USA Today, July 25, 2011
For kids, a lesson in Amy Winehouse's death
By Bruce Kluger
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
that drugs were in play. This wasn't random speculation. Given her long history of
substance abuse—hich 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 heroin—the
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 Morrison—all, eerily, 27 years old, all having lived on the
edge—met 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 lives—streaming into their world from
their cellphones and iPads and social networking pages like so much oxygen—and
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 death—and given her
enormous gifts as a musician, there's precious little about her demise that can be
defined as uplifting—it'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."