Would it shock the hell out of you that a 57-year-old man would love Amy Winehouse’s music? I do. When I found out she died late last month I played her Back to Black CD over and over again.
Winehouse had a unique, soulful voice and was one of the best songwriters ever. For those of us who followed her, it was a sad day when she left us. But the leaving wasn’t a surprise. Her song “Rehab” is a little hard to listen to now. In recent years, her drug and alcohol mishaps overshadowed her music. She became a punch line on late-night talk shows. I remember feeling annoyed with some of Letterman’s jokes about her.
I grew up listening to music in the 1960s — Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison of The Doors. Just like Winehouse, they were extremely creative people. Also like Winehouse, they had drug and alcohol addictions that killed them at an early age. So often being creative also means being addicted.
Not all creative people die young, and when I use the word creative, I’m also including writers, painters, comics — basically anyone who uses the left side of their brain. Many of these creative people need a little something extra to keep them going.
Here in the Cincinnati area, I know people who have addictive behavior. I’m going to give some examples of this, but I’m not going to mention any names, as I want to keep this pretty general so not piss anybody off.
I have a writer friend here who likes to write cover stories at the last minute. He or she calls them “all-nighters,” which means staying up all night with a computer, a few joints and a bottle. This person has won several writing awards, so this is an addiction that works, at least for this writer.
A singer/musician friend of mine can’t get on stage without having a few shots of whiskey first to help out with nerves. A few shots often turn into more than that; I watched this person perform at a local club a few years ago when he or she was a bit wasted. Watching the performance, one would never know that the person was under the influence.
Sometimes creative people need to clean up their act. Another writer friend has given up drugs and alcohol. This person has now been clean and sober for five-plus years. This person now says he or she needs more time to get the writing done, as there’s “no juice to feed the fire.”
I’m done with the addiction examples, and I’m happy to say none of these people are in their twenties. They’ve managed to keep their addictions under control or stop them altogether, unlike the talented Winehouse.
To be fair, you don’t have to be using the left side of your brain to have addictions. I know plenty of factory workers, sales people or business executives who head to the bar or do pills or other drugs right after work or even during work. Before becoming a writer in 1997, I was one of these people.
Back in the late 1970s, as I was climbing the corporate ladder, I’d do speed to keep my motor running. I hated the way I felt when I came down from the high, so I gave it up. Marijuana was and is an easy alternative, but over the past few years I can take it or leave it — mostly leave it.
Now in my old age, I currently have three addictions: coffee, cigarettes and vodka. Know what? I’m not giving them up, and I’m not going to rehab either.
Those two or three cups of coffee in the morning are a must. I need it to wake up — nothing more, nothing less. I’m not even crazy about the taste.
As far as cigarettes, I’ve been pretty mindful lately. I can read that warning label on the side of the pack. In my advanced age, I’m trying to take the risk more seriously.
I never thought I could separate smoking from writing. In my mind, the two went hand in hand. Over the past three or four years, I’ve discovered this isn’t the case. I’m perfectly fine smoking outside my apartment and getting stories or columns done without getting ashes in my computer keyboard. From a two-pack-a-day habit, I now smoke maybe a pack every three days.
Vodka drinking has also has slowed down. In the old days, getting falling-down drunk in bars was fun, but now it isn’t. Even going to bars has become something I’d rather not do unless I’m invited. For me, having a few drinks before going to bed is enough.
Besides having a few drinks before going to bed, I listen to music. Amy Winehouse has been the music of choice lately.
When I listen to her now, I use the left and right side of my brain. My right brain tells me she’s gone and had a horrible death. My left brain pretends she’s fine and will continue to make wonderful music for decades to come.
Handling addictions is different for everybody. For me, the key is moderation and cutting back. Amy couldn’t, and I’m not smart enough to understand why. She obviously loved making music, and we loved her back for it. In the end, it wasn’t enough for her. Damn if it wasn’t enough.
CONTACT LARRY GROSS: [email protected]