Responsibility


I can’t stop thinking about Amy Winehouse.  I didn’t know her music at all. I didn’t really know anything about her, except that I had an image of her in my head, skinny, shaky, beautiful and fragile.  I must have seen it at some point on the news and filed it in my folder of images.

Now she is dead.  This rail thin, tattooed, addicted young woman, with all of her prodigious talent, is dead at the tender age of twenty seven.  And so I am left to wonder.

How much responsibility do all of us bear for her death?  If popular culture admired her rebel stance (“They tried to send me to rehab; I said, no, no no”.), then popular culture is in part responsible for her death.   If her fans cheered her for her partying style, then her fans are in part responsible for her death.  If the media covered her mental illness, her drug use and her stumbling attempts at performance, and never called her out for it, then the media shares the responsibility for her death.

I am reminded of a scene in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” in which the Prince views the dead bodies of the young couple. He is filled with sorrow and regret, and rages to the assembled crowd, “We have lost a brace of kinsmen!”  In that scene, I always feel that he is looking beyond the two young lives, and is mourning the loss of their children and grandchildren, and the contributions that all of them might have made.

And so I wonder; If the many fans of the beautiful and fragile Amy had united to demand her treatment and her return to mental health, instead of celebrating her decline into mental illness and addiction, would she be alive today? Would she have someday written even more moving music? Would she have fallen in love, given birth to more musically gifted children and continued to write her own soulful music?

We will never know.  We will never know what Janis Joplin, or Jim Morrison might have achieved.  The world will never have the benefit of experiencing the offspring that their genius might have given us.

We are all responsible.  All of us who live in a culture that celebrates the “rebellion” of drug use and self-injury are responsible for the loss of the many lives that listen to our accolades.   All of us who watch in horror, but do not speak of our concerns, share the blame for every beautiful, fragile, talented life that is lost.

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