Last night, I was casually watching the Video Music Awards on MTV, flipping back and forth in my classic non-committal, short-attention span manner and happened to catch the end of the show. Call it fate or coincidence, but I tuned in just as Russell Brand was paying tribute to the late Amy Winehouse, famous pop singer and alcohol and drug treatment frequenter. I immediately put my remote down, settling in to watch his words. He, in his seductive London accent, explained how MTV asked him to speak on behalf of Amy. He fondly remembered his former “mate” and her incredible voice — and he didn’t forget to mention her iconic, albeit fabulous, hair.
It made me realize that Amy is going to be part of that special club, the select few famous people - who were actually talented – who will mostly be remembered for her multiple stints of alcohol and drug treatment. My heart sank as Russell touched on this and remarked, in a bittersweet manner, that, yes, she battled with alcoholism and drug addiction, checking herself in and out of alcohol and drug treatment facilities, but she should be remembered more for her talent and her soulful voice. He made a candid remark about how her battle with her addiction was one of the reasons that so many people were drawn to her, which I suppose, is true. MTV gets a lot of flack these days for how much they have departed from their original mission of music for the people. But, in this moment of tribute, I really wanted to salute MTV for not only acknowledging the world’s loss but also for explaining to the world that addiction is a disease. As many people know, Russell Brand is in recovery, and he was the perfect selection for her tribute. So, I salute you, MTV. And, I say this in the most sincere way, your public service announcement was much appreciated by those in recovery. I admit, I have been a critic of MTV in the past, as I was an early adopter, a fan of its younger years where the music mattered more than the reality TV shows. I can actually remember the first time I heard “I want my MTV” and most people who watch MTV these days don’t realize the significance of that song/ad campaign.
MTV is dominated by pop superstars when it does air music. This is another reason why I think most people fail to see the musical talent that Amy Winehouse possessed. She had such a soulful, jazz-quality voice that wasn’t exhibited in the popular music scene, where she was known for her hit single: “Rehab.”
After he said his piece, Russell passed the torch over to Tony Bennett. He, too, spoke as part of the tribute. Then, he premiered a recording the two of them made together earlier this year. When the news of Amy’s early demise had first hit the headlines, he had made the following statement: “it was a thrill to record with Amy Winehouse, and when you listen to the recording of ‘Body and Soul,’ it is a testament to her artistic genius and her brilliance as one of the most honest musicians I have ever known.”
The tribute was beautiful and fitting for such a beautiful voice. The only change I would have made was to have either Russell or Tony actually explain what has not been front-page news: when Amy Winehouse died, there were no drugs in her system. Everyone’s first reaction to her death was that she had overdosed. Everyone judged her too soon. She had conquered her drug addiction at the time of her death. Her family made a statement at the time attesting to this and did explain that she was still struggling with her alcohol addiction even though she had conquered her drug addiction. My hope is with this that the world will see, and be reminded, that addiction is a disease. With the right amount of love and support, coupled with an alcohol and drug treatment that is fitting to the needs of that individual, addiction can be conquered.