A respost of an article I wrote for Black Commentator shortly after Amy Winehouse's untimely passing. I reflect on this, what would have been her 39th birthday.
I am awakened with a jolt, and she is on my mind. Saturday morning, July 23rd, initiates a series of private reflections about tragically gifted, eclectically infamous Amy Winehouse. I claim no prophetical vision. Given her recent headline-making aborted resurrection tour, it would be foolhardy to assume I was alone in dreaming of Ms. Winehouse the night before her untimely death. The radio and internet was still aflutter with the news of Belgrade's harsh and immediate rejection of her seemingly substance assisted aloofness. The piling on disgusted me. I saw it as a continuum of a disturbing trend by the art consuming public to actively shackle living artists from ascending to iconic status. As an artist, I find myself constantly battling feelings of anger, depression, and futility as I discover my name and those of my colleagues constantly and systematically injured. My heart aches, my head pounds, trying to see a way out of this abusive relationship we have with our fans - where we are adored one day and struck down with words of unwarranted criticism that hit like a heavy fist the next.
I am uncertain as to how we arrived here, but I know that it is unhealthy. Having accepted my artistic self in high school, a number of years have passed since I held the perspective of a simple patron of the arts. So while I acknowledge my biased viewpoint, I can grasp no intellectually honest reason why one would volunteer their fanship for a musician just to pounce on the first opportunity to rip the freely given accolades from her arms. Yet, here we stand, where any perusing of the [social media post] to an even mildly controversial public figure will produce much more vitriol than appreciation. This is not to lay total blame at the doorstep of Twitter. Twitter is merely a tool, no more inherently evil than a hunting knife, a ski mask, or a distillery. It is us, users, actual humans that are typing racially charged, misogynistic, homophobic, judgmental and just plain unloving words to people that chose to open their hearts to us.
It is perhaps this point where modern society is most ignorant. Perhaps even those that confess a well-written heartbreak song helped them get over a love betrayal are wholly unaware of the extreme emotional turmoil we artists must endure to pen these songs. Just as biologists theorize that every new piece of information learned grows our brains proportionally, the same is true of our emotional selves. The darker, more painful hemisphere of our emotional selves, most of us leave largely uncharted, and understandably so. However, when thrust by a disruption of our lives just across the border of where we lock away all our
fears, we turn to artists to be our emotional cartographers.
We artists stare into that abyss and march forward, having no idea where the edge lies. Not because we are unafraid, but precisely because we are afraid. Yet, aware of our unique ability to tap into a wider range of emotions, we seek out that edge and warn others where it lies.
Few did this better than Amy Winehouse. She treaded the trouble track, she went back to black, she died a hundred times so we would not have to. Not yet twenty-five during the writing of her most famous album, Ms. Winehouse bravely embarked deep into that abyss and dutifully surveyed its landscape. This tremendous undertaking ultimately consumed her. How could it not? Most of us experience only the briefest of touching with the darker hemisphere of our emotional selves, and even that leaves us scarred for years. We heal with the help of Amy Winehouse and others like her - some who too have depleted their physical selves relatively early. And in exchange for this sacrifice, we repay them with internet trending ridicule. This response makes me often question if the sacrifice is worth it. ...
As I watched news reports of her passing, I am struck by the juxtaposition of Amy Winehouse's Grammy win and final concert. In the former, I saw in a jaw drop and eyelash flutter the look of utter excitement by an outlier receiving mainstream acceptance. In that moment, she believed the world grateful that she had lived. In the latter, I saw also a jaw drop and eyelash flutter, but this time it was the look of someone left vulnerable by her many trips into emotional depths being handedly rejected by the very people that demanded she share more of herself with them. My heartbeat quickened, my lip trembled, and a tear moistened my iris as I watched in horror at the clamoring of masses placing the value of their concert ticket price over the value of Ms. Winehouse's humanity. A mass spiritually, emotionally, and musically infantile that then took to social media to stake some sort of moral high ground over Ms. Winehouse's lifestyle. Perhaps she used drugs, perhaps she drank too much, perhaps she participated in unhealthy relationships. Frankly, I did not care. I cared about her - as a musician, a woman, a person - and now she is gone. Taken from me. Far too early. I go back to black.