It’s been five years since the death of Amy Winehouse. Her death was ruled as alcohol poisoning. Her life was ruled as a perpetual battle. I grew up with a relative alcoholic. I watched her drink, explain why she needed to sober up, sober up, drink more, cry, lose control, gain control, and lose control again. When I was old enough to let go, I gave up watching at all.
For most, addiction is a private battle that is known to the people who are directly affected by it. For someone in the public eye, addiction is fuel for the media. For a musician, addiction is fuel for a persona that the public has learned to expect. The “27 Club” is a well-known group of famous musicians (Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse) that have passed away from drugs and alcohol at 27 years of age. Most have now ascended into the realm of legendary, god-like status. You can’t enter any freshman dorm without seeing a $5.99 poster of Kurt Cobain smoking a cigarette and looking pensive. The public has learned to idolize the ‘troubled artist,’ to look at the musician as a glimpse of unfiltered passion and grit that can only be understood through their public battle with addiction.
Unlike her fellow 27-club members, Amy’s struggle was broadcast through the digital age. Her drug-fueled relationship with Blake Fielder was chronicled through British and American tabloids. Painful photos were published of Amy leaving the club at 4 a.m. with cocaine on her nose and denim shorts falling off her frail hips.
While Amy battled alcoholism (along with bulimia), she released her debut album Back to Black. The title track on the album was ironically named “Rehab.” I was fourteen when Back to Black was released. I would listen to it everyday, singing along with the lyrics, completely unaware of their honesty. At the 50th Annual Grammy Awards, Back to Black won five Grammys, including “Best Pop Vocal Album”. Amy tied with five other female artists as the second-most awarded female in a single ceremony. Back to Black sold 3.58 million copies in the UK alone, becoming the UK’s second best-selling album of the 21st century with lyrics like, “I’m gonna, lose my baby / So I always keep a bottle near / He said, I just think you’re depressed / This, me, yeah, baby, and the rest.”
There was no way anybody who had a stake in Amy’s career was going to stop the financial success of her addiction. In the 2015 Oscar-award winning documentary Amy, director Asif Kapadia put together an intimate portrait of Winehouse. In a poignant scene, Amy sits with her bodyguard Andrew Morris as they watch old videos. She leans over to Andrew and says, “Boy I can sing!” You feel a sense of defeat. “If I could just give it back to walk down that street with no hassle, I would.” She died a week later.
On August 22, 2016, The Amy Winehouse foundation partnered with Centra Care And Support with the plans to open a women’s only rehabilitation clinic in East London called “Amy’s Place.” The center will admit women 18-30 overcoming drug and alcohol addiction. The program will address the needs of female addicts that statistically suffer more emotional and physical abuse than their male counterparts. The house pioneers a new approach to helping female addicts. It will be the only project in the country to bridge the gap between women leaving in-patient treatment and re-building their lives in the outside world. Women in the program will be provided temporary apartment homes using a “co-production model” that allows them to have shared control over their recovery.
Addicts experience life in a pendulum, something the rest of us shake off in our twenties. Addiction never goes away as it most often manifests into something else. The fantasy of the troubled artist is something we’ve learned to crave, whether it a quasi Jim Morrison quote under a half-naked girl on Instagram or a shit Kurt Cobain poster in a dorm room. Through the safety of headphones, we think about our own jaded desire through their artistically volatile lives. But every time I hear her music, all I think about is what Amy would have done if she had the rest of her life to do it.
Visit the Amy Winehouse Foundation website.