Watson: Death, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll

Scott Watson

Musicians and drugs — the two are almost synonymous with each other. Whether products of their environment or of their own creatively destructive minds, almost all musical artists who hit it big often seem to meet their demise through their over-the-top drug use.

Deceased artists of every sort, whether musicians, actors or athletes, should be remembered for the impact they made on their art, not for their personal issues. Recently, addiction and dependence has taken the life of two incredible talents in Whitney Houston and Amy Winehouse.

The world lost a fantastic singer on Feb. 11, when Houston died of unreleased causes. Despite her legacy as one of the most talented rhythm and blues singers to grace the world in the last 30 years, she lived in a constant struggle with cocaine addiction. Her reputation and abilities eroded through the years as her dependence on drugs consumed more and more of her life.

Winehouse, another female singer to die within the year, also had a tremendous impact on the industry. Winehouse was nearly as well known for her alcoholism as her sultry blues tunes. Both women have been maligned upon their deaths for their issues, while their talent seems nearly forgotten by many.

The path to stardom for a popular musician is often a long and grueling one. The fame monster demands sacrifices before the fame is granted. Many years of due diligence on the road are always required of any musician hoping to hit it big. To build a name for themselves, these artists need to fulfill a certain image, live a certain life and build credibility. The public doesn’t care what these artists actually do in their own time, as long as they line up with their perceived image of what a musician ought to be when they come to see a show. Once the artist “makes it,” they are suddenly subject to public scrutiny, while personal issues are picked apart and magnified.

All the pressure to succeed piled on top of the untouchable feeling that goes along with stardom — not to mention being surrounded by people more than eager to please — undoubtedly contributes to the demise of these demigods, as they begin their decent into addiction.

Alcohol and drug addictions are nothing new to the rock ‘n’ roll scene. In fact, the distasteful reputation of the music is what originally defined its culture. Known as the downtrodden, scum of the earth, the early rock ‘n’ roll musicians took pride in their social outcast status and lived the part. “Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll,” became the norm of the early rock culture, but with a developing culture comes developing standards.

In come the late ’60s, filled to the brim with revolutionary ideas and overflowing with social change. The use and abuse of drugs of every flavor became commonplace among the musicians of the era, leading to the deaths of greats and setting the standard for musicians to come.

In response to a question of his personal morality, legendary basketball player Charles Barkley said, “I am not a role model.” Unfortunately, we cannot dictate who children look up to in life, but he is not paid to be a role model; he’s paid to play basketball. It is no different for musicians: They are paid to sell records and anything that contributes to those sales is undoubtedly endorsed by their employer.

Upon the deaths of Winehouse and, more recently, Houston, these women who gave so much to their art, have been called many terrible names. We forget it was us — society — who made these artists the way they are. Sure, we weren’t loading any syringes or physically pressuring them to have a few more drinks, but we have come to expect the life of a celebrity to be glamorous and extreme, fueling a raging fire of outrageous behavior expectancies amongst stars. Would Lindsey Lohan ever be talked about if she wasn’t an attention fiend?

The list of beloved, noteworthy musicians who lost their lives to addiction is undeniably disheartening. Rampant with kings and legends, it seems some of the best artists music has ever had to offer us have eventually fallen victim of their own environment. The likes of Elvis Presley, the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll”; Michael Jackson, the “King of Pop”; Jim Morrison of The Doors, the “Lizard King” — to name a few — had their lives taken at the merciless hands of drug addiction. 

It’s a tragic thing, the life of a musician. When on the rise through ranks of popularity, musicians are expected to be the life of the party, to “live the life.” Once they arrive at popularity, they are judged mercilessly for being what society has turned them into. Musicians need to be judged for what they’ve done, not who they are.