and when I shall die
August 20, 2011, 7:35 am
Filed under: departure lounge, the sweet life | Tags: , , , , ,


“And when I shall die, take him and cut him up in little stars, and he will make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will fall in love with night and pay no worship to the garish sun.” Juliet

I don’t know why I can’t stop crying over Amy Winehouse.  I barely paid her attention since the world began to notice her; some songs on my ipod and occasional wincing at how cruelly she was treated by the British press as she struggled with her life going in and out of relationships, courtrooms, concert venues, London flats, pubs, fixes and addiction treatment centers.

She reminds me of the child heroine of Elizabethan literature Juliet, I’m not sure why.  Perhaps it is her beauty, her youth, her desperate affairs and tragic end.  But with each new evidence during these past few days since her death – video, picture, story – her resemblance to Juliet clarifies for me:  her core motivation, and our great fascination with her, is her mad, relentless craving for love.

I can’t understand the tributes from media and friends, who mostly testify to her talent and our great loss, but somehow miss her need for love.  That is the center of this horrible story, that she knew she wanted love, and expended every effort to get it, and that it became an elusive, perverted ideal at which she tilted and to whose control she eventually succumbed.

Love is the drug and it’s a losing game.  Her yearning for the purity of love is etched all over her face, and scrawled in her lyrics, and scratched into her skin as she self mutilated to deal with coming out of her fantastic trips.  It’s the deep mad pool into which she cravenly and with abandon lept.  She heeded the Dionysian call to be possessed, “to let him enter, in all his madness and glory,” her body and her mind.

During an interview with Amy (see the second excerpt below), a journalist asked her if she was happy and in love, which stunned her to silence.  “I don’t know what you mean,” she said.  What a strange sad moment:  the reigning queen of the torch song, jazz scion of pain and unrequited love, can’t talk about her own heart, or her feelings for people she is supposed to love.  It almost seems as if she had never been asked this question before, or perhaps as if she had never been told she was loved.  In that moment we see how far outside of the milieu of love she is.

Russell Brand describes an addict as someone who looks right through you to someplace she would rather be (see the first excerpt below).  An addict is never quite there even when you’re with her and talking to her.  There is the sense that she is empty inside and looking for fulfillment.  Too, the sense that she is an empty vessel or conduit of sorts that relays the great richness and perfections of her muse and music to her clambering, swooning audience, but retains none of its benefits.  Tragically, nothing sticks:  she remains empty even as love and joy and beauty pass through her.

Maybe false love is the illusion that addiction craves; and real love is the ability to be present with others and happy within yourself.  Maybe.  More likely both are lush, immense and dark mysteries we will never understand.  Like the strange eternal night Juliet desires:  the boy she loves cut into stars to light the sky and to make the world fall in love with it.  Good night sweet cherubic burning girl.

Following are two excerpts.  The first is a tribute to Amy written by her friend Russell Brand.  Addicts, he explains – because he was one – look through you to someplace they would rather be.  I think Amy would rather be in that place called love.  She found it in her cravings and lyrics, and channeled it and we felt it in spades wash over us as she sang.  But somehow it slipped right through her, from the divine to us.  The second is an interview by Polly Vernon in which Amy says, crushingly, “I don’t know what you mean.”

Here is Russell Brand:

All addicts, regardless of the substance or their social status share a consistent and obvious symptom; they’re not quite present when you talk to them. They communicate to you through a barely discernible but un-ignorable veil. Whether a homeless smack head troubling you for 50p for a cup of tea or a coked-up, pinstriped exec foaming off about his “speedboat” there is a toxic aura that prevents connection. They have about them the air of elsewhere, that they’re looking through you to somewhere else they’d rather be. And of course they are. The priority of any addict is to anaesthetise the pain of living to ease the passage of the day with some purchased relief.


Entering the space I saw Amy on stage with Weller and his band; and then the awe. The awe that envelops when witnessing a genius. From her oddly dainty presence that voice, a voice that seemed not to come from her but from somewhere beyond even Billie and Ella, from the font of all greatness. A voice that was filled with such power and pain that it was at once entirely human yet laced with the divine. My ears, my mouth, my heart and mind all instantly opened. Winehouse. Winehouse? Winehouse! That twerp, all eyeliner and lager dithering up Chalk Farm Road under a back-combed barnet, the lips that I’d only seen clenching a fishwife fag and dribbling curses now a portal for this holy sound. So now I knew. She wasn’t just some hapless wannabe, yet another pissed up nit who was never gonna make it, nor was she even a ten-a-penny-chanteuse enjoying her fifteen minutes. She was a fucking genius.

For Amy, Russell Brand

Here is the final part of an interview with Amy by Polly Vernon:

I decide to blindside her with a big question and see what happens.

Amy, are you happy?

She squints suspiciously at me.

“About what?”

About life.

“I’m happy about this salad.”

Do you wake up and feel happy?

“I don’t know what you mean.” A pause. “I’ve got a ve’y nice boyfriend. He’s ve’y good to me.”

Are you in love?

“I hardly know … yet. We’ve only been together three and a half months.”

The time scale invoked would suggest she’s talking about Reg Traviss.

And do you have any unfulfilled ambitions?

“Nope!” she says. “If I died tomorrow, I would be a happy girl.”

Amy Winehouse:  Unplugged, Polly Vernon, Harper’s Bazaar

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