Amy Winehouse drank herself to death with vodka while watching videos of herself on Youtube. That fact, a fairly simple and sad demise labeled as a “misadventure” by the British coroner, came out two years after her death. Before the official report was released there was a lot of speculation about what transpired on Amy’s last night on Earth, and which drug, or drugs, was the one that took her away from us. Most of us, her parents included, didn’t want to believe that it was alcohol, the legal, highly marketed toxin most adults imbibe fairly regularly. We wanted it to be a “harder” drug, something more complicated and difficult to procure. Her parents seemed to want to deflect, to deny that it was anything at all, to say Amy had been doing well. Despite their will to believe otherwise, her public appearances shortly before her death seem to point to the fact that Amy was doing worse than ever. Her only drug at the time may have been alcohol via episodic binges, but that’s more than enough. If her parents couldn’t truly see her, how could she expect anyone to?
We forget that the subjects of our myths are humans. Whether we ridicule or exalt them, idols of the American Dream (or Global Dream) float like symbols through our consciousness. We hear their voices, see their faces, and absentmindedly play through a narrative of their lives we’ve heard, an anecdote, a quote. They are embedded in us, but when we try to pick apart what they mean to us and why they mean it, we see a shivering person there, not an untouchable god or monster at all.
In 1950’s Sunset Boulevard, Norma Desmond’s anachronistic glamour singes in its desperation. And still, we can’t get enough of her. She represents for us something awful, a monster choosing to reside in a delusion, trapped in a narcissistic painting of the past.
Ariel is grand, but you don’t know the tale of the little mermaid until you’ve read Hans Christian Anderson’s version. His decadent and mournful twist on mermaid lore has shaped our imaginations for centuries, and shines a searing light on the pains of growing up, identity crises, and, of course, unrequited love, which can snap an indescribable place in the heart. Cloaking this particular hurt in a macabre mythological tale gets this feeling precisely right, especially if you throw in the problems of bisexuality in an especially unaccepting time.