Even in death, Winehouse is not granted privacy or respect

All that prurient poking into the singer's private life might have been part of the problem.

Amy Winehouse's sad, lonely, early death is a tragedy. It is a human tragedy for the young woman herself, and her family and friends; and a different kind of tragedy for the tabloid press who so enjoyed feasting on her misery and despair while she was alive. It will have to make do with feasting on the misery of her family, now the golden goose has gone.

It would be too much to hope that, in death, Winehouse could find the kind of privacy and respect she didn't have in life. Even from before the moment the blanket-covered body was taken away from the flat where life left it, it has been a feeding frenzy. Even when she died, the press still hounded her.

Today's Daily Mail, for example, has photos of Winehouse's tear-soaked mother and father looking at the fans' memorial that has sprung up in her street, along with a rather snippy colour piece about the apparent non-classiness of the tributes. It's not the only newspaper to be doing this. They're all feasting on the celebrity death, with varying levels of sincerity; some of the worst offenders in harassing and attacking Winehouse while she was alive are now repositioning themselves as grieving friends. It would be funny, if it weren't slightly sickening.

It's easy to sneer and make judgements on Winehouse's lifestyle, and post-Diana memorials in general; easy, too, to say "I told you so" or to think that this miserable death was a predictable thing. Because it's easy, a lot of people are doing it. It's more difficult, perhaps, to contemplate the way in which this life and death was gorged on by the writers and readers of redtops and trashy magazines alike, and wonder whether all that prurient poking into the singer's private life might have been part of the problem. That kind of question might raise uncomfortable answers; instead, it's simpler and less time-consuming to blame the addict for their "choices", and imagine that in a just world everyone is as capable as everyone else of avoiding the same destiny.

Now that Amy is dead, the paps can happily return to their well-worn perches outside Winehouse's residence, having been barred before, following a series of doorstep confrontations, photos of a tearful Winehouse outside (and inside) her home, and the usual intruding snatched shots of someone going about her daily life.

Perhaps in that gloomy street in Camden, there's a reunion of sorts going on; paparazzi are reminiscing about the time they caught Winehouse in an alleyway, or saw her bawling her eyes out in public, remembering the sky-high prices those photos made. Those glory days are gone now, of course. But how proud all those involved must be with their role in chasing a young woman struggling with addiction and personal problems, hounding her outside her home, and getting "friends" and hangers-on to dish the dirt on what was going on behind closed doors, when the lenses couldn't see.

Were we really fascinated by the stories of Amy's life, of her excesses, or her tempestuous relationships? We must have been; the photos and tales fetched high prices for those willing to do the dirtiest of dirty work, which means someone somewhere must have believed there was a strong market for them. In some small way, perhaps all of us who devoured the images and stories are in a way responsible for this most dreadful of outcomes. And all that's left is the grave, a fine and private place -- a private ceremony, and the end of a life.

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media

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Kate Mossman on extreme pop tourism: who would fly 5,000 miles for a gig?

Glen Campbell’s daughter says, “Dad, she’s come 5,000 miles to see you!” I add, “How sad is that?”

I only became a journalist because I once travelled five thousand miles to see Glen Campbell do a concert, and a friend said that if I liked him that much, maybe I should write about it.

I was working for a children’s charity at the time. Consulting a seating plan of the venue on my work computer, I established that A15 was in the middle of the front row. If I sat there, I would be about 12 feet away from Campbell. The seat lay in suburban Los Angeles – so I saved pound coins in a Quality Street jar from August 2006, and in March the following year I set off.

I knew that LA was the size of Wales. I can’t drive, but planned to take buses from Santa Monica as far as they went and walk the rest of the 42.4 miles to the Haugh Performing Arts Centre at 1,000 W Foothill Boulevard, Glendora. On the appointed day, I marched along a motorway, Discman in hand, listening to “Wichita Lineman”. I was helped along by a wall of warm air from the side of passing trucks. My eyes streamed with wind and grit.

In the foyer of the venue, a man was talking on his mobile phone: “Dude – I’m here. The demographic is, like, deceased.” He was right to say the crowd was on the older side. Glen was 70 then, and yet to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

I watched him singing in that effortless way of his: the keyboard player once said, “It’s like a bird flying. It’s like someone breathing. It is easy for him.” His hands looked smooth and papery like the ones on the armrests next to me. His daughter, whom I’d chatted to on the Glen Campbell Fan Forum, took me into the wings and said, “Dad, Kate has come all the way from London to see you!”

“How sad is that!” I snapped at Glen. Embarrassment is one of the principal emotions associated with extreme music tourism, should you actually meet the artist.

On finding I had no means of getting back to my hostel that night, a middle-aged couple took me to their car for energy bars and bottled water. They went an hour and a half out of their way for me, making a detour by the campus of Pepperdine University at midnight and up to the floodlit memorial to Thomas E Burnett, Jr, one of the men who bust their way into the cockpit of United Airlines Flight 93 on 9/11.

After that night, gigs became my access to Middle America, an excuse to get to towns and suburbs I’d never otherwise see. Stranded in the mountains of Colorado after the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, I hitchhiked back to Denver with five frat boys who passed around a Coke-bottle bong. I learned how to while away a night in picket-fence towns with unspoken curfews and venues that chucked out by ten. CVS Pharmacy and Dunkin’ Donuts are the places to go, if you’ve enough battery left on your phone to locate them.

I flew to America to see Bruce Hornsby in freezing Albany, upstate New York, two winters back. Hours on the train track after the gig, no other passengers. A police car watched at a distance till the Amtrak ground in at 1.30am.

I get a kick from the effort and uncertainty of it: the tight connections, interminable waits and the addictive, stoned state you slip into from travelling for far too long. The alienation is counterbalanced by the strange comfort of spending the night in a room with the musician who soundtracks your daily commute back home. On a deserted platform in a closed-up town, with everyone you know fast asleep across the Atlantic, you’re just a leaf edging across a vast continent. Anything could happen to you.

Hornsby played in Pennsylvania this month. I was the only non-Amish person on the bus to Intercourse. I fed on samples from the Amish relish factory, and at dusk I walked miles to find a motel down a strip of road with no sidewalk, past a jumble of old gravestones pushed together in the middle of a modern traffic island.

I dumped my bag and jogged down the dual carriageway to the venue, arriving as the band took to the stage. For them, it was just another gig.

 

Kate Mossman is the New Statesman's arts editor and pop critic.

This article first appeared in the 16 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit and the break-up of Britain