Friday, July 29, 2011

How Failure Saved My Life

I'm ashamed to admit that I'd never paid any real notice to Amy Winehouse before her death. The first time I saw her image was in a series of caricature sketches that a long-ago penpal sent me, the drawings were of rock stars  and I identified most of them but couldn't place Winehouse. Is that what's-her-name from the B-52s?

My friend was surprised that I'd never heard of Amy Winehouse, after all she was  all over the press back then. Not for her singing, but for her personal life, such as it was.

So anyway, I listened to her music last week after my show. And I found that she was really, really good. At least for two CDs...two CDs doesn't exactly qualify one for Hendrix comparisons, not musically anyway, but the songs are good and her voice is amazing. I had expected some sort of electro-techno-disco glop, not soulful, heartbreaking and sometimes funny songs, songs largely played with real instruments. There was a lot of potential there.

I hate the tabloid media and the way they emphasize all the wrong aspects of an artist. I don't give a damn how much weight some actress that I've never heard of has gained or what kind of drunken voicemails some Hollywood clown leaves on some other Hollywood clown's phone.

Even things that I would normally enjoy-such as swimsuit photos of beautiful women- are ruined by bright red circles and highlights that point out the 'imperfections' on human bodies that any sane person would consider to be natural wonders: 

Omigod, is that a wrinkle on Suzy Creamcheese's face? Are her boobs sagging? Is that a trace of cellulite? Get her to a plastic surgeon before it is too late!

Can you imagine a young Joni Mitchell  being transported through time and marketed by a team of 2011-era Hollywood producers?

                                                  (still alive and fine)

Well, we'd better do something about that hair. Maybe we can salvage it...we'll need to add some weight in the right places too, maybe raise the cheekbones just a tad, they are not-terrible...lose the nerdy clothes and start  showing some skin, at least  once the cosmetic scars heal...oh, and try playing  something you can dance to, maybe guitar stuff that isn't so complicated, be more like Lenny Kravitz and less like Django Reinhardt, right? ...and stop using so many  words- I mean, can't you just find a hook and stick with it? Our producers will be handling  the songwriting from now on, ok? 

No one will be able to see your new tits with that guitar in the way, so we'll find someone to do that for you too, or maybe we'll get your stylist to design a transparent guitar you can wear like a go meet your personal trainer and start toning those skinny legs so's you can learn some moves fer your video...

Whomever said: "Live fast, die young and leave a beautiful corpse" was a fucking idiot. If your fast-living kills you while you are still young, your corpse is not going to be a beautiful work of art- it is going to be a mortis-sculpture that  requires a HazMat team to clean up. Seriously.

Because chances are you've played with needles or slept with someone who has, and that makes your blood an upgraded potential biological hazard. And there's probably going to be a lot of blood when they find you. You would be unpleasantly surprised at the number of orifices that can bleed simultaneously. I sure was surprised when my time came.

So forget about the glamor of an early death brought on by a hard life. There isn't any glamor in being found dead in a congealing pool of your own blood, vomit, shit and piss. Fabulous!

There isn't any way that I can judge her strength of character or know if Winehouse really wanted to quit using or not but I will give her the benefit of the doubt. I have been there myself and I know how hard it is. It takes a long time- a lifetime- to adjust to sobriety and the first attempt doesn't always work. I know.

But what I can't know is what it would have been like to try to get clean if I had left the hospital and suddenly found out that I was rich and famous. That every detail of my life- real or fabricated- was uploaded to the internet in real-time as it occurred and viewed with obsessive fascination by people who really should have better things to do with their time.

And that I had piles of money and plenty of new 'friends' willing to help me spend it.

I have a very talented friend who desperately wanted to be a rock star when she was younger but never quite achieved that dream. This was a source of pain for her, but it shouldn't be, because if she'd become famous back then, she'd be dead by now and that would suck. I understand the desire to attain immortality through art, but the 'immortality' once granted to artists just isn't what it used to be. Most 'celebs' don't even seem to get 15 minutes of artistic recognition, their "fame" is all about their personal lives, not their art; they are lucky to get  a few hits, 140 characters of obituary and a Tiny URL for a tombstone.

I wanted the same fame for myself as my friend wanted, of course. I was sure that I'd be a rock star by 21 and dead by 30 and at the time I saw this as some sort of transcendental, darkly poetic and tragically beautiful fate. Lucky for me, I was a failure as a rock star, because I was a hugely successful addict and if I'd had a trainload of cash and a retinue of vampires for friends to go with that success, I'm sure I'd  be dead now.

It seems as if the public does not care about talent or skill , it is all about gory spectacle and prurient person's escapism becomes that person's nightmare addiction and then that person's  nightmare addiction becomes the escapism of millions . Vicious.

I think the  gossip media must appeal to the same dark, reptilian part  of the human psyche that the ancient Romans tapped into when they forced slaves to fight to the death for the public amusement of a privileged audience. At least the ancient Roman had to show up and watch the death in-person and physically give the 'thumb up or down' life-or-death gesture. Today we have the 'like' button with  "lols" and 'smiley' emoticons to help add a passive-aggressive veneer of plausible deniability  to our otherwise murderous statements. Fuck off :) lol :)

But is being successful a good thing? Especially in the context of addiction? It seems like only yesterday that the nation was transfixed by Charlie Sheen tweets and rants. For me, the most immediate benefit that I realized when I quit using cocaine was not having to listen to crazy-ass cokehead bullshit anymore...many years later, people were actually paying money to listen to crazy-ass cokehead bullshit. Unreal.

Let's look at other forms of popular entertainment from the not-so-distant-past.

Death and torture:

Obviously, human beings have a perversely morbid fascination with watching other human beings suffer and die. Crucifixions, lynchings, hangings, beheadings...these are all huge crowdpleasers. Do you think humans have changed much since the photograph above was taken?

Think again.

 The only difference is now we can watch people destroy themselves and others from the safety of our own carefully filtered custom-aggregated electronic cocoons. We don't need to be physically present to  extend our condemnation of others, we can do it anonymously with the click of a single button or a  snarky text shortcut. We have violent videogames and movies like the 'Saw' series and Mel Gibson's S&M Jesus movie to satiate our bloodlust and morbid fantasies. It is only a matter of time until someone does a 'Faces of Death' reality TV series.
(If they haven't already).

Ultimately, it is up to the addict to quit.  I know this because I have done it, alone and without any formal support system. But I don't know that I could have done it if I'd been famous. I don't think I'd have survived my success.

But I was lucky. The only misery that I was addicted to was my own and my suffering wasn't public enough to be called 'entertainment'. I never made the Big Time but at least I lived to talk about not making it.

That's more than Amy got. She got success instead.



Susan said...

Wow. This is a great post. Amy Winestone was an amazing talent, but she was more known for the tabloids--Britain in particular seems to see their celebs as public property. I often wonder if all this access to information about basically nothing is turning us into a new form of monster.


great post...and amy is a great loss

Mr.S.Capeons said...

Well said and heartfelt. A nice reminder of the personal power and freedom of blogging...especially compared to the fastfood cafeteria called Facebook that I find myself locked into.

It's a shame about Amy. She had the voice and the soul to deliver, but she didn't believe it herself. I'm sure that she had moments of clarity on stage when the universe all came together for her...I'm happy that she did...because most of us never get anywhere near that bliss.

The whatifs are sad indeed..imagine how she could have sang once she gained more experience and got ahead of her demons. This world vacuums up people and tosses them out. We need to protect ourselves.

billy pilgrim said...

i'm guessing amy had the magic gene that made her susceptible to drug and alcohol addiction.

we continue to bombard our youth with lifestyle advertising telling them that alcohol will bring them happiness and popularity.

life goes on. or not.

Angel said...

What a post. Wow. My heart ached for what her adoring public put Amy through. Her loss is a sad one, to music and to her family.