In his superb first novel, Junky, William S. Burroughs takes the reader on a journey through the life of a man addicted to opiates. The book’s startling revelations, unapologetic tone and stark honesty lay bare all of the thoughts, feelings and sickness that one in the stranglehold of ‘junk’ has.
What Junky gives the reader is a feeling of compassion with the ‘junky’. So then, the news of the death of singer Amy Winehouse on Saturday comes firstly, as a sad, horrific and humbling turn of events, but secondly conjures up a sympathetic and empathetic stirring in me which ultimately makes me think of everything she hadn’t done.
Opiates have a hold on their user comparable to a possessive lover. They control them, make them base their life around them and eventually ruin their life. In Winehouse’s case, they ended it.
Taken from the World at just 27, Winehouse leaves us at the age that many a pop star before has including Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. Unfortunately, the 27 Club (as it’s known in rock circles) has welcomed its newest member.
The outpouring of sadness and despair at her untimely demise has had one recurring theme; this is not only a loss to the World, but a real loss to music. That is not debatable. Winehouse had a talent and knowledge of music unparalleled by many. The great shame, musically, is that Winehouse had more in her than Back to Black and Frank. Though both albums were fine, the harking backwards to soul and jazz on those albums could sound passée.
The future held so much for Winehouse career-wise. Back to Black should not have been her magnum opus. With a talent such as her’s, if she’d had a long, mappable career, we could have looked back and seen her second studio album as the point at which she started to flower. In many ways it could have been an album analogous to Rubber Soul by The Beatles. Winehouse had a chance to cross genres and transcend stereotypes. She now has nothing and her family have lost her.
Ultimately Winehouse’s death is so sad because she was so young, so talented and so troubled. It’s another early death in popular music mired by the use of hard drugs. A post-mortem will be carried out today, most of us expect it to show that her system was ravaged by drug-use. Winehouse was a junky and because of that was governed by opiates. She is now dead, like many before her. My thoughts are with her family.