Amy, Adele and Someone Like You

Janis Joplin died at 27.  So did Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix.  And Kurt Cobain.  So too, today, did Amy Winehouse.

John Belushi was 33.  River Phoenix was 23.  Ernest Hemingway was 61.

The only time I remember seeing Winehouse she was winning Grammy after Grammy for a song named “Rehab” in which she talks about refusing to get treatment. She was not at the ceremony because she couldn’t leave her home country, England. The next day she went to see her husband in prison. She was then 24.

There is no doubt in my mind that Winehouse was an addict. And crazy. And brilliant. And amazingly talented.

I wonder what happens when someone throws themselves so completely into their art that their is no turning back. Is it the art that killed Janis Joplin or the drugs? Kurt Cobain’s whole musical sensibility was about his pushing beyond the limits of normal space and time and refusing to stop no matter what.

My belief is that great art doesn’t require a death wish. We have too many examples of young men and women of amazing talent imbedded in our memory not only for the legacy of their work but for their tragic demise.

My favorite current song is “Someone Like You” by Adele who gives credit to Amy Winehouse.  She carries on her friend Amy’s vast talent with haunting lyrics and piercing vocal ability, without the death wish.

image via MTV


About Tom Matlack

Thomas Matlack is a venture capitalist.


  1. If you take away the drugs, if you take away the alcohol, the pain, the loss, and if you go back to the beginning…you are left with a voice. Drama should not cloud talent in its purest form. It’s not an art, it was a blessing; a captivating and unique power Amy possessed and a rare position that grew faster than her ability to learn to cope with this new position of power. Before fame, I wonder how Amy coped? I’m sure drugs and alcohol played a role on a much smaller scale. I mourn her loss still today. I close my eyes , I listen to the voice, and I enjoy the gift she left us all. Society is awfully judgmental and lacks sensitivity.

  2. Well said Karin – insightful and honest. Thank you.

  3. I think what draws people to those artists is that a lot of them die so relatively early. When they do that people are left wondering, “What could they have accomplished had they lived?” I think its that unfulfilled potential that fascinates people. People still oocasionally ask, “What would Hendrix have done if he had lived?” and that’s been what, almost 30 years ago?

    Someone on my Facebook friends list commented that Winehouse was nowhere near the level of Hendrix, Kobain, and Joplin. And I agree. Winehouse’s career was too short to match the accomplishments of the likes of them. But just like those three her death leaves us with the eternal question that will never be answered. “What could she have done if she lived?” Would she have burned out and stop doing music altogether? Would have have cleaned up and become a mega star? Would she have transitioned from music to acting?

    Years ago I was watching a series called Petshop of Horrors (imagine an animated version of a Twilight Zone/Outer Limits hybrid). One episode was of an actor who got famous on one big role that lauched his career. However that role type cast him and no studios or directors wanted to deal with him anymore, leaving his career to look like a one hit wonder. However at the end of the episode this actor dies. At his funeral people are whispering about how he had such a tragice life, rumors that he was about to launch a big comeback, and how it was a shame that he died so young before he could fufill his potential.

    Its mostly the age. When Micheal Jackson died people weren’t talking about what he could have done but rather what he did. Winehouse whose career was nowhere near as long as Jackson’s died leaving people wondering what she could have done rather than what she did. Because frankly she hadn’t done a lot yet (you could argue that she had become more famous for her addiction related problems than for her music).

  4. I am a multi-talented person. I can be vivacious, I can be a hermit. I have mental illness. People say I’m extraordinary. I often wake up wanting to die. The next day I have endless energy to create. Every day is affected by nameless factors, so I put love first. I am elated. Then lost. At ease, then I scare myself. The artistic drive in me and desire to connect to life freely are at war. Always. The shrapnel hurts my head. Thoughts turn to easing that pain. In any way that helps ~ and there you go.

  5. For the love of art and artists says:

    Art does not require self destruction.

    That being said, many great artists are able to touch us so deeply because they have experienced such overwhelmingly strong versions of love, loss, pain, agony, etc. Their own personal struggles come through to us and touch us in a way we can relate with. They are flames that burn short and bright, they are gifts to the rest of us. Not every artist lives this way, but the ones that do touch us and leave an impression are remembered.

  6. sanjana says:

    This is an idiotic and badly written article.

  7. I don’t believe that it’s always the drugs. I believe the drugs are self-medication. Bipolar disorder and artistic talent go together. My son is bipolar. He’s also an artist and an alcoholic and cigarette addict. He was bipolar before he was either an alcoholic or addicted to cigarettes (in fact he started cigarettes during a hospitalization after a psychotic break).

    • I agree with Mary. My son is bipolar too, (see Bipolar Planet in this magazine). He is musical and creative, and will always need drugs of some sort. He started self-medicating with marijuana at the age of 13 and has since tried everything else. Just for today, he’s taking his pharmaceutical drugs which help keep him stable. But I think he worries his creativity may have disappeared.

  8. Tom ,

    You ask – “Is it the art that killed Janis Joplin or the drugs? ” Make no mistake , it was the drugs, and/or mental illness, and that is true for Amy Winehouse, and all the others as well. Creativity, genius, and dedication to creating great art does not have to lead to craziness and death, in fact, the opposite is true: Creativity, genius, and dedication to creating great art can be a path to health and life. It was the drugs. It’s always the drugs, and it’s such a sad, sad shame, and such a waste. Amy Winehouse was a tortured soul- may she finally rest in peace.

  9. Henry Vandenburgh says:

    Building up to first Saturn return (28-29).

  10. When I was younger I used wonder about why ‘great artists/scientists/achievers’ seem to self destruct. I was fearful that to ‘succeed’ in life I have too become addicted and obsessed about ‘my work’.

    Tom, I really appreciate your offering a place to debate so many problematic areas of manhood and humanity. Thank you to the other contributors who share their wisdom so generously.

    It’s a wonderful journey of discovery. I have a lot to learn. It’s great having a community of online mentors providing such breadth of opinions so respectfully.

  11. Discourse on the idea of talent as all consuming dates as far back as Keats and the other Romantic poets. Their art comes from so far within it destroys their bodies in the process. With genius comes a price.

    • older than keats. the point is that it isn’t art or genius that kills, its human weakness. genius doesn’t kill us. art doesn’t kill us.

      those things give us birth

  12. I’m going to be mulling, and struggling, with Lance’s comment for a while. As, sure, I’ll be struggling with what I think of Amy Winehouse. Talent as curse…maybe.

    But our curse is usually also our most poignant connection to life. Does it have to be self-destructive? No, it doesn’t have to be. But often is. The list, the names, are too many to count.

    But why do we remember Cobain and forget Courtney Love?

    Why is the social media world buzzing with Winehouse but uncomfortably quiet about the terrorism in Oslo?

    Speaking the other day with a guy who is, like me, both artist and addict about that whole complex of addiction, creativity, self-destruction. We listed, for the most part, writers.

    But what about Eugene O’Neil I said. Man who was artist enough to recognize that the booze would kill his art, and therefore cut out the booze. He’s been something of a mentor saint to me as I struggle into my own sober life.

    Unfortunately, none of us are simply artists. We’re also human. And Amy’s human got the better of Amy’s art.

    Honest? We can make a hero out of Winehouse to excuse our own addictions and apathy, and I know a muddleful of people who will get wasted in her honor; which hardly seems to honor her, and does nothing for them, or the world at large. Saying this, honesty, having used other people’s deaths as my own excuse to binge of the deep end far too many times, and regretting it now. Regretting it, because it was selfish of me, and disrespectful of them.

    I wonder more what the best way to honor Winehouse might be.

    Singing, I think, might be a good one.

  13. Tom Matlack says:

    For sure Lance. Thanks for tuning in and keeping me honest.

  14. Amy Winehouse was immensely talent. Her problem, like so many others, is talent isn’t self satisfaction. It’s viewed as a curse to the artist. They never feel good enough. Praise is poison. I hope she finds peace. Without Amy we don’t get unconventional stars like Adele, Lady Gaga, and Duffy. That’s Amy’s legacy.

    she will be missed

    • Amy did NOT inspire Lady Gaga OR Duffy.

      So no, Amy doesn’t have a legacy, but she’s probably left a Syringe around her house somewhere.

      And no, it’s not cynical, or nasty. It’s the cold hard truth.


  1. I study myself more than any other subject; it is my metaphysic, and my physic….

    If you don”t know how to die, don”t worry; Nature will tell you what to do on the spot, fully and Adequately. She will do this job perfectly for you; don”t bother your head about it….

  2. […] few months ago I wrote about Amy Winehouse’s tragic death and wondered out loud about what role her art, and addiction, played in her demise, along with a […]

  3. […] I wrote about Amy Winehouse’s tragic death and wondered out loud about what role her art, and addiction, played in her demise, along with a […]

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