In his latest pop-cultural study, Sounes (Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney, 2011, etc.) offers a stern corrective to the adage that it’s better to burn out than to fade away.
The author takes a refreshingly skeptical view of the belief that a conspiracy accounts for the deaths of Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse, dismissing urban legends and murder theories to reveal the similarities among them. All six struggled with parental divorce and/or disapproval, began abusing substances in adolescence, and held conflicting, ambivalent views about fame. By the time they each died, Sounes argues, they had been pursuing self-destructive paths for so many years that they essentially all committed suicide, although Cobain is the only one whose death is officially designated as such. Indeed, the levels of degradation to which each performer sunk is truly alarming, especially Winehouse, who regularly drank herself into seizures and blackouts and whose legendarily addled performances were captured for posterity on YouTube. Perhaps the most unsettling information that Sounes reveals, however, is the lack of interest that all six had in recovering and moving on with their careers. Media outlets and fans alike have traditionally lamented these deaths as tragic due not only to the performers’ youth, but also to the promising paths that lay ahead of them. Not so, according to the author: They had all peaked at the ripe age of 27 and were suffering from such intense psychological pain that their early deaths were inevitable. In the case of Winehouse, writes Sounes, she “made a big impact on popular music in a short career without doing very much or going very far.” Equally depressing, they all spent their last days surrounded by hangers-on who seldom had their best interests at heart or who denied the magnitude of their addictions.
A compelling examination of the effects of sudden fame on mentally fragile artists.