[The one and only Henry Rollins contributes a weekly column and far-reaching reportage to the music section of the LA Weekly. Look for your weekly Henry Rollins fix right here on West Coast Sound every Thursday and make sure to tune in to Henry's KCRW radio show every Saturday evening, or online, or as a podcast.
Who Killed Amy Winehouse?
It's been two weeks since Amy Winehouse was found dead in her apartment in London, and her passing happened at almost the same time as the awful events in Norway. It was a bad weekend for news. It is almost impossible to get one's head around the pain, sadness and complete shock of what countless people are enduring in Norway and all over the world.
It is perhaps easier to wrap your head around the tragedy of one person, especially if the person is familiar — like Amy Winehouse. She was a hit worldwide. While perhaps not the most surprising celebrity passing, her exit is no less saddening.
Amy Winehouse was not a person I ever met and I can't say that I am overly conversant in all of her music. I do have her albums, and years ago, when I first heard her sing, I thought she was extraordinary. The tone of her voice, her phrasing, her raw appearance; these qualities were extremely captivating to me.
In recent years it took only a few Internet clicks to see images of Winehouse at radically different body weights, as well as in very compromised and unflattering states. There was live footage of nightmare performances, which were painful to watch.
Her disintegration was meticulously documented by paparazzi all over the world, though they were but a gentle annoyance compared to their aggressive British counterparts. Shots of her staggering down London streets or opening her apartment door — unprepared for the onslaught — were all over the Web and tabloid newspapers. These vultures, these culture cowards, seemed to enjoy watching her fall apart.
In the days since her passing, meanwhile, some writers have been extremely caustic, while others have been far more compassionate, and the majority seem honestly saddened by her death.
It occurred to me that the press might have sent Winehouse in a more self-destructive direction.
As for me, I would look at these images and watch the footage, feel bad for her and wonder if she had any friends who were trying to help her. Perhaps she did, and she just broke their hearts and wore them out until they couldn't take it anymore and left. It happens. It's hard to change adults. They are going to do what they are going to do.
As considerable as the external factors were, ultimately Winehouse was a woman of means, living in the free world with a clear enough understanding of the consequences of her actions. Still, one might look for the cause of Amy Winehouse's downward spiral. To whom or what would you assign that blame? Obnoxious photographers? Management? A record label? Tabloid journalists? The fans? Perhaps you could conclude that it was Amy Winehouse who caused her own death.
The passing of a young and famous musician is nothing new, and Winehouse is now a placeholder among the musical bright lights who have died at the age of 27. This group includes Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison and Cobain. I think things would be better if they were still around.
On a personal note, I've known more than a few people who died young, in all manner of ways. No matter how they lived their lives, how frustrating or infuriating they could be, I miss them. The question that I have posed to myself and have been trying to answer is basically: Has anything changed in the last several years that perhaps made Amy Winehouse's demise all but inevitable?
I can point to at least one thing: technology. The Internet, the camera cellphone and the like have not only sped up the world's information uptake but they have cheapened that which they capture.
A song now is merely a small file to be downloaded for free. A text conversation is a short exchange of often grossly truncated language that corresponds to a thought made all the more shallow by the process. Many of us talk more and say less, see more but retain little. We are blessed with worldwide connectivity but have become very unplugged. To hack into a hackneyed phrase: “It's all content to me.” I think this is a monumental factor in how we see ourselves and each other.
Amy Winehouse was a talented and fragile person who ended up in a very rough room, and there was perhaps no way she was getting out of it alive.
Assigning blame, to me, is a waste of time. Whatever happened will surely happen again.
The world moves very quickly now, with great hunger and often no sense of history. Some of the more delicate flowers among us are torn to pieces in the roar of anonymity and myriad options. It is only our humanity that can deliver us from the brutality of our achievements.