By: Jason Lydon/TRT Columnist-
Amy Winehouse is the newest member of the 27 Club, joining Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain as artists who will forever be 27. Unfortunately, the tragic death of Amy Winehouse has been an opportunity for a litany of jokes, the most cliché of which quickly comes to mind: “guess she should have gone to rehab.” Ms. Winehouse was open about her bisexuality and was not only a club favorite at many queer dance spaces, her queer fandom was expansive across the Internet and evidenced by her regular appearance on mix CDs from one young queer kid to another. Her death is a tragedy on many levels.
While I find the jokes and snide comments about Amy Winehouse’s death to be insensitive and offensive I also recognize that we do not know how to talk about death, especially death related to addiction. Our culture thrives on the epic ups and downs of our media stars. Daily blogs, entertainment magazines and show after show revolve around the lives of people we convince ourselves we know and have real investment in. Personally, I have not simply fallen into this trap, I dove in head-first and can often tell you what my favorite celebrities are doing on a daily basis. However, the reactions to Amy Winehouse’s death are not simply rooted in misplaced interest in pop stars. Joking about the loss of life to addiction is a great coping mechanism to distance one’s self from the realities of the suffering caused by substance abuse. As LGBTQ folks, we are disproportionately affected by addiction and our communities suffer because of it. Rather than openly talk about our individual and collective struggles, we are encouraged to make jokes at the expense of someone who clearly never had the real support she needed.
There are great feminist bloggers who have also shown how the violence of sexism is rearing its head in the treatment of Winehouse’s death. On freudian-slip.org, the writer brilliantly reflects on the double-standard treatment of famous men with addiction and mental illness against famous women with similar struggles. Quoting a friend, the blogger writes, “Our women artists, when they suffer addiction, mental illness etc., well then they’re silly whores, they’re wasting themselves! But guys do it and they’re tragic figures that you plaster on your walls.” We have a responsibility to look at this reality and ask ourselves how to respond appropriately.
How should we be reacting to the loss of Amy Winehouse? Of course we should mourn the loss of her life, but the practice of mourning is complicated, especially when we’re mourning the loss of someone we did not actually know (even if we have convinced ourselves otherwise).
Listening to her music, telling stories of the first time we heard her, feeling the power in her incredible voice, are all things we can do. Then let’s take things another step. What if we really talked about our sadness, anxieties and experiences with addiction? What if, rather than make jokes about powder in Amy Winehouse’s nose, we spoke honestly with one another about the ways substance use has affected our lives? What if we not only mourned the loss of Amy Winehouse but recognized that every day people suffer and die because of addiction, even as resources for addicts are constantly being cut? Imagine if we gave a dollar, or 10,000, to support people in recovery, for every tasteless rehab joke told on national television or written across someone’s Facebook wall.
Amy Winehouse’s lyrics are left behind, her voice still fills the speakers of the radio, and we continue to have lessons to learn. Death is not a moment to build a pedestal or to sling dirt but to realize the complexity of life. In her own words Ms. Winehouse gives us things to consider, “I wish I could sing no regrets and no emotional debts/ ’cause as we kiss goodbye the sun sets/so we are history, the shadow covers me/the sky above, a blaze that only lovers see.”