Troll of the day

If lady sings and lives by the blues, then she dies by them

Amy Winehouse, 2007

Nearly every obituary I’ve seen for Amy Winehouse has attached words like “troubled,”  to her name. I am disturbed, but not surprised, by the liberties newspapers have taken with headlines, using adjectives that have successfully pigeonholed Winehouse before any conclusive evidence of the cause of her death has been released.

The tragic, troubled star is no new concept. Our culture is obsessed with this particular famous breed. Billy Holiday, Kurt Cobain, Marilyn Monroe, Sid Vicious, the list goes on. These individuals were all preceded by a public persona that spoke of inner demons and an ultimately fatal self-destructive nature. Whatever talent these stars possessed was and remains inseparable from the haunted identity the public associated/associates with them.

Of course, Amy Winehouse is no Billie Holiday, for a number of reasons. But I can’t help seeing similarities in their public personas. Agony can be heard in every note Billie

Billie Holiday, 1949

Holiday sings, a pain that the public largely attributed to an out of control drug addiction and perpetually breaking heart. Where the real Billie began and the public Billie ended remains a mystery today.

The line between public persona and real, living person has also been blurred with Amy Winehouse. Though the cause of her death is still in its speculative stages, newspapers are all too quick to tack on descriptions like “troubled,” “wild” and “haunted.” They’ve already added her to the league of young, tragic artists, whose talent is overshadowed by a career plagued by addictions and destructive behavior. Of course, they are probably correct in assuming that her lifestyle had a hand in her death. I guess I’m old fashion in thinking that “assuming” anything in journalism isn’t safe or moral. Even the New York Times went to town:

I’m not trying to champion for Winehouse. Of course, she was a mess (at least, according to  the extensive coverage of her public drunken/drugged episodes), but can any person be simplified so easily? Can any newspaper, in good conscience, explain her death by describing how she publicly conducted her life, when the circumstances of her death remain unclear? It’s a transitive fallacy run amuck.  If you live a messy life, you die young. Amy Winehouse was a mess and died. Therefore, Amy Winehouse died young because she was a mess. Simple and easy, right? No more questions necessary.

The coverage of her death seems to operate on a joke, turning her songs against her: In hindsight, she should’ve gone to rehab after all. Whatever cause of death is revealed in the next few days, even if newspapers’ preemptory correlations are validated, Amy Winehouse has already been classified. She’s just another “tragic” public figure whose life ––or what we’ve seen of it –– caused her death.   She was a singer and a drug addict. What else is there to know?


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