Music

Requiem For a Robbery


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Amy Winehouse's Death Leaves Fans Unsettled

[2011.10.26 UPDATE:] Singer Amy Winehouse's death this summer was the result of alcohol poisoning, an inquest ruled, as it reached a verdict of "death by misadventure."

A pathologist told a coroner's court in north London that alcohol toxicity was the cause of the 27-year-old's death, with her blood alcohol levels measured at more than five times the legal drink-drive limit.

A family statement, given by spokesman Chris Goodman, said: "It is some relief we finally found out what happened to Amy.


Finding an appropriate way to eulogize Amy Winehouse is a rubix cube of confusion best explained by the theme of "A Bronx Tale" verbalized by Robert De Niro ' "The saddest thing in life is wasted talent."

Adjectives abound when asked of Ms. Winehouse. Talented, avant-garde, reckless, dangerous are all fair descriptions. Yet those who love music would use a verb to describe her, and that verb is stolen. Thanks to the savage nature of drug and alcohol addiction the public is once again forced to eulogize a talented artist. This repetitive trope of talented but troubled abounds through history but since the deaths of Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin (all dying within 10 months) is especially heinous. The list of talent that has been undercut by addiction since those three deaths in the early 70's is littered with luminaries (Kurt Cobain, Bon Scott, River Phoenix, to name a few).

Celebrities with drug problems who check into inpatient Florida drug and alcohol detox centers can be assured that they will get the privacy that they need as they undergo treatment.

The proper way to honor Ms. Winehouse is to speak of the legacy created by her talent. Lady Gaga, Adele, and Duffy are three artists who credit the 5 time Grammy winner with paving the way for serious female musicians to eschew superficial banality in favor of music that is not dependent on a drum machine coupled with lyrics extolling insidious tropes as "the club", drinking and sex (paging Britney Spears and Ke$ha). Yet there is no discussion of the tattooed crooner without serious conversation regarding the perils of drug and alcohol addiction. The brilliance combined with the self-destructive tendencies leaves all audiences wanting more.

This phenomenon is not new, and regretfully lessons from this latest "taken too soon" death will not be heeded.

In Los Angeles, Lindsay Lohan attempts to circumvent the law while the law is the only entity keeping Ms. Lohan from the same self-destructive path. Celebrity Rehab displays addicts of great talent or tragedy (sometimes both). The sanitization of drug and alcohol abuse creates a climate of whimsy. There are few outlets for people to truly see the ravages of addiction. A&E's "Intervention" would have been the proper vehicle to help Ms. Winehouse instead our culture would dictate her appearance with fame-whore doctors Drew or Phil. Sometimes there is no helping those who refuse to help themselves.

The public has been robbed and yet the public probably will not be incensed at this robbery. Phil Jackson once told Michael Jordan that his talent in basketball was a public commodity and that refusing to share that talent was criminal. Every time a talented artist is unfettered from their mortal coils due to circumstances such as drug and alcohol addiction, the operative adjective is not that the death is tragic, rather the death is needless. The ability to sing beautiful songs, play instruments or excel in athletic endeavors are special timeless diversions that enrich the daily routine and add splendor to the world. Ask yourself what the world would miss had Michelangelo dedicated his life to the drink instead of the art? What if Dickens was addicted to opium instead of the beauty of the written word? Posterity honors those men because those men honored posterity by maximizing, not compromising their talents.

Ms. Winehouse's haunting vocals in "Rehab" ("they tried to make me go to rehab and I said, no, no, no) reflect her state of mind. Her art was the art of raw truth. The blistering vocals could be gleaned from a lost reel to reel tape in Berry Gordy's office. The tattoos, wild makeup, beehive hairstyle and piercings did not distract from the obvious talent. Her breakout album "Back to Black" is responsible for 5 Grammy Awards and a shift in the musical paradigm for the female artist. The apt comparison for her is Kurt Cobain ' the album "Nevermind" completely shifted the paradigm for rock music. Cobain was a prisoner of his demons and the Nirvana catalog contains three albums that are far too pedestrian a contribution for someone of such enormous talent.

The depth of the problems drugs and alcohol create are documented to the point of exhaustion. Ms. Winehouse's lungs operated at 70% efficacy at the age of 24 according to her father. To cope with the pain of withdrawal she joined her husband in the cutting of themselves. Many a concert was performed under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or a combination of the two. She was a chain-smoker. Her case is one in which the warning signs of her impending dependency downfall dwarfed interstate billboards advertising restaurants at the next exit. There is much to be ashamed of in that her addictions deprived the public of her obvious talent.

College dorms are littered with the "Spirits of Rock" poster.

That poster contains Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and John Lennon interspersed with stars to create constellations of their visages. In Lennon's case an insane man robbed the world. For Hendrix and Morrison the theft is due to their reckless lifestyles. Both men died at the age of 27 (as did Ms. Winehouse). Both men were enormously gifted, and both men's deaths leave the music-loving public unsettled. There should be more, there must be more, hence the hunting for the lost Hendrix tapes and the lost Doors tapes.

For Ms. Winehouse, her legacy is that of an authentic avant-garde performer. The public will never see another artist so deftly blend the past while creating the future. Her two albums showcase amazing vocal range and a profound understanding of the medium of music. The other half of her legacy is that of rampant selfish self-destruction that deprived the world of true art. Rather than enjoy her future offerings, fans are now stuck with Ke$ha's latest song about how her fans were outcasts but now saturate the club or Britney Spears using the auto-tune to speak-sing "if I tell you I want your body now, would you hold it against me?" The world of music is that much more drab and unoriginal tonight than it was this morning.

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Updated Aug 12, 2017 1:45 PM EDT | More details

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