“She was a nut. Too bad she didn’t try harder to live.”
“Coming soon, the Michael Jackson/Amy Winehouse reunion album.”
I realize that making fun of messy celebrities on Facebook is the new American pastime, and I run the risk of appearing way too earnest here (I pretty much always run that risk here) but there was no part of me that found anything about her death funny.
I’ve been sober nearly eleven years, with the help of other drunks and drug addicts. Stay sober long enough, and well-meaning friends who don’t have the addictive personality, or the disease, or whatever it may be that kept you from applying moderation to your life, will praise you for your strength and willpower. (We call these well-meaning friends “normies.”)
But here’s the thing that every sober drunk and drug addict knows. Strength and willpower had little to do with it. None of us can say with any certainty why we were able to “get it,” and hold on to it, when so many couldn’t. The statistics were against us, rehab or no rehab.
Listen to enough of our stories, and you’ll hear a common thread. There was nothing special about the last time we got drunk or high. It was rarely the worst day or night of our lives. Rarely did it involve the worst consequences we’d faced. Sometimes no matter how much we drank we couldn’t get drunk that night.
Maybe the right friend said the right thing at the right second, or the perfect stranger opened a new door. Maybe that afternoon we just got tired of the emptiness where our souls used to be. Every story involves luck, or coincidence, or, if you prefer, a bit of grace. It took more than five or six tries until it happened to me.
I was late to the Winehouse bandwagon. I often stubbornly resist the zeitgeist, and her “Rehab” song turned me off. But during one visit to Hawaii, the Manly Fireplug added Back to Black to our iPod. We listened to it nonstop that week. There was something about our hotel, a rather seedy, down-at-the-heels tropical outpost called the Queen Kapiolani, that fit Amy’s lyrics.
Back in San Francisco I developed a back-up singer hand gesture routine to my favorite song, “Tears Dry On Their Own,” which I’d perform in the car while the Fireplug was driving. That song contained my favorite of her lyrics:
I cannot play myself again
Should just be my own best friend
Not fuck myself
In the head
With stupid men
Here’s the thing about Amy. She knew who she was. A drunk, an addict, a cheater. She slept around behind her boyfriends’ backs. She had bad taste in men. She didn’t whitewash her sins or blame it all on the other guy, which so many pop songs seem to do.
She made me feel less alone with my own sordid past. With the part of me that is still, to this day, less than virtuous.
I don’t know Amy’s story. I know she did, despite her song, attend rehab, more than once. I don’t know what it was like for her to wake up in the morning, to want to write her next record but find it impossible. I only know the smallest slices of her life, fed to me through headlines and grainy photos.
I don’t know how badly she wanted to get sober. All I know is that her time ran out before grace found her.