I was recently watching the Oscar-winning documentary Amy (2015) about the late British singer Amy Winehouse. Honestly, I didn’t know that much about her until watching this rather heartbreaking film. I’ll admit that all I knew about Amy Winehouse was her ridiculous paparazzi caricature of whirlwind relationships, booze, drugs, anorexia/bulimia, the over-sized beehive hairdo, and untimely death at 27. A rather unfair, I think, media image that far outshadowed her surprising jazz/soul/pop songwriting and singing abilities.
Just watching the film, I gained a newfound appreciation for her talents. Even Tony Bennett, after recording a duet in the studio with her remarked: “Amy Winehouse was an artist of immense proportions […] She was an extraordinary musician with a rare intuition as a vocalist”. I hope that her music and talent shine on further than her short and tragic life, one filled with a broken home childhood, and her struggles with addiction and romantic heartbreak.
Another bright star that flamed out too quickly when I think of Amy Winehouse was Kurt Cobain, who along with other Rock Stars like Janis Joplin, also died at the same age of 27 (the famed “27 Club”). I remember Nirvana breaking out as being a huge breath of fresh air from all the ridiculous, over-the-top, big hair, glam metal bands that were dominating MTV at the time.
Although there was a strong underground of alternative rock before them, it was Kurt Cobain and his band that blew the freaking roof off and injected some distorted, disaffected nastiness into airwaves. Here were just three guys in jeans and flannel shirts; no explosions, no Harley-Davidsons, no scantily-clad babes in the videos- just mosh-inducing riffs and catchy as hell melodies.
But like Amy Winehouse, it seemed the public attention, money and overnight fame were just too much for Cobain, leading to heroin addiction and the finality of taking his own life. Offstage in interviews, he always seemed like a soft-spoken, humble guy who didn’t really sit comfortably with celebrity too well. Also a product of a broken home, he channeled his sadness into his art and music, never really seeking commercial acceptance. Probably, he never even cared if he found it all.
The thought that always sticks in my mind is how so many of the most talented artists among us always seem to reinforce the stereotypical image of depression, addiction and burnout. The better they are- the more problems they seem to have in their personal life. Even fame and financial success seem can’t seem to keep the demons at bay- indeed they often make those demons worse for the few artists who do find great financial success. I guess the instant fame and media circus that surrounded Amy and Kurt’s life just magnified the problems that were already there. Some people perhaps feel things more deeply than others, and for some its just too much.
For myself, playing music has always been my creative outlet for when I’m stressed or feeling blue. It’s therapy, and melts away the troubles of the day. I don’t think I could survive without being able to create something artistic, and it’s certainly gotten me through difficult periods of my life. I’m glad I could always turn to singing, drums and guitar, rather than drowning out the stupid, negative voices in my head with drugs, alcohol or self-abuse. But my heart goes out to those who can’t or couldn’t find that happiness inside themselves. Depression and mental illness are serious problems and those who suffer from them deserve our utmost sympathy.