USA Today, July 25, 2011

    For kids, a lesson in Amy Winehouse's death

    By Bruce Kluger

    I was unexpectedly shaken over
    the weekend when I learned the
    news about singer Amy
    Winehouse, who was found
    dead in her North London home
    just hours after her manager
    had announced that she was
    withdrawing from all future
    concert dates. She was 27 years

    In those first news reports, no
    explanation was given for either
    Winehouse's concert cancellations or her subsequent death, though most assumed
    that drugs were in play. This wasn't random speculation. Given her long history of
    substance abusehich included showing up late for concerts or missing them
    altogether; stumbling about the stage and forgetting her lyrics; and, in 2007,
    checking herself into treatment for, among other things, an addiction to herointhe
    only question was whether she ended her life intentionally.

    Then again, flirting with death never seemed to bother Winehouse.

    "They tried to make me go to rehab, but I said, 'No, no, no,'" she coolly cooed on
    the first cut of her 2007 Grammy-winning album, Back to Black. "I ain't got the time
    and if my daddy thinks I'm fine…i won't go, go, go."

    By all accounts, Winehouse's talent for pushing the limits of her indulgences, then
    pulling herself back from the brink at the final moment, had been a recurring theme
    for much of her short career. And it clearly fed her popularity. It was precisely this
    anti-heroism that made her death so worrisome to me.

    As the father of two girls, ages 12 and 16, I knew that Winehouse was in their lives;
    and that even though neither of them were fans, like everyone else, they were well
    aware of her perilous high-wire act, and how it made her a darling of the British
    tabloids and a cult hero to those who see recklessness as a virtue.

    It was my older daughter who broke the news of Winehouse's death to me, and I
    could instantly detect her confusion about it all, as if it somehow didn't compute.

    "It's really sad," she said to me quietly. "She was so young."

    I completely get that. When I was 14, over the span of just 10 months, Jimi Hendrix,
    Janis Joplin and Jim Morrisonall, eerily, 27 years old, all having lived on the
    edgemet the same tragic fate as Winehouse. I can vividly recall trying to reconcile
    that most perplexing of teenage conundrums: that, in the end, the immortal were
    mortal after all. It was a sobering lesson for a kid to learn.

    Similarly, Winehouse's crash-and-burn life will now serve as a cautionary tale for an
    entire generation. I imagine it will surpass even Michael Jackson's premature death
    two years ago, if only because, in his case, Jackson had already survived more
    than 40 years at the center of a bizarrely dysfunctional storm. So in a way, packing
    it in at 50 seemed more like early retirement than anything else.

    Not so with Winehouse, and as a parent, I feel like I dodged a bullet. Fortunately,
    the singer's notoriously dangerous lifestyle never really appealed to my kids, so I
    didn't have to worry about either of them adopting her as some kind of a
    revolutionary role model.

    Yet I do have to wonder about those countless other cultural influences that rain
    down on their heads every day. Last year, iTunes celebrated its 10-billionth
    download, which means a lot of messages are being delivered to children by the
    minute, with no real consideration given to their ages. Add to that the non-stop
    clatter that comprises the soundtrack of their livesstreaming into their world from
    their cellphones and iPads and social networking pages like so much oxygenand
    you have to start to think that any attempt to regulate what our kids see and hear is
    ultimately an exercise in futility.

    We cannot force them to close their eyes and cover their ears, even if the object of
    their affection is obviously barreling headlong to her death. We can only try to give
    them the wisdom to determine for themselves what's worth looking at and listening

    In the weeks and months to come, there will undoubtedly be a torrent of tributes to
    Winehouse, placing her in the pantheon of all-time great musicians, but I would
    prefer to linger a little longer on the sad way she checked out. Because if there's
    one positive thing that came from Amy Winehouse's deathand given her
    enormous gifts as a musician, there's precious little about her demise that can be
    defined as upliftingit's that, perhaps, the shocking inevitability of her passing
    scared our kids a bit, or at least long enough to make them think about their own
    choices in life.

    But maybe Winehouse knew this about herself all along.

    "I told you I was trouble," she warned in one song lyric. "You know that I'm no good."

    (Photo by Ben Stansall, AFP/Getty Images)