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Declan Lynch's tales of addiction

 

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Amy Winehouse died in 2011 at the age of 27 (Anthony Devlin/PA)

Amy Winehouse died in 2011 at the age of 27 (Anthony Devlin/PA)

Amy Winehouse died in 2011 at the age of 27 (Anthony Devlin/PA)

Listening to Philip King talking recently on the radio about the time that Amy Winehouse came to Dingle for Other Voices, I was reminded of her greatness.

It is odd to be specifying the greatness of someone whose talent was obviously, yes, great - but there has been so much noise around the phenomenon of Amy Winehouse in general, you are inclined to forget her achievement as an artist.

With her death from alcohol poisoning, she became just one more celebrity who didn't make it through the night - indeed, so strong are these media cliches, it took a while to establish that it was drink that had killed her.

Initially there was an urge to put it down to drugs, because there is still something weirdly more 'glamorous' about a famous person dying of drugs - and Amy had done plenty of drugs, though it was purely the drink that caused her to check out at the ludicrous age of 27.

There was almost a sense of disappointment about this, that it was this most mundane form of substance abuse which had destroyed her, just like it destroys a lot of other people who are not famous.

There were two empty vodka bottles on the floor beside the bed in which her body was discovered - she had fallen into a habit of stopping drinking for a while and then 'breaking out'.

While her doctor said that she might take Librium to help her cope with withdrawal symptoms and anxiety, she had refused psychiatric help because 'she thought it would affect her creativity'.

Which was not just a lame excuse on her part.

Any creative person understands that there is something mysterious about the gift that they have, and that you don't want to start messing with that, to 'explain' yourself - even if you're only explaining yourself, to yourself.

This force would have been particularly strong in Winehouse - not just because of the extravagance of her gift, but because her first major hit, Rehab, was a celebration of that rejection of what you might call 'professional help'.

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It reminds us of Philip King's view, that Winehouse sang as a way of healing herself - and, of course, to pass on that healing to others.

So even when she was dissing the proven merits of rehab, because the song was so powerful, the music would make it all better for her anyway.

I've got to say that she has a point there - it is one of the most tantalising of all aspects of addiction, the way that artists can draw on their own dysfunction in this way. Which leads them to believe that if they were to seek 'help', they might gain some kind of equilibrium, but at the expense of whatever makes them special.

Having said that, there are many other examples of artists who were only fooling themselves with this line, who were just as good when they got sober as when they were out of their heads - better, indeed, when you consider that they're able to do a lot more work with all that time on their hands.

Until they got there, many of them would have subscribed to Jack Kerouac's famous lines that "the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time..."

Yes, a lot of people want to live like that - until they realise that they want other things too. They want to keep on living, for a start.

Just a tincture of that suburban attitude might have saved Amy Winehouse; given her another 50 years of greatness.

So it's just a terrible pity that it got away from her, that they tried to make her go to rehab and she said no.

Against this, she could argue that the song was much better that way.


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