that I only hope they don’t read that stuff. And I still don’t understand the point of those magazine articles which are written by women for women and make this horrible commentary on what women are supposed to care about and what they are really valued for.
Recently, Lady Gaga visited Australia. And here was another woman whose work I am not overly familiar with other than the random headlines I might catch here and there – I don’t listen to pop music much anymore and I don’t read the mags, see above. So my opinions on her are formed entirely by what might be reported on random news shows I catch in passing (I had kind of liked the sentiment behind her song to do with eating disorders). And then I watched her interview on Channel 9 when she was here and thought, hey she sounds like a really interesting person. I think she has some idea of what it’s like to be me. And I heard a bit about what she’s done and why. And then the other day, maybe two days ago?, I heard a man describe her and those sitting in her pop niche in the world as “shallow Gaga”. I realised something really important, and it comes back to what we are always saying on Galactic Suburbia – both that we are all default conditioned to live in the patriarchy by the patriarchy and that once you see something, you cannot unsee it. And for me, it’s still a constant process to remind myself to deconstruct kneejerk reactions or acceptances of value judgements. Because Lady Gaga is not actually shallow at all. (I had a similar realisation about P!nk too a while back). And that man was calling her that because of her performance stunts – except, she is a performer, that’s what she’s supposed to do AND a lot of her ‘stunts’ are fashion related and we all know that fashion is shallow because it’s a woman’s thing and football is deeply esoteric and spiritually meaningful because it’s a man’s one. Basically, I had allowed myself to be pulled along in the tide of what other people, mainly men, think about women and women’s art and women’s expression and most importantly, women’s messages.
The realisation about Lady Gaga has kind of made me angry. And then to find out that Amy Winehouse is one of her inspirations, it’s clicking some interesting pieces into this new puzzle I am solving in my head. But more importantly, having suddenly changed the way I listen to the commentary on Lady Gaga means that I am hearing the commentary about Amy Winehouse and her passing differently too. Because here was a truly gifted woman, with so much potential yet to be realised who we have lost. And we will never hear sing a new song ever again. And that is a a great tragedy. But all everyone wants to say is “I am not surprised” or “Well we all knew this was coming” – yet we didn’t do anything about it and more than that, we give no validity or interest in the causes that brought it about. There is no discussion of her illness, of the way the assistance she did seek, and was offered to her, was not helpful. And more than that, there is very little discussion of her addiction, and beyond the substance abuse to the root core. It’s just “yet another tragic addition to the 27 club” – a club which, actually probably would welcome her more than we ever did because it’s filled with people who understand. There’s this glossing over how the rest of the members got to join the club too.
Yes, yes, it’s all tragic and tomorrow’s weather is …
Here’s a clip of her singing her song Rehab:
And these lines jump out at me:
He said, “I just think you’re depressed”
This me, “Yeah baby, and all the rest”
The reason she didn’t wanna go to rehab was it wouldn’t have fixed her problem. And if we as a society don’t try and understand that addiction is a symptom of a greater problem, we’re never going to be able to offer the help that is needed.
Amy Winehouse wasn’t any kind of traditional definition of beautiful. She was eccentric and she didn’t conform. She struggled with her demons the only way she knew how. I wish I’d enjoyed her music more when she was alive. I’m immersing myself in it today. But today, with just these recordings left behind, the world is a less shiny place. I’d like to think her story might change the way we think about the glamour of rock and roll and fame but I don’t think we will. It certainly doesn’t look like we have, judging by the commentary.
So I’ll finish with some of what Russell Brand had to say:
Now Amy Winehouse is dead, like many others whose unnecessary deaths have been retrospectively romanticised, at 27 years old. Whether this tragedy was preventable or not is now irrelevant. It is not preventable today. 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. All we can do is adapt the way we view this condition, not as a crime or a romantic affectation but as a disease that will kill.
We need to review the way society treats addicts, not as criminals but as sick people in need of care.