Live and let die

by Kawshiki Nasser

00010I finally steeled myself and watched ‘Amy’. When it hit the theater in town, I made myself stay away. I had a feeling I would be overwhelmed and I didn’t want to be a cry-baby so publicly.
When I finally watched it, I didn’t really learn anything new about the life of the late great Amy Winehouse, except the fact that she had been bulimic. Yet, I was filled with anger, a frustrated rage, mostly directed toward her parents, prompting me to congratulate myself once again on my own choice to not have children.
Amy Winehouse is not the first artist to die before her time. The list is long so I shall skip over Van Gogh, James Dean and Heath Ledger and stick to only the musicians who have influenced me and my life somehow.
When I first fell in love with Jim Morrison he was already dead and buried for close to 20 years. I have never wished he were alive today. He had much to say and his influence on music and poetry is undeniable, but he said what he had to and then he died and as cynical as it sounds, I am not unhappy that he didn’t live to a fat old age, recycling tunes over and over and over again.
What I did was get a tattoo of Jim on my arm. When I am dead, nobody will have to throw a poster of Jim Morrison into my coffin. I carry him with me always.
Then Kurt Cobain died. At that time I was really mad at him. How dare he die at 27, like Jim Morrison. I think I was just enormously sad. I miss him even now. When Nirvana comes on the radio, I keep wondering if Kurt Cobain would have continued to break new musical ground. He changed the entire sound of rock music. But maybe he also had done his thing by the time he blew his brains out at the age of 27. Who knows. Not me. We never lost control.
Which brings me to David Bowie. He lived to a ripe old age and made the most beautiful, forever ground-breaking music. He did that for decades. Even his last album, made when he knew he was dying is so haunting and so beautiful and complex. I can’t get the song Blackstar out of my head. It’s what I listen to when I am stuck for words. Which is often.
And now I must admit I never owned a CD of David Bowie. I know all of Pink Floyd by heart, specially the music before Roger Waters split. Gilmour is a lovely guitarist, but the band was fairly average after Waters. In fact, and now my old friends who love progressive rock can curse at me at their hearts’ content, Pink Floyd has not been particularly relevant since the mid 70’s. But Bowie remains even after death relevant and necessary.
And while pondering the deaths of these musicians I love so deeply, I wondered why writers don’t usually off themselves with half as much ease as musicians. I realised probably it’s because even I would not know Milan Kundera or Margaret Atwood if I crossed them on the streets.
And back to Amy Winehouse.
Would she have lived if the paparazzi had left her alone? Was she hounded to death? Would she have made it if her parents were even remotely responsible people? If she wasn’t in love with the most ridiculous and callous of men?
Everything the movie showed, was there in her music. In every song was her source of sorrows, that voice of hers, a gift from the gods, dipping and soaring and playing over and under words that bared her very soul. Did nobody hear her pleas? Did no one sense her tremendous fear of fading to black? Of the loneliness that threatened when she was alone, her liking for marijuana but the taking up of crack and heroin to be closer to the loser she had the extreme misfortune of being in love with.
There have always been and will always continue to be bad parents. Jim Morrison said: Forgive the poor old people who gave us entry, taught us god in the child’s prayer in the night. Amy Winehouse had two irresponsible parents, but such are survivable. It is also possible to get over a worm of a man like the one she was married to. Maybe the combination of bad parents and bad husband would be more difficult, but I believe we can overcome much worse odds.
In the end, though, it was we who contributed to her death. When Amy Winehouse was late again to a concert, when she turned up so drunk she could barely walk, when she cursed at the audience, we gave in to our schadenfreude, we indulged in our righteousness, while living our small lives. We bought more papers and read about all the troubles of Ms Winehouse and we looked sanctimoniously at the pictures of the emaciated, drunken, messy wisp of a girl who was still so young, so naive. And when we heard that she had died, we forgot about her music and said to ourselves, well, what else did you expect, she was a right holy mess, forgetting instantly how intensely we had loved her songs, her voice, her very vulnerability the finally got her killed.
While she was in love she sang, love is a losing game. She lost her heart, she lost her sobriety and in the end she lost her life.
But. Here we are now. Entertain us.