She was the girl everyone loved to hate on, but I loved her mostly because she didn’t give a fuck what anyone else thought of her. Sure, her too early death didn’t come as a shock to anyone, but the constant talk of the “27 Club” seems so incredibly crass. Russell Brand wrote a lovely post about Amy that I felt the need to share:
All we can do is adapt the way we view this condition, not as a crime or a romantic affectation but as a disease that will kill. We need to review the way society treats addicts, not as criminals but as sick people in need of care. We need to look at the way our government funds rehabilitation. It is cheaper to rehabilitate an addict than to send them to prison, so criminalisation doesn’t even make economic sense. Not all of us know someone with the incredible talent that Amy had but we all know drunks and junkies and they all need help and the help is out there. All they have to do is pick up the phone and make the call. Or not. Either way, there will be a phone call.
They either get help, or they die. That’s the simple truth of the disease, and the fact that addiction is not treated with the same compassion as those with other diseases has always frustrated me. People blame the person because they chose to take that first drink or that first hit, but no one goes into that first time with the ability to see into the future. Not everyone who drinks or uses has the addiction gene.
Amy’s death saddens me mostly because it reminds me so much of my own friends death. We all know drunks and junkies and they all need help. This is true.
Going on three years ago I got a message from my childhood best friend, who I hadn’t seen much in years at that point, telling me that she would be in Toronto for the weekend. She still lived back home, I had moved here after high school. I missed the message, sadly, and to this day I constantly think that maybe if I had talked to her that day things would have turned out different, that fate would have changed the course of her days in the city like in that terrible movie Sliding Doors. She overdosed from a speedball that weekend while she was here. I heard from another friend, only a few days after I missed that message she sent me.
Alicia was my best friend from age 10 to 15, we did everything together and practically lived together. Her family was my family, my family was hers. We were relatively inseparable until we got to that age where she wanted to experiment with drugs and I (having watched The Basketball Diaries when I was 11 and being scarred for life watching Leo withdraw from heroin) wanted nothing to do with that world. I remember watching her try weed for the first time in ninth grade with some dirty kid down the street and getting SO mad at her for doing it. The two of them were sitting there laughing uncontrollably from the pot, which only made me more furious. As weed turned into other drugs our hangouts started to consist of her doing drugs with creeps and me sitting around being a total buzz-kill and growing resentful towards her. Our friendship became incredibly strained and got to a point where we just stopped hanging out completely at some point in tenth grade. She skipped class to hang out with the drug addicts on the banks, while I hung out with the art nerds painting portraits of John Lennon and Audrey Hepburn. By eleventh grade she switched from our Catholic school which she was failing out of to the much more drug heavy public school, and we barely saw each other anymore.
When I would run into her around town she would look worse and worse every time. The person I knew was no longer there. She recognized me and was always happy to see me, we would always make half hearted plans to get together but I knew I wouldn’t follow through because I didn’t even know who I was talking to anymore. That point that Russell made about the lack of connection, like they are looking beyond you to the next hit, was always palpable. I always hoped I would run into her one day and she would be clean and healthy and have her shit together.
In the year before she died it seemed like she really was getting her life on track. She had just had a baby and finally got her GED, she had told me she was looking into college’s for dentistry. She seemed happy and she looked healthier. But about a month before she died, her Facebook comments started to become really grim, as her relationship status changed to single. A bad breakup can throw anyone off the wagon, and it only takes that one time especially when it comes to combining uppers and downers when you’ve been relatively clean for a while.
The news of her death hit me like a truck. I didn’t believe it at first only because I didn’t want to believe it, even though I had feared it happening for years. I had so much faith that she was finally getting better, and I had just missed my last chance to talk to her. I thought of all the people who treated her like shit in high school as addiction seeped into her veins, and how they would hear the news through a friend of a friend and brush it off with an “of course she did” and it made me so sick and so angry. I thought of my own inability to help her as a young teenager, and blamed myself for not trying harder to pull her away from those people when it all started.
The self fulfilling prophesy people label addicts with is enraging. It always feels like people want them to die, just so they can say “I told you so” and that is definitely the case with Amy Winehouse and all the lost souls of rock music that went before her.
You don’t know death until you’ve stared at the corpse of the person you spent every day with when you were 12. That was easily the worst moment of my life. I hadn’t seen her in person in a couple years before attending her funeral, so to see her again in a casket was incomprehensible. Her makeup which she was always very into (she taught me how to pluck my eyebrows and put on eyeliner) was all smudged and pasty, she would have freaked out if she saw it. That’s all I could think of when I looked at her. And then it finally hit me that the only person who I really truly grew up with was now dead, and I just started sobbing uncontrollably, in a room full of people (mostly the types I had so strongly disapproved of when our friendship started to fade) who stared at me not knowing who the hell I was. Her family barely even recognized me as it had been so many years since I had seen them, and I couldn’t even manage to stop crying enough to choke out an “I’m sorry” to them.
I think of Amy’s friends and family today, and know that they are going through something absolutely wretched. There is no amount of knowing that can prepare you for the death of someone in their twenties. Even if their life is a fucking trainwreck, if you ever loved that person at all you hold out a strong hope that they will get help and it wont get them like it does so many others.
Of course Amy grandiosely refused help, enshrining that fact in the song that made her famous. And now people will use that song to fuel cruel jokes. It all makes me very sad. Not just for her but for everyone that ever died at the hand of addiction, and at the fact that it remains better to burn out then to fade away if you’re a rock star.
Watch my all time favorite Amy Winehouse song below. When I first heard this track I fell hard for her hilarious honesty and she easily made her way into my mostly male music collection.