Many years ago I saved a strange newspaper article by someone named Dean Durber, who wrote commemorating the death of River Phoenix and why he never got over it. He discussed that had he lived, Phoenix could have been used to say so much. He could have been anti-corporate culture, anti-commercialism, anti-materialism, anti-pop and entertainment culture, which I’m sure are the things that are all the opposite of the truth. Or indeed, he could have been used by these powers as their shill. “But he didn’t,” Durber wrote. “He just shut up and he died. What a star!”
This is all out of order, and maybe that’s all for the best, because at least I won’t write this in a formulaic way. But there was a completely random person in the arts who stated years later, not knowing her, that he had never gotten over losing Amy Winehouse.
In a small way, neither did I. I already wrote about this same thing once before, about Lauryn Hill, about a person who released some truth in to the world early in her life, then broke from the experience. But I can write about it again. Amy Winehouse had the gift of being able to channel some truth that touched a lot of people, but then couldn’t handle it and she died.
At least Lauryn Hill continued a life for herself afterwards. Pras Michel, an original bandmate of hers, told the world that she had a gift of being able to move people, which is rare, and she was wasting it.
Did she? Did Amy waste her gift? Like the transcendental soccer player Ronaldinho, are we grateful that they showed the extraordinary to the world once, or pine that it didn’t last longer?
I watched the documentary Amy, only really interested in her musical bits and the start of her life, not the downfall, which was at least half the real reason she was doco-worthy. I have the album, I hear the voice, I see the cute beehive hairdo. I hear the words.
There is not a dominant theme in what she says, just that these songs are all about her life and they are honest. And they are all about uncertainty.
I could go off on super tangents thinking about that. About how when you’re young, a teen or in your twenties, your emotions are stronger than can be controlled. In your thirties, they are controllable. Even heartbreak. But I think that is not a good thing. I think it’s because we put the brakes on our emotions because we already know what supreme hurt feels like, and will avoid it again by not going all the way emotionally. Or else the emotions are just not as strong; which is just as terrible. “Children, I would say,” Brian Phillips wrote as a semi-joke. “Except I’m not at all convinced that they are any worse than adults. We do everything they do, after all. Only less whole-heartedly.”
At the end of the Amy doco, Tony Bennett says, “Slow down, you’re too important. Life teaches you how to live it, if you live long enough.” He couldn’t reach Winehouse on time. We are smarter, I think, at this age now (I’m 35), and not just less emotional. We can maybe see through things, through the haze of confusion and negativity and media frivolity that consumes us and hides everything real.
Why didn’t Amy keep producing her art the last five years of her life? Why don’t I? Why don’t we just channel what comes naturally, just sit down, do the work? I worry. I worry that I will not write the right thing for the occasion, for what needs to be said, that it will be out of order, that I will miss something. It’s illogical, but a blank sheet offers infinite promise. Until you commit yourself, and fill it.
Amy. I love your eye makeup, your beehive hair, your long thin legs and big feet. I hear your songs, I know that someone sent me flying, the way “You sent me flying when you kicked me to the curb.” I know that despite the obscuring propaganda about sex, sex is actually clumsy and often not completely fulfilling (it’s the condoms, they ruin everything): “Upstairs in bed with my ex boy. He’s in the place but I can’t get joy.” I know that sometimes you try to love the person who loves you, but you want to be with someone else: “How can he have her heart? So he tries to pacify her, but what’s inside her never dies.” And then: “You go back to her, and I go back to black.”
Above all, life is messy, and some lucky people just don’t understand that about others. Mistakes happen because so many problems swirl around, including our own self-created ones, and we are simply incapable of controlling them all.
Actions and behaviours come out wrong, but we are more than just the sum of our actions. There is always a person underneath, even if they achieve nothing. Even if they achieve everything. That person is always sad, is always dying little by little, is always longing.