Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

A Gifted Singer Lost

By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published August 4, 2011

When someone dies young, the loss of youth adds to the grief felt by those who knew and loved the one who has die. This was true of Amy Winehouse, the British singer who died over this past weekend. I liked her music. She was a gifted, sensitive person who sang in the traditions of Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald.

She was haunted by demons that would be hard to call “personal.” Her struggles with drugs and alcohol were the fodder of the media the world over, and many of her songs dealt with the themes of substance abuse. I watched her singing “Rehab” online and watched it over and over. It is a catchy tune. It is sad to believe that she was singing about her own hard, and eventually lost, life.

I was astounded when I read the comments posted on several websites.

Many were written from a sense of love, of sadness, of pain. But there were too many written from a depraved sense of vindictiveness and meanness. There were comments that were cruel, crude and grossly insensitive. And these were from people who well knew of the struggle Winehouse had with abuse. It is a tragedy that some people chose to continue the abuse, even after her death.

I liked to watch her sing. She had a nice smile and a way of looking at the audience as she sang one hit after another. I winced when I saw a video of her recent appearance in Serbia. She was out of control and was apparently booed off the stage. It was a scene that begged for compassion, not judgment or ridicule.

People turn to gifted artists because they are capable of putting into artistic forms deep and beautiful things we all feel but cannot express. Good things—and sad things. Artists are at their best when we feel with them and can laugh or hope or cry from a place in our hearts that we know is there but cannot normally reach without the aid of an artist’s gift. An artist shares his or her life with us. It can be a raw, vulnerable kind of sharing. Amy Winehouse had that gift, and she deserved more than the scorn and ridicule evidenced by the website comments. She was not able to find a way out of the labyrinth of the alcohol and drug-fueled corridors that lead nowhere except dead ends.

And that was tragic. It could happen to any one of us.

I look at the photos on the Internet of the flowers, notes, letters and mementos that are piling up outside of her London house. There are also pictures of vodka bottles, which was her favorite drink. But even these were left by those who loved her but may not have known what else to leave. I can understand that.

What I do not understand are the comments I read online about her. If those who wrote them ever heard her words and music, what they wrote does not show it. What they wrote only shows how narrow and self-centered they are, people who watched the suffering of another human being and laughed, and when she died, wrote what they thought was smart or cool. It wasn’t. It was frightening, something ignorant and akin to something out of hell.

She lived better than their words. And she also wrote better, much better. She left sadness and beauty behind. She left something real, something that we all hope to cope with in this life.

I hope she found the peace that was, in this life, beyond her grasp.

But in her reach for it, she touched the stars.