Monday, 25 July 2011

It’s a goddam impossible way of life

What a horrendous weekend of news. Famine, mass murder and Amy Winehouse.

Coverage of the Norwegian massacre was impersonal but then it had to be. Pixilated screens where presumably dead bodies lay kept us a discreet distance from the horror. Watching the coverage on BBC News 24 I was reminded of Stalin’s famous quote, “one death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic.”

The Amy Winehouse story was sensitively covered by the BBC and at least here the Corporation could use archive footage of performances. I couldn’t help feeling that we’ve been down this road before though. Cobain, Morrison, Billie Holliday, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Richard Manuel to name but a few.

As I watched the interview obituaries though you couldn’t help but ask yourself the question, why do so many rock stars die in similar circumstances? Are these troubled souls attracted to this world or is the use of hard drugs a necessary part of the creative process?

I recall an interview with Robbie Robertson (anybody under 40 will now say, "who?") on the Last Waltz, Martin Scorsese’s brilliant film of the very last performance by The Band. In the interview, recorded sometime after the performance, Robertson explains why The Band had to stop. “The road,” he said, in other words the pressures of the album, tour, album, tour treadmill, “has claimed a lot of the greats, Janis, Jimi,” before giving what should probably be the final verdict on the rock star lifestyle, “it’s a goddam impossible way of life.”

Robertson was young enough and smart enough to get off the treadmill. Unfortunately, Winehouse won’t have the chance.


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