Friday, December 18, 2015

Holiday Wishes for Amy Winehouse

"He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity's sunrise."
                           -- William Blake

Dear Amy,

We really miss your voice, and it is difficult not to think of you while we celebrate this time of giving gifts to show our love for family and friends.

We don't know if you loved us, but your voice was a gift of gold, and we loved it so much we destroyed it in our rush to open the package.

So we have a lot of explaining to do. We owe you condolences and apologies.

First, we are sorry that nature gave you a body with a proclivity for attacking itself. By all reports, it cursed you with a a deadly eating disorder and a vulnerability to addictions. And we're sorry that your own father used you as publicity bait and even provided the inspiration for your heartbreaking, wrongheaded ballad "Rehab." Many of us knew as soon as we heard that song that your life would be short, your songs few.

In Amy, the documentary about your tremendous gift, your rise to fame, your descent into celebrity and your destruction by alcohol and heroin, we heard one of your friends say, "We were always there to help Amy when she asked us," or words to that effect. 

But how many addicts who live only to use their chemical of choice would ask for help? An addict's heart must be more than broken, must be nearly finished beating, before she cries out to us. We're sorry your friends didn't know that.

We're sorry you fell in love with and married a heroin addict, so maybe you were never sure whether it was him or the highs you loved.

But most of all, we're sorry we were so dazzled by your gift, we weren't sure how to receive it. We were confused by its emanating from a broken, but striking body. Your voice expressed a kind of knowing anguish, nothing speculative or artificial about it; your voice articulated the agony and depth of what we simply call "heartbreak"; it sang of a timeless pain, of a person grown old from suffering and disappointment, who could turn her public mourning into the sound of angels weeping.

Young Amy
How were we to remember that the singer was just a vulnerable little Jewish girl from a poor background? No wonder we handled you so roughly. 

We can be such brutes sometimes, Amy. What's wrong with us? We were listening to "Back to Black" and "Love Is a Losing Game" this morning, and we were reminded of the long trail we've littered with the bodies of great talent, and of Don McLean's lament for one in particular, Vincent Van Gogh:

Now I think I know what you tried to say to me
And how you suffered for your sanity
And how you tried to set them free
They would not listen, they're not listening still
Perhaps they never will.

And we thought of poor Dylan Thomas and his thunderous (but often drunken) public readings, dying at 39. The poet Donald Hall, who knew Thomas, believed that "In our culture an artist's self-destructiveness is counted admirable, praiseworthy . . . . that it is natural to want to destroy yourself." 
Amy at rest

This assumption, Hall argues, "expresses only middle-class culture's self-hatred. Death and destruction are enemies to art . . . . gas and sleeping pills kill poets; drink and drugs kill poets more slowly, but on the way to killing the poet they kill the poems." 

And we're sure not going to get any more poems from you, Amy.

We wish we could see talent as something to be cherished, honored, nurtured, protected -- like a newborn baby, for example. Something as delicate and lovely as Laura Wingfield's glass unicorn but with the healing power of the Grail.

Instead, in its presence we regress to toddlers so taken with a butterfly's beauty that we grasp it tightly and wind up with no beauty at all, just butterfly guts and dust in our palms.

And I'm really sorry that when you began to crumble and fade, as we knew you would, we felt the need to watch. Just as Mitch in Streetcar had to see Blanche at the mercy of the harsh light of reality, we fought to see your flesh fall away, your mascara mask running down your cheeks, your inability to sing a single note at a concert.
Blanche in the light

Conventional wisdom asserts that ultimately we want our heroes and heroines to be mere mortals like us, but it's worse than that. Our needs are more vampiric. We need to drain them entirely, esp.of that which is too great for us to understand. We send in the paparazzi to record their humiliation, not their humanity.
It's all gone now, isn't it, Amy, both the body and the gift.

We're really sorry. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. 

We hope you have returned to the source of all Art, where the holiday spirit of giving lasts year round. So enjoy the holidays, Amy, while we enjoy the little piece of Eternity you left behind.

With much love,
Those Who Watch
Very human handwriting . . . but listen: 


  1. You always have such an emotive way of putting my thoughts into words. Thank you.

  2. You're very welcome. That's what I do, now that I don't do that other thing.

  3. Thank you, Roy. This is a lovely tribute. She was so tragically special. What a loss.