When the singer Amy Winehouse died recently it brought out the usual hypocrisy from the world’s media but largely hid the real tragedy that underpins such happenings. I didn’t know Amy’s music at all – wrong generation – but her demise was a familiar pattern to the various musicians and actors I knew or had worked with in the past, who died victims of their chosen lifestyles. Some of them had a stay of execution till later in their lives like the talented singer songwriter John Martyn, but others like Rick Gretch, Marc Bolan and Sandy Denny (all of whom I worked with) all died young for different reasons.
All of these artists were talented musicians but couldn’t ultimately deal with where their talent had taken them to, often aided and abetted by adoring fans and record companies. As Eric Clapton was reputed to have said: music is the drug, It is what kept them looking for an ultimate experience and an ultimate music at any price – something I can understand. Many musicians and actors explain why they keep going with their pretty tortuous lifestyles. They all say it is the star status and the applause after the final climactic number or the ecstatic curtain call. This momentary experience has been likened by some performers to a silken drug.
I just don’t go with the idea that without their lifestyle we would somehow be deprived of some great art. A lot of people have made a lot of money from other peoples’ pain, and music and film are two of the global businesses where it happens frequently. I’d rather these artists had lived fulfilled happy lives, hidden from the world, rather than publicly burning up like shooting stars in the upper atmosphere. All for what?
Almost universally, fame, and more so, the craven need for it, is considered by all spiritual teachings to be the last great barrier to a soul’s essential development and final return to God. It is a triumph of the lower self (nafs al-amara). The celebrity obsessed world we now live in reflects how, like some kind of virus, the desire for fame has gripped the masses. However some fame, one can rightly say, is God given, and something bestowed rather than claimed or engineered by the dark arts of PR. But its danger lurks in the breasts of all men and women and we have to constantly check our intentions.