July 24th, 2011

Arty Evil Icon

No, no, no

One of you said last night (on FB) that on Twitter the hashtag 'club27' was trending. This was a reference to those performers who died, by their own hands or those of their dealers and publicists, at the age of 27. I replied, "It's Twitter. It's isn't political activism. It isn't journalism. It's a bunch of wankers talking wank in a pub. A Weatherspoons pub". Actually it's worse than Weatherspoons; at least you have to pay for your poison in Weatherspoons. Someone else on here to mark Miss Winehouse's death, pointing out that she had nothing to comment about the death and indicating it might be hubristic of others to comment. I know what she meant, but the assumption of hubris elsewhere struck me as the broadhsheets strike me, when they are tutting about what the tabloids are saying.

There is little privacy to the lives of the famous. The infamous, in death, are deeemed to have lost all right to privacy.

27 is too young to die. You only realise how pitifully young 27 actually is when you are close to or beyond it. I'm 42. 42 is way too fucking young to die, too. I look back at my younger self and know that I was, then, only half of what I am now, and half now of what I could become at 67; this is as true of ordinary folk, as it is of great artists.

I remember when Ritchie Manic died (at 27). I wasn't a Manics fan; I was probably too old, to be honest, but they inspired real passion in many of my friends. They always seemed to me like a tribute band; their music seemed riven with references to something brilliant, but dated, with something erzatz in the delivery. So I wasn't as moved as some of my dearest friends were when Ritchie Manic died. I always thought his '4 real' arm carve-up was a stunt, because if you pose with real pain on tabloid show, that's what your pain becomes: a stunt. It would have been brilliant if had progressed beyond that, if he'd stopped slicing holes in his skin and said, in front of some subsequent camera that was pointed at him, "I grew beyond that; I'm okay now, you know, I have a life I mostly love, I've done better things since, my talent isn't predicated on suffering". Instead he remains the poster child for self harmers, and if he highlighted and seemingly understood their suffering, which was a boon to a damaged few, he also, consciously or not, glorified its performative aspect, which was an incitement to be or appear damaged to the vulnerable many. If that judgement offends you, so be it. I've spent most of the last dozen years working with teenagers and that experience has shaped my prejudices.

Suffering isn't a spectator sport. It might be is you are a witless twunt assigning the hashtag "club27" to your twitterings. It isn't if you are watching the suffering of someone you love, and especially if they are suffering because of an addiction that diminishes and destroys them, as all terminal diseases dimish and destroy. There is no nobility or tragedy in the death of Amy Winehouse. The nobility was in her talent, and the tragedy is that it remains unfulfilled. I usually pay little attention to the gutter press, or the even press that thinks it isn't in the gutter, but reports the outpourings of the gutter press under the heading of'media news', but any of the times I saw Amy Winehouse's fuck-ups scrutinised in a public forum, she seemed like she was scurrying away from the cameras, not playing to them.

There is no poetry in Amy Winehouse's death, no beauty. Addicts are always ugly. Addiction gives blemished yellowing skin, a bloated stomach, rancid stinking sweat, a bleeding sphincter, lavatorial breath and dull eyes. There is no such thing as heroin chic. Nor cokehead chic, nor glue-sniffer chic, nor crackwhore chic, nor alkie chic. All addicts are ugly, all addicts are selfish. If you are loved, there is no greater selfishness than self-destruction.

Her death is tragic. It's tragic that she didn't get to produce at least two more brilliant albums, then a series of shonky ones, then write some brilliant songs for some funky young things half her age, then, on the back of that, produce an amazing album of covers and new stuff and beome a sort of national treasure, and appear, in 2040 in some ghastly Royal Variety Performance or Children in Need Special, in a too-tight dress, singing something cheesy in duet with a balding, pot-bellied Ritchie Manic, the pair of them being denounced for being past-it or celebrated for being an utter legend by the chattering classes on Son-of-Twitter.

No one gets to be a legend by dying. You get to be a legend for living brilliantly. And in a decade's - and more's - time, her true fans will mourn just that, that she wasn't a legend, but just another cautionary tale. We don't need any more cautionary tales. We will always need legends.