I never met Amy Winehouse. We weren’t texting buddies. I didn’t go over to her house when her and Blake would get into a fight. I wasn’t at any of the multiple interventions she presumably had and she certainly never offered to fly my ass out to St. Lucia for some island vacation time. But when she died over the weekend, it made me feel the kind of sadness one can only experience when someone they don’t know dies.
I don’t know Amy Winehouse and yet I know “everything” about her. Every arrest and meltdown she had, I was aware of. Right now, I could go on YouTube and watch hours of footage of her. Or I could listen to her two records. I can always hear/see her when I want to in a way that I will never be able to with my mom or dad. They aren’t on YouTube. Besides, when they die, it will be a more private kind of grief, the kind that you won’t be able to have a discussion about on Perez Hilton.
In American culture especially, we worship celebrities. They’re our version of royalty and I suppose that’s why we take celebrities’ deaths so personally. For some reason or another, their life meant something to us. In some ways, we might be more involved in their lives than our own. It’s for that reason that I found myself annoyed that people were going apeshit about Amy Winehouse dying. I felt like I and many others grieved her death out of some misguided sense of duty. It hit us so much harder because Amy Winehouse never got her shit together. Americans love to tear celebrities down (Amy included. I’m sorry but the American press and “fans” weren’t particularly kind to her. She was mocked relentlessly.) and then we love to bring them back up. We love a comeback even more than a downfall. And what’s perhaps most tragic about Winehouse and the reason why so many people flipped out over her death is that she never got her happy ending. We were never able to rehabilitate her and put a bow on her next album. That’s what we wanted most of all, right? To see her happy and healthy? But it’s hard to tell if those wishes were ever genuine. It’s hard to discern whether or not we truly gave a shit about Amy Winehouse or if we just needed her to fit the typical celebrity narrative.
The same thing happened with Michael Jackson’s death. The day before he died, Michael Jackson was a pariah and complete joke. He hadn’t been relevant in a long time, hadn’t released anything of musical worth in a decade. But when he died, people were beside themselves. They played his old records and commented on how sad it all was. But the whole thing just ended up making me feel gross to be a participant in celebrity culture. Never mind that America thought of Michael Jackson as a pedophile. Never mind that we treated him terribly in the press. Now that he’s dead, let’s cry about it and listen to “Rock With You”. WHAT?
I just feel like we’re hypocrites. I believe that people were genuinely touched by Amy Winehouse’s and Michael Jackson’s music. I don’t doubt that when they died, it made people upset for valid reasons. Amy Winehouse’s death is truly upsetting, another life taken by addiction. But I also have conflicted feelings about mourning a singer who we collectively taunted when they were alive. A lot of faux fans come out of the woodwork in these deaths, claiming that they’re absolutely devastated by this loss, and it all just seems so disingenuous to me. It’s like American Cheez Whiz being poured on top of the coffin.
I’m sad about Amy Winehouse dying because she seemed like she lived a tortured life and had trouble being happy. I’m also sad because she never got to make her third record and Back To Black was so amazing. Imagine what her next one would’ve been like. See, grieving her death even feels selfish. I’m upset because I didn’t get a “Rehab” part two.
When celebrities die, it will always be sad because they touch our lives. That was their job. It was why we bought their records or books and bought tickets to their movies. But I also think it’s important to be aware of our role in all of it. You can’t disregard how someone was treated when they were alive and you can’t rewrite history. I guess I just want everyone to think about why they’re really sad and why they care. I bet a number of people will have trouble answering that.