It’s sad to read of Amy Winehouse’s death. She was a very talented singer, with a truly great voice.
Already her death is being written into various tropes: one being the ‘curse’ narrative of the ’27 Club’:
…the culture-defining musicians like Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, and Janis Joplin who all died at the same young age as Winehouse…
There’s a mythos at work here about the price paid for exceptional talent.
Unfortunately, a lot of the commentary is glib, mixed with barely concealed derision. So I was very glad to see this post from laketothelight at Mostly Snarling:
This is the thing about madness/mental illness/non-neurotypicality. Presuming it is negatively impacting your life and stopping you from functioning in a way that is healthy for you, presuming it is actively making itself a problem – well, dealing with that in the current social framework we have is tricky.
I feel like Amy was failed, and so too all the other self medicating, not-coping individuals out there. She didn’t fail, she simply didn’t make it, because she was caught up inside a brain that – without adequate help – wouldn’t let her do so.
Every time a ‘star’ dies, I get angry at how we either glamourise their death or deride it. How about this – despite all their money, exposure and connections, they’re still human beings trying to make sense of a world that’s hard to negotiate. Sure, they have a lot of privilege. But mental illness/madness doesn’t pick and choose targets, and if you’re ill, there’s not a lot that money can do to help you.
It can’t make medications work for you, or make you want to take them. It can’t give you a supportive family or a close network of trusted friends, and might actually work to destroy that I’m imagining. It can’t make you a health care system which – even at its best – will deal properly with mental health.
Most of all, it can’t change a culture which boils a young woman with legitimate mental health issues who is wildly self medicating to cope and struggling with addiction, down to a glib “bitch be crazy”.
There’s a gendered dimension to discussion of Winehouse’s travails. Contrast the aspersions cast on her – as if she were an uncontrollable child-woman – with the hero myth Jim Morrison was inscribed into.
Winehouse’s struggles will have been compounded by the world she found herself in. Her death should stimulate us to reflect on how some of the myths surrounding mental illness have a cruel instantiation in real lives, and on how all too simple dichotomies contribute to our social failure in providing care.
Update: A worthwhile piece by Russell Brand in The Guardian.