Amy Winehouse was addicted to love. But she should have been addicted to music.
A new documentary, Amy, is directed by Asif Kapadia and portrays the short life and death (at age 27) of singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse.
There are three points I need to make clear from the outset. First, Amy did go to rehab, several times. At the time of her death, she was also under the care of a physician who advised her on her drinking.
…the documentary film claims that, had Amy gone to rehab at an earlier period in her life, then professionals would have had at her and she would have been saved! But rehab/recovery consultants had ample opportunity to save Amy…yet they failed miserably.- Stanton Peele This is important to know because the documentary film claims that, had Amy gone to rehab at an earlier period in her life, then professionals would have had at her and she would have been saved! This point is picked up in the New York Times review of the film by Manhola Dargis. But rehab/recovery consultants had ample opportunity to save Amy...yet they failed miserably.
Second, Amy didn’t die of drugs - she had instantly quit those more than a year before her death. She died from alcohol poisoning, although that often involves respiratory failure - which could also implicate her heavy smoking addiction. (Amy was hospitalized for emphysema at age 24, an almost unheard of age to suffer such severe respiratory disease.)
Third, the problem with rehab for Amy was that it never addressed the ache at her core. In fact, her song Rehab wasn't about dissing rehab so much as it was about describing what her real problem was: her love jones.
Failure to Address the Problem
Perhaps due to what Amy described as her "absent" father (although he's all over the film), she needed someone's love beyond everything and would sacrifice everything for love, while dying without it.
Amy didn't want to drink and she didn’t need other people’s warnings. She knew it was bad for her on her own. So her physician's and drug counselor’s admonitions that alcohol could kill - admonitions that are sprinkled throughout the film’s narrative voice-overs - were useless to her, as her drinking herself to death proves.
Her best-known song, Rehab, is remarkably clear about all of these, which no one notices:
I said, 'I got no idea
I'm gonna, I'm gonna lose my baby
So I always keep a bottle near.'
He said, "I just think you're depressed."
This me "Yeah, baby, and the rest."
They tried to make me go to rehab but I said, 'No, no, no.'
Yes, I've been black but when I come back you'll know, know, know
I don't ever wanna drink again
I just, ooh, I just need a friend
I'm not gonna spend ten weeks
Have everyone think I'm on the mend
It's not just my pride
It's just 'til these tears have dried
Amy's Fundamental Need
The Rehab lyrics make it clear that Amy was a love addict.
Obviously, Amy’s fundamental need for love was the issue – an issue that rehab never addressed.- Stanton Peele Her first giant binge was when she broke up with the man who would become her husband - the same man with whom, when she reunited, she did all kinds of drugs, saying she'd as soon die with him as live without him.
But when her husband went to prison, she fell apart again, despite quitting the drugs - she did those to keep his love, but then drank herself to death when he wasn't around.
Obviously, Amy's fundamental need for love was the issue - an issue that rehab never addressed.
The Possible Avenues to Freedom
One avenue to freedom for Amy might have been to value her work and artistic self more.
The documentary film obsessed that she shouldn't have done her last gigs, which drove her to drink horribly. But earlier, when she had unstructured time, Amy said, "I had to be brought home in a wheelbarrow."
She also said that she felt privileged compared with other depressed people - she had her musical creativity to turn to as a repost to her depression.
My demonstration model is the telling video of Amy creating a duet with her hero, Tony Bennett.
Both incredibly needy and insecure (Bennett had to reassure her throughout their recording together), and incredibly talented and creative (when she finally lets herself get into the music, she’s as good as the master himself – just as Bennett says she is). - Stanton Peele
So, let’s ask again: why did Amy Winehouse drink herself to death? She was lonely. She wanted to be loved, at any cost, and was in despair when she felt unloved. And her work, while sometimes fueling her purpose in life and self-esteem, could just as easily ricochet and drag her down...way down.
But, then, she was only 27. As Bennett also notes in the film, when people are younger, they do stupid and harmful things to themselves. Bennett released his album, which included the duet with Winehouse, after her death. Here’s the headline, along with Bennett’s own explanation of how he quit his addiction:
With a new album featuring everyone from Sinatra to Amy Winehouse, Tony Bennett explains why he never had to go to rehab.
‘The manager of (comedian) Lenny Bruce told me he sinned against his talent with his drug habit. That sentence changed my life. I've been given this gift. I know how to sing and perform. I'm sinning against this gift and I thought, "I am not going to do that any more", and I just stopped. I had to, because I thought I was going to lose everything. It was said at the right moment, at the right time.' No other help? 'No, just like that.'
Amy never put the musical gift and recovery together, which is what her treatment should have been aiming for.
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