Amy Winehouse is 24.   She is probably the best singer, songwriter of her generation.  She has an original style.  She speaks directly to young women about desire and loss.    Over the last two years, she had endured enormous success.  Her album ‘Back to Black’ has sold nine million copies and was the biggest seller in the UK last year, she won five awards at the 2008 Grammys, she was the first Briton to win best new artist for over 20 years.  And yet just as her professional success has soared, her personal reputation has gone into free fall.  Newspapers have illustrated her habitual use of crack cocaine, her heavy alcohol consumption, the drunken brawls, her sexual indiscretions, her alarming weight loss. 

 

She is clearly not well.  Her spaced out gaze, skeletal figure, pock marked skin and indiscriminate tattoos indicate a body falling apart, a mind out of control.  She resembles a disturbed inmate who is terminally ill.  Her lungs are said to be shot by emphysema through smoking crack cocaine – a critical handicap for a singer, even one who is more at home jamming in smoky bars. 

 

Amy has reached crisis point, where her disintegrated personality has collided with her professional success and both are falling to earth. Her career is on hold.  She has cancelled too many engagements, given too many embarrassing performances for it too last much longer.  That her celebrity survives at all now depends more on our collective morbid fascination in witnessing somebody slowly self immolate than the fading memory of her unique words and voice.  The attention of the public is brief.     What is now shocking will soon seem boring. 

 

Her self destruction is not some kind publicity stunt.  Amy Winehouse is much too talented to need to seek celebrity through sleaze.  No, this girl is seriously ill.  She needs help.  So what has gone wrong? 

 

There has been so much written about her; no less than two books, thousands of articles.  Her personality has been diced, dissected and analysed almost to extinction. The comments are all true  She is a drama queen.  She craves attention.  She has no impulse control.  She is addicted to excitement.  She is a risk taker.  She is obsessive, compulsive, addictive.  She is spoilt.  She is crazy.  She has a narcissistic personality disorder.  She is out of control. 

 

Yes, yes and yes.  She is all of these things.  But if that was all, she would be assigned to a mental institution and we would not care.  It is not all!  Amy Winehouse has a unique talent.  Her voice is (or was) quite amazing, so rich and mature – it rivals the jazz greats like Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughan.  But it’s not just the quality of her voice, it’s what she sings about.  Her poetry communicates so clearly the pain of her life – the pain of the age.  Amy has become an icon.  If Diana expressed the narcissism of the nineties, then Amy represents the nihilism of the noughties.  Amy has gone past narcissism; she has lost all sense of meaning in life. So she sings about reckless desire, anonymous sex, drugs, booze and all the fucking shit of just staying alive, trying to make sense of it all.  She is like people who cut themselves.  The shock of the bleeding helps them focus. The pain gives them meaning for a moment.           

 

From what her father, Mitch, has written,  Amy has always been a bit of a pain.   When she was toddler, she would have choking fits to gain attention.  She used to deliberately get lost on school trips.  ‘Amy seemed to want people to worry about her.’  So Amy needs to be noticed.  It is her life’s blood.  Otherwise she will disappear, she will die.  There was a time in Amy’s life when she worked so hard to get her unique voice across.  The vocal training, the lessons, learning how to express her feelings in poetry, gave her the focus, the ambition, the meaning to her life. 

 

But the journey is more important than the destination. Oscar Wilde once commented that it may be sad never to realise one’s ambitions, but it is nothing less that a tragedy to achieve one’s hearts desire.  Amy’s tragedy is that she has achieved what millions of young girls dream of.  She has become a celebrity. 

 

Overnight, she no longer needs to work for attention. It is there in spades.  She is famous.  She just has to be.  And so robbed of its purpose, her life has lost its meaning. 

 

Imagine how dreadful it must be to be adored whatever you do.  It’s as bad as being  ignored.  There is no need to try, nothing to hope for, no battles to fight, no resentment, no meaning.  If a child acts out their selfishness and misbehaves, they alienate their parents and soon learn to adjust their behaviour in order to feel loved. The sanction sets a limit, conveys a meaning.  But celebrities, like special children, get rewarded for misbehaving.  It sells newpapers.  There are no brakes any more, no notion of what is healthy or damaging, good or bad.

 

As a celebrity, Amy is loved, not for herself, but what she represents – what people project into her. She is owned, possessed, robbed of any sense of  identity.  She has become a commodity, and as such she is consumed in the same way as cancer consumes.     

 

So what can she do?  To survive as herself, she has to smash the magic mirror, destroy the celebrity image.  Seven years bad luck!  What the hell!  ‘No, no, no,  You’re wrong.  I’m not that great. I’m crap.  See how crap I am!  Now will you leave me alone.’ Her celebrity status  gives her the entitlement to be outrageous.  The drugs and alcohol remove any inhibition.    Her life has become an erotic vortex of graphic sex, violence, and alarming self harm.  But in her quest to destroy the image the media have made of her,  she has excited a feeding frenzy.  This trajectory can only end in disintegration.  Either she will lose her mind completely or she will die.  Lets make no bones about it.  Amy Winehouse is being killed by the attention she has worked so hard for. 

 

It has not helped that her beloved grandmother Cynthia, the one person whom she respected, the voice of reason she would listen to, died as Amy’s career had gone ‘critical’.  It has not helped that the love of her life, Blake, ‘the most handsome man God made’,  is a drug dealer and can match her extravagant needs for excitement and for violence.

 

Amy once commented that she has to create a tragedy of her life.  Otherwise what would she have to write or sing about?   But what Amy has created is a vortex of self destruction.  She is whirling down to annihilation. But this very process of self destruction is giving her a voice, a perverse, desperate sense of meaning.  The awful conclusion is that Amy Winehouse can only discover the meaning in her life by killing herself.

  

Her outrageous behaviour, her risk taking, her addiction, her failure to foresee the consequences of her behaviour, her lack of empathy – these are all features of a narcissistic personality that has gone critical.  But such features are a reaction; they both stem from and conceal a catastrophic despair.  Alcoholics often say they have to reach rock bottom before they can stop drinking.  Amy has not quite reached rock bottom but she is close.  I fear that it will get worse – perhaps terminally worse.  She urgently needs rescuing from herself. 

 

Amy needs more than to get off alcohol and drugs.  She needs to restore some meaning in her life.  She has to be free of the destructive influences; Blake, the media, the avaricious hangers on who trade on her celebrity.  She needs resources, friends she can trust.  She needs an environment that will contain her.  She needs a goal, a purpose, a framework.  She has her music, her voice, her poetry. Those may be her salvation, even yet. They are unique, wonderful, but still not fully developed. They need to be matured. If she could develop her talent quietly in peace and privacy,  gain confidence and satisfaction and respect from her mentors, she could survive.  But would she ever want to?        

 

 

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