Read Russell Brand’s touching tribute to his “vulnerable” friend, Amy Winehouse

By | July 25, 2011 at 1:30 pm | One comment | feature slider, News | Tags: , , , , ,

Surely, by now you all know singer Amy Winehouse was found dead yesterday at the age of 27. Though she had a very public battle with drugs and alcohol, no cause has yet been named for her death– despite an autopsy being completed. However, you can speculate with decent certainty that drugs had something to do with her passing. After reading comedian Russell Brand’s tribute to the pop star, it’s clear he thinks that’s the case as well. Brand, a recovering addict, does a great job of not sentimentalizing the situation and even has a clear call for action: “We need to look at the way our government funds rehabilitation. It is cheaper to rehabilitate an addict than to send them to prison, so criminalisation doesn’t even make economic sense,” he writes.

And on Amy he gets poetic about the first time he heard her sing: “[Her] voice was filled with such power and pain that it was at once entirely human yet laced with the divine. My ears, my mouth, my heart and mind all instantly opened. Winehouse. Winehouse? Winehouse! That twerp, all eyeliner and lager dithering up Chalk Farm Road under a back-combed barnet, the lips that I’d only seen clenching a fishwife fag and dribbling curses now a portal for this holy sound.”

Brand’s complete essay, originally posted on russellbrand.tv is below.

————————————

For Amy

When you love someone who suffers from the disease of addiction you await the phone call. There will be a phone call. The sincere hope is that the call will be from the addict themselves, telling you they’ve had enough, that they’re ready to stop, ready to try something new. Of course though, you fear the other call, the sad nocturnal chime from a friend or relative telling you it’s too late, she’s gone.

Frustratingly it’s not a call you can ever make it must be received. It is impossible to intervene.

I’ve known Amy Winehouse for years. When I first met her around Camden she was just some twit in a pink satin jacket shuffling round bars with mutual friends, most of whom were in cool Indie bands or peripheral Camden figures Withnail-ing their way through life on impotent charisma. Carl Barrat told me that “Winehouse” (which I usually called her and got a kick out of cos it’s kind of funny to call a girl by her surname) was a jazz singer, which struck me as a bizarrely anomalous in that crowd. To me with my limited musical knowledge this information placed Amy beyond an invisible boundary of relevance; “Jazz singer? She must be some kind of eccentric” I thought. I chatted to her anyway though, she was after all, a girl, and she was sweet and peculiar but most of all vulnerable.

I was myself at that time barely out of rehab and was thirstily seeking less complicated women so I barely reflected on the now glaringly obvious fact that Winehouse and I shared an affliction, the disease of addiction. All addicts, regardless of the substance or their social status share a consistent and obvious symptom; they’re not quite present when you talk to them. They communicate to you through a barely discernible but un-ignorable veil. Whether a homeless smack head troubling you for 50p for a cup of tea or a coked-up, pinstriped exec foaming off about his “speedboat” there is a toxic aura that prevents connection. They have about them the air of elsewhere, that they’re looking through you to somewhere else they’d rather be. And of course they are. The priority of any addict is to anaesthetise the pain of living to ease the passage of the day with some purchased relief.

From time to time I’d bump into Amy she had good banter so we could chat a bit and have a laugh, she was “a character” but that world was riddled with half cut, doped up chancers, I was one of them, even in early recovery I was kept afloat only by clinging to the bodies of strangers so Winehouse, but for her gentle quirks didn’t especially register.

Then she became massively famous and I was pleased to see her acknowledged but mostly baffled because I’d not experienced her work and this not being the 1950′s I wondered how a “jazz singer” had achieved such cultural prominence. I wasn’t curious enough to do anything so extreme as listen to her music or go to one of her gigs, I was becoming famous myself at the time and that was an all consuming experience. It was only by chance that I attended a Paul Weller gig at the Roundhouse that I ever saw her live.

I arrived late and as I made my way to the audience through the plastic smiles and plastic cups I heard the rolling, wondrous resonance of a female vocal. Entering the space I saw Amy on stage with Weller and his band; and then the awe. The awe that envelops when witnessing a genius. From her oddly dainty presence that voice, a voice that seemed not to come from her but from somewhere beyond even Billie and Ella, from the font of all greatness. A voice that was filled with such power and pain that it was at once entirely human yet laced with the divine. My ears, my mouth, my heart and mind all instantly opened. Winehouse. Winehouse? Winehouse! That twerp, all eyeliner and lager dithering up Chalk Farm Road under a back-combed barnet, the lips that I’d only seen clenching a fishwife fag and dribbling curses now a portal for this holy sound. So now I knew. She wasn’t just some hapless wannabe, yet another pissed up nit who was never gonna make it, nor was she even a ten-a-penny-chanteuse enjoying her fifteen minutes. She was a f**king genius.

Shallow fool that I am I now regarded her in a different light, the light that blazed down from heaven when she sang. That lit her up now and a new phase in our friendship began. She came on a few of my TV and radio shows, I still saw her about but now attended to her with a little more interest. Publicly though, Amy increasingly became defined by her addiction. Our media though is more interested in tragedy than talent, so the ink began to defect from praising her gift to chronicling her downfall. The destructive personal relationships, the blood soaked ballet slippers, the aborted shows, that youtube madness with the baby mice. In the public perception this ephemeral tittle-tattle replaced her timeless talent. This and her manner in our occasional meetings brought home to me the severity of her condition. Addiction is a serious disease; it will end with jail, mental institutions or death. I was 27 years old when through the friendship and help of Chip Somers of the treatment centre, Focus12 I found recovery, through Focus I was introduced to support fellowships for alcoholics and drug addicts which are very easy to find and open to anybody with a desire to stop drinking and without which I would not be alive.

Now Amy Winehouse is dead, like many others whose unnecessary deaths have been retrospectively romanticised, at 27 years old. Whether this tragedy was preventable or not is now irrelevant. It is not preventable today. We have lost a beautiful and talented woman to this disease. Not all addicts have Amy’s incredible talent. Or Kurt’s or Jimi’s or Janis’s, some people just get the affliction. All we can do is adapt the way we view this condition, not as a crime or a romantic affectation but as a disease that will kill. We need to review the way society treats addicts, not as criminals but as sick people in need of care. We need to look at the way our government funds rehabilitation. It is cheaper to rehabilitate an addict than to send them to prison, so criminalisation doesn’t even make economic sense. Not all of us know someone with the incredible talent that Amy had but we all know drunks and junkies and they all need help and the help is out there. All they have to do is pick up the phone and make the call. Or not. Either way, there will be a phone call.

About the Author

Dylan P. Gadino

Dylan is the founder and editor in chief of Laughspin. He launched Punchline Magazine in 2005 (which became Laughspin in the summer of 2011) with childhood friend Bill Bergmann. Dylan lives in northern New Jersey with his wife and two sons. He hopes the Shire is real.

  • Mjdunn

    Our fellowship and the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous
    repeatedly relate stories of one alcoholic helping another. There is a chapter
    entitled ”Working With Others”.

    Our founders stressed that we had to seek out others
    afflicted with our disease and tell them how we  did it; our hands always have
    to open to receive newcomers. “Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help
    others achieve sobriety” according to the pre-amble of Alcoholics Anonymous.

     

    There is also the suggestion that an alcoholic has to hit
    bottom and want help. It is believed that we can’t help someone who doesn’t
    want it. An addict cannot be forced to quit, seek help or change their life
    unless they are willing. We say the three requirements to stay sober are
    willingness, honesty and open-mindedness, without them we may be sober for a
    period time, but we will drink again. Of course with AA, there is also the
    spiritual component: we have to find a Power greater than ourselves.

     

    What is the “tipping point”? Where do we draw the line? Do
    we let someone find his or her bottom, or do we intervene? When is it OK to
    step in and try to help someone who is obviously self-destructing? Do they have
    to be institutionalized? Do we wait until they have a near death experience? I
    was taught that our principles in recovery teach us to love our fellows, and to
    me love is not looking away and waiting to be asked for it.

     

    In the chapter I referred to earlier it is explained to us
    that we are to involve the family, approach the alcoholic and relate stories
    about us that he or she can identify with and offer a solution. We are not to
    cram it down their throats, but open the conversation, let them know that they
    are not alone and that there is a solution.

     

    Personally, I have been conducting meetings at the county
    jail for men incarcerated because of criminal activity relating to drugs or
    alcohol. They don’t ask me to come and speak to them; the Sheriff’s Dept. and
    the Courts have mandated that they be part of a recovery program during their
    incarceration. Does this insure their sobriety after they are released,
    absolutely not? It does expose them to a different way of living as told to
    them by people just like them who are free and have changed their life.

     

    I believe we need to more pro-active in helping others. It
    is the 21st century and we are way past going around to hospitals
    and asking the local psyche doctor if he has any patients suffering from
    alcoholism who we can talk to. The general population is aware of AA, NA and
    all the others; it is time to educate them about who we are and what we do
    because that is not as well known.

     

    I don’t know if Amy Winehouse could have been saved by an
    intervention; but I do know this she died without one.

     
    Peace
    Marc D

© 2011-2013 Laughspin. Some rights reserved. Hosted by ServInt