Thursday, May 02, 2013

The Artistic Line Between 'Vulnerable' and 'Self-Destructive'

I've been watching The Voice this season. I tweet my live reactions @EileenWiedbrauk BTW, if you're interested in following those joys, disappointments, and uneducated immediate reactions as I have zero knowledge of the music business beyond that of avid radio station listener.

Here's the big question I've recently been pondering: why was Amy Winehouse such a huge success in such a short life? She had a fascinating voice and a hot body, yes. But so do so many of the young people who try to make it in the music business each year. So do so many of those who make it as contestants but don't win national shows such as The Voice.

Now I admittedly don't know much about the music business. But if I'm to believe what all of The Voice coaches repeatedly say, it's all about finding an emotional connection to the lyrics/song, and finding a way to connect that emotion to the audience that isn't show-tune-emoting. As the coaches say, it's about being vulnerable.

The strong singers who can't get vulnerable when they produce their amazing vocals get phased out of the competition as often as those who have technical flaws.

This "vulnerable" produced a giant WTF? to my way of thinking/watching until a dude took on an Amy Winehouse song. I'm not a huge Winehouse fan, but it's hard to deny that her fans were/are legion. And if Winehouse was anything when she was singing, it was vulnerable.

I tend to think of people in terms of brave or reserved, not vulnerable/invulnerable. To my mind, only a fool enters a social situation in a vulnerable position ... and admittedly, this is a learned response to high school. Anyway. To this way of thinking, if you get on a stage in front of twenty or twenty thousand and sing, then you're brave in my book. But brave and vulnerable can exist simultaneously. And I often forget that.

There's pain in the way Winehouse sings. It's not all strength and invulnerable bravery. I'm not sure it's something I can fully appreciate without considering the rest of a person's life. Winehouse was strong but troubled, out there but in her head. Supposedly, Winehouse began binge drinking in 2008 after kicking a drug habit. And in 2011, drank herself to death.

Prior to that unfortunate incident,  The New Statesman called Winehouse "a filthy-mouthed, down-to-earth diva"; Newsweek called her "a perfect storm of sex kitten, raw talent and poor impulse control." Karen Heller with The Philadelphia Inquirer stated:
She's only 24 with six Grammy nods, crashing headfirst into success and despair, with a codependent husband in jail, exhibitionist parents with questionable judgement, and the paparazzi documenting her emotional and physical distress. Meanwhile, a haute designer Karl Lagerfeld appropriates her disheveled style and eating issues to market to the elite while proclaiming her the new Bardot.
She was fascinating. Artistic. A seemingly unstoppable force. A terribly vulnerable one, riddled with drug and alcohol issues that were destroying her. Her ability to open up and connect to an audience was, perhaps, innate. Her ability to close off that openness and find her own strength, strength that would have allowed her to avoid or move past those problems, was seemingly not present.

In retrospect, it presents a tragic, illustrative picture of the line where necessary artistic vulnerability crosses over into self-destructive artist.

How many artists -- musicians  painters, writers, etc. -- are known as much for their drinking and assorted substance abuse as for their art? A damn big lot.

There's a connection there between the ability to make yourself vulnerable enough for an audience to connect with you emotionally and not being able to shut off that vulnerability before all the shit gets into your soul. It's a fascinatingly thin line which artists toe / are encouraged to toe. One which I perhaps have not thought enough on beyond thinking ah, drug problems or not.

Highly Recommended