Readers may remember an article I wrote a little over a year ago on the rise of Amy Winehouse. Her talent, her ability, her simple willingness to be open and honest in her music and life, were--and still are--a breath of fresh air in an industry overwhelmed with flavor-of-the-week shallowness.
She has won Grammys, continued to play for sell-out crowds, and Back to Black still sells strong a year and a half after her release. Despite all this, it has all been so tragically downhill for her.
A recent gossip article on MSN.com found a disheveled and intoxicated Winehouse admitting "I'm a mess. Look at me... Look at where I am now. Look at what happened to my dreams... I can't believe what has happened to me, I'm so sad."
Anyone with a basic sense of decency can't help but see how tragic the singer's meltdown is. And sure enough, the tabloids and newspapers will give lip service to this. They'll also point the finger at anyone who might be to blame. Family, friends, her equally screwed-up husband, etc.
What they won't do is take her seriously, because that might mean admitting that her own demons are hardly unique.
Depression and addiction aren't aberrations. Indeed, perhaps the reason Winehouse's music sells so well is because she communicates heartache, alienation and dispossession in such an effective way--a way so many of us can relate to.
The way she is repeatedly characterized, however, is as "the other." A woman who is uniquely screwed-up, a freak.
She's treated that way because taking her illnesses seriously might involve a serious discussion about mental illness and addiction that goes beyond commercials for Paxil and Ambilify. It might have to look at the mental toll of living in a society that deliberately keeps people unemployed, underpaid and hungry and then blames them for it. And it might have to ask why we don't have the resources for people to get real help, but there are plenty of means to plaster pictures of an unstable celebrity across our television screens.
Amy Winehouse is not a freak. The way she's portrayed by the media makes not only her out to be one, but anyone else who has struggled with feelings of hopelessness, depression, or that desire to pick up a bottle so we don't have to face our pain anymore.
Winehouse deserves better. We all deserve better.