Pity for Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse Statue

This is a statue of the late singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse with her father. The life-sized statue was erected for what would have been her 31st birthday. She apparently had struggled with opioid and cocaine addition for much of her young life. Later in her life she gave up these drugs but began doing the socially acceptable but generally more dangerous alcohol. She eventually died two months shy of her 28th birthday because of alcohol poisoning.

I’m so out of it that I didn’t know who she was. So I listened to some of her music. I am very impressed. It is not only great work, it is the kind of stuff that I enjoy. Here is a brilliant song, “Stronger Than Me”:

But the only reason that I took note was the comment that went along with it, written by an otherwise smart and humane person:

No. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. Junkies are not to be honored. People who make records about defiantly be junkies should not be honored. Period. End of story. Done.

This is an issue that I’ve been fighting against for coming up on two decades. What is it about being a heroin addict that causes everything else in their lives to vanish as far as others are concerned? People don’t seem to have trouble compartmentalizing people in other contexts. Thomas Jefferson has statues built for him all over the nation despite the fact that he was not only a slaveholder but kind of a jerk who left many of them in bondage following his death. But we can’t honor a very talented young woman just because she was troubled?

What’s more, I think her violence is more troubling than her use of illegal drugs. But it is interesting that her violent outbursts did not occur when she was doing illegal drugs. It was only after she gave up illegal drugs (following arrests for cannabis and cocaine) that these became an issue in her life. But I’ve talked a lot about how in our society, the use of illegal drugs have a stigma that is worse than violent acts even including murder.

But what about other highly admired and unrepentant drug users? There is Lou Reed and William S Burroughs and Hunter S. Thompson. And all of them strike me as having been more in control of their lives. I don’t get that impression from Amy Winehouse. If she had lived longer, she might have gained wisdom and gone on to be the grande dame of jazz singers. But as it is, she seems to have been more like a fragile child. The crime is that our society did not know how to help her.

In the end, she gave far more to our culture than she took. She should be admired for that. And if we can’t do that, we should at least pity her. And we should pity her family.

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