Infamous British soul singer Amy Winehouse died at the age of 27 this past weekend. Almost immediately, she was compared to other music legends who died at the same age.
Oh, blogs, this is dumb. There is a huge difference between Winehouse’s untimely demise and, say, the death of Jim Morrison. For instance, when Jim Morrison died, his corpse was given a few minutes to cool before the world started kicking it.
Before the news blogs could even finish typing the headline “Amy Winehouse Dead at 27,” there was an electronic chorus of boos and hisses and cruel commentary. Millions of ignorant little vultures took to social media to virtually pee on her grave, days before it is even dug. Word of the woman’s death wasn’t thirty-seconds old before half the Internet was morbidly exploiting her death for lame laughs.
It was appalling to read tweets from people who awkwardly morphed into perverse mash-ups of Dr. Drew and Jay Leno. Suddenly, everyone was an addiction expert and horrible hack comedian. Lazy sarcastic quips are a poor coping mechanism when confronted with the most essential truth of our existence: we’re all just giant worm snacks on bone stilts.
The 20th time I read the joke “When they try to make you go to rehab, say yes, yes, yes” I wanted to take a mallet to my wireless router. To be honest, it almost made me miss the subtle wit of Gilbert Gottfried, the famous stand-up who was fired from an endorsement gig and rightly piled on for offensive one-liners he tweeted during the Japanese tsunami.
There were smug tweets and clucking status updates that proudly declared “I told you so.” Others were thrilled by the news, because to some, this woman was just another weak-willed junkie who just happened to have golden vocal cords. When you dehumanize another human, you dehumanize yourself. If you’re too emotionally stunted to understand that, it’s also a cheap way to feel better about your life choices.
Most blogs, however, just added her to that club of rockers who died at the age of 27. This club includes Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, all of whom died of drug overdoses, and Kurt Cobain, who committed suicide in 1994. But these individuals died in another century, before there was so much “me” in “media.”
Hendrix, Morrison, Joplin and Cobain were all, clearly, troubled souls. But when they died, they were mourned and celebrated. Then allowed to ascend to pop star godhood. Amy Winehouse, on the other hand, died, was mocked and criticized. She’ll probably end up a punchline. I’m not suggesting we romanticize self-destruction, but acting indifferent is not the same thing as being tough. In fact, it’s fairly cowardly.
What’s most ironic is that our understanding of the causes and treatment of addiction is so much more advanced than it was even twenty years ago. That a young woman of such prominence could so publicly suffer just proves that cries for help never sound like an actual cry for help.
Obviously I don’t know Amy Winehouse. To me, she’s just a voice that lives in my cell phone and her voice will live forever. So in a way, Amy Winehouse, the commercial product, will live forever. But the woman? The real woman? If the gossip pages are even half-truthful, then she obviously lived a chaotic life, and was certainly a victim of the consequences of her own actions. But you can’t always plan for that which you can’t plan for.
People fail, all the time, people with everything and people with nothing. You can make all the right decisions and be felled by a coincidence. We all have burdens, we all stumble, you can lead a righteous life and still get struck by lightening. But how many of us can sing a song beautifully, even while our demons drag us to our knees? At the very least, you should try.