Monday, August 3, 2015
Every representation of a person's life is just that—a representation. A curation. A summary. An interpretation.
I know that. I went to see "Amy," the deeply moving documentary about the great singer, Amy Winehouse, fully aware that what I was about to witness was a life encoded by footage and recall, and not a life itself.
Still. There are some incontestable things about this British singer with a genius touch and a tortured relationship with her own talent. First (incontestable): she could sing. Second (I think it's clear): she wasn't always sure of who to trust. Third: she died too young of alcohol poisoning in a body winnowed to near nothing by too many drugs and an eating disorder.
Fourth: Winehouse never originally wanted to be famous, never thought she would be famous, never imagined herself capable of fame. She is there, in the footage, saying so. But fame became hers, fame became her, and she had to live, and die, with the consequences.
There is a dividing line between those who make things in order to be known or seen, and those whose loyalties lie with the things themselves—the songs, the films, the stories. There are those who craft themselves into a brand—who orchestrate aggrandizements, who leverage opportunities, who seek out "friendships" that will advance them, who overstay their welcome, who build cliques that further not their art but their careers, who ricochet with gossip. And there are those who (I think, in the book world, of Alice McDermott, Marilynne Robinson, and Michael Ondaatje) seek out private quiet. Yes, they cede to interviews and talks and touring when their books are released. But they also vanish from public view, and consumption, just as soon as they're able.
Fame—a seething hope for it—is not what propels them.
Watching "Amy," one wants to turn back time. To give the artist her creative space. To let her walk the streets without the blinding pop of cameras. One wants to give her what matters most—room for the everyday and the ordinary. Supremely talented, unwittingly destined, Amy Winehouse suffered. She made choices, certainly. She faced a wall of personal demons. But the media that stalked her and the fans who turned hold some responsibility for what happened.
Artists have the responsibility to do their work for the right reasons. They have responsibility to the work itself—to not sell out, to not write to trends, to not step on others in their quest for something.
But fans have responsibilities, too. To give the artists room to make, to risk, to sometimes fail. To love artists for who they are and what they do and not for whether or not, in this bracket of time, they appear to be potentially famous. To see artists as people who would be better off, who would be healthier, given some time to live with dignity instead of trailing endless glitter.