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By some macabre coincidence, I was reading Keith Richards’ richly entertaining autobiography “Life” when news reached me that Amy Winehouse had tragically died.
The irony was certainly not lost on me. Here I was absorbed in a book about a chemical-obsessed musician who had diced with death more times than 007 being informed that Winehouse had become the latest pop star heading for the great gig in the sky at the tender age of 27.
Whether she died a junkie is immaterial. The brutal truth is that poor Winehouse fell victim to a hedonistic lifestyle which has claimed too many talented artists.
Richards may be living proof that it is possible to burn the candle at both ends but the young singer, like Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Keith Moon, Bon Scott, ex-Rolling Stone Brian Jones to name just a few, paid the ultimate price for so flagrantly disobeying life’s rules.
Drugs and alcohol abuse have been companions of performing artists, lyricists and entertainers for centuries. I remember at school, studying the poems of John Keats for A level, a teacher telling the class of impressionable teenagers that the poet almost certainly experimented with substances to expand the mind and produce such bewitching prose.
And in the world of rock and pop, it’s hardly controversial to suggest that the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and many of their successors would not have been quite so successful in their field had they not indulged.
Reading Richards’ warts-and-all documentary of one of music’s most bohemian figures, clearly the price was not worth paying. The Stones’ guitarist may have written some of rock’s greatest-ever riffs and he was quite probably spaced out when inspiration hit him.
But his description of life as a heroine addict, the depths he would stoop to get his fix, the horrors of cold turkey and the way his partner Anita Pallenburg descended from being one of Europe’s top models to a messed-up junkie provide a far louder message than any song.
And yet the 21st century Richards is a walking miracle. If not a man who’s swapped wild oats for Civvy Street, then certainly an individual who has stared into the abyss and emerged relatively unscathed. He is not alone.
It never ceases to amaze me how so many rock stars now well into their 60s look so good for their age. Take Eric Clapton for example. He too pressed the self-destruct button far too often in the 70s and 80s yet today is a happily married father of of two young children who could easily pass for a man ten years younger.
Jimmy Page looks in rude health for someone who became hooked on heroine at the height of Led Zeppelin’s success. Iggy Pop’s another who seemingly defies Mother Nature. The list goes on.
UFO’s Phil Mogg journeyed on the dark side yet seeing him in concert these days, baring his toned torso, his body looks more like that of an active athlete than a 60-something rock star. Slash is from a generation down but he too has happily chosen the healthy route without compromising his creative juices.
This article is drawing no conclusions and clearly there is no common denominator in the world of music.
But just as we should mourn the loss of Winehouse, the latest, inevitable member of the 27 club, we should celebrate the fact that so many past users and abusers came out on the other side.