From Charlie Parker to Amy Winehouse and beyond, countless musicians have struggled with destructive lifestyles that ultimately consume them. Using a case study of your own choice, discuss why popular music remains fascinated with these tragedies.
Tragedies often occur in the world of music. It has seemingly become a pattern, over many generations and genres of music, for musicians to develop a negative relationship with drugs, alcohol and hard partying lifestyles. Charlie Parker was a legendary Grammy Award-winning jazz saxophonist who, along with Dizzy Gillespie, created the musical style called bop or bebop. (ref). Parker was born into the jazz era in Kansas City, 1920 and started playing at local jazz nights at the tender age of 15. By 1945, Parker was leading his own group while also playing alongside the great Dizzy Gillespie. Throughout his life, Parker’s addiction to heroin and alcohol and his battle with mental illness devastated his personal relationships and his opportunities as a musician.
Parker was married and divorced three times between 1936 and 1948 and was already abusing alcohol and heroin during his first marriage. The fallout of his further two marriages seen Parker’s addiction only worsen still. In the early 1950’s, Parker had two children with Chan Richardson, Pree, who tragically only lived to be two, and Baird. Around the same time, Parker was arrested for possession of heroin which led to his cabaret card being revoked, preventing him from playing in the New York City clubs.
Parker’s reputation amongst the club owners had been so damaged that they wouldn’t allow him to play, leading Parker to take two attempts on his own life in 1954 by drinking iodine. Following this, Parker’s physical and mental state was deteriorating and on 12th March 1955, he suffered from an ulcer attack. After refusing to go to hospital, he died of lobar pneumonia and the devastating effects of long term substance abuse. Find sources to back up facts. ‘AMY QUOTE’. Amy Winehouse was born in London in 1983 and grew up in a family surrounded by jazz musicians.
She was influenced from a young age by artists including James Taylor to Sarah Vaughan and took a strong liking to American hip-hop and R&B. Her first album, “Frank” showed a flawless combination of these musical genres, as well as pop and soul, generating a critically acclaimed album reaching double platinum status. However, it was around this time that her oomed relationship with alcohol and drugs became evident and her turbulent relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil, who ‘admitted to introducing Winehouse to hard drugs’ (ref) began.
In 2006, Winehouse’s friends, family and record company became increasingly concerned with her well-being and recommended that rehab may be necessary, her refusal lead to her writing the hit single “Rehab” which became a top 10 hit in the UK. Throughout her career, Winehouse went from strength to strength. “Back to Black” was titled the best selling album of 2007 and in 2008, she became the first British singer to win five Grammy’s in one night. Her success however, was overshadowed by her relationship with alcohol and drugs. Winehouse had several run ins with the law and was even denied a US visa for ‘use and abuse of narcotics’.
In 2007, she was hospitalised after overdosing on heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, ketamine, whisky and vodka. (ref) In the final years of her career, Winehouse’s phenomenal talent was overlooked due to her drug and alcohol abuse and on July 23rd 2011 aged 27, Winehouse died of alcohol poisoning. In this essay, I will be discussing why popular culture is intrigued y tragedies such as these and I will be looking at the psychology behind why the human mind is so fascinated with such events. Kurt Cobain was the lead vocalist and guitarist in Nirvana.
He led a very public battle with drug addiction which, at times, overshadowed his outstanding musical talent, much like in Amy Winehouse’s case. Cobain had a relatively normal upbringing, born in Aberdeen, Washington in 1967. Cobain was nine years old when his parents split and from this time, he became more of a troubled child than in his happier, earlier years. His relationship with father was unstable and ears, he was regularly moving in between different relatives homes and felt rejected by both his friends and family, Cobain discovered marijuana, which he would use as an escape from his tormented mind. ough his teen It wasn’t until Cobain attended a Melvin’s gig that he became interested in punk rock, he was so awe-inspired and it was that moment that he realised how badly he wanted to start a band, ‘1 was lucky to find Kris at the time. A few years after we’d been hanging out, I made a tape of some punk rock songs l’d written… he really liked it, and he suggested we start a band’ (ref book pg 7) 1988 marked the beginning of his musical career, Nirvana were signed by Sub-Pop records, a small independent company with whom they released their first track, “Love Buzz”.
However, it was already at this early stage of Cobain’s career that his relationship with harder drugs developed. He tried heroin for the first time in 1987, and proceeded to use it ten more times in the following three years, ‘Mr Cobain started using heroin regularly in late 1991-at first, he has said, to relieve debilitating stomach pain’ (Book Nirvana pg 156). Cobain was also suffering from reoccurring nightmares which he later dmitted to in an interview with Darcey Steinke ‘Extremely upsetting, apocalyptic dreams, all the time… almost every night. none stop death’ (https://www. youtube. om/watch? v=06L-XEec4uQ) The next few years for Cobain would only prove to become increasingly more dramatic, Nirvana quickly became popular with the release of their second album “Nevermind”, topping the Billboard charts in America and Cobain’s own song- writing talents, were not going unnoticed, ‘Kurt Cobain’s ability to write songs with such strong hooks was the crucial ingredient in Nirvana’s eventual world wide appeal’ (UPM pg 51).
Cobain became an icon for rebellion, and due to his popularity, was highly influential to his fan base, ‘he despised the audience for being “brainwashed” cosumers. (RandN pg181) Cobain was not quiet about his loathing of interviews, he didn’t appreciate the media focusing more on his style and behaviour over his music and lyrics. For Cobain, music had once been an escape from the torturous, recurring nightmares and the futile thoughts of the world, but the further his career advanced, the less control he had over his own music and his addiction worsened. In 1992, Cobain married Courtney Love and in that same year welcomed their first child, Frances Bean Cobain.
Their joy would be short lived though, as Vanity Fair posted an article, accussing Courtney of taking heroin during her pregnancy, They filed a legal report on me based on Vanity Fair and nothing else, no other… evidence, that I was an unfit mother’ (Nirvana book pg 133). The couple regained custody of Francis, but were closely monitored. Towards the end of Cobain’s career, he attempted to have a more positive attitude and stated in an interview that he was looking for ‘more optimistic conclusions’, (find quote or ref vid) nd even reordered a live session, “Unplugged in New York”.
However, it seemed as though Cobain’s demons could not leave him alone at any point in his career, to enjoy his success. On March 4th 1994, Cobain took an attempt on 67 Rohypnol and fell into a coma, he survived. Tragically, it only took Cobain one month to take another attempt on his life. On own life taking April 5th 1994, Cobain shot himself and was killed instantly, aged 27. Both Amy Winehouse and Kurt Cobain died at the age of 27, and found themselves a place in The 27 Club’; a fan based conspiracy theory that links the untimely death of tragic usicians, including Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.
All of which were said to be great minds of their generations and ‘in their short lives each made an enormous impact (biography. com). Conspiracies such as this give one an insight into the human mind, how we are fascinated and, at times, obsessed with shocking, tragic and eerie subject matters. Eric G. Wilson discusses his ideas on the psychology of morbid curiosity, ‘Morbid curiosity, morose delectation, schadenfreude. As conventional wisdom has it, these are the symptoms of our dark side; we succumb to them at our own peril.
And yet we are ompelled to look whenever we pass a grisly accident on the highway, and there’s no slaking our thirst for gory entertainments like horror movies and police procedurals’ (https://www. psychologytoday. com/blog/morbid- curiosities). Wilson discusses how even though we are aware of our fascination with tragedy, we try to ignore our sub-conscious, morbid curiosity in order to conform to societies acceptable standards, ‘ the impulsiveness of the child, who gawks at whatever seizes his attention, and the adult’s social awareness, based on a fear of giving offense. ‘ (https:// www. psychologytoday. m/blog/morbid-curiosities/201111/the- moral-the-morbid).
Sigmund Freud began this type of psychoanalysis back in the early 20th century, identifying the instinctive drives in the human mind. One of which he identified as Thanatos, a basic human instinct which focuses on death and morbidity and is links with fear, anger and hatred. Freud discussed how this drive moved towards an earlier state, such as non-existence, ‘The aim of all life is death… inanimate things existed before living ones’ (Freud 1920) (http://changingminds. org/disciplines/ psychoanalysis/concepts/life_death_drives. htm)
Taking both Wilson and Freud’s psychoanalyis’ into consideration, it could be argued that popular culture is so facisnated by the tragic lives of countless musicians due to an area of the brain we aren’t even aware of. Our sub-concious draws us in, we feel the natural desire to empathise and create closer bonds with other people by understanding their pain and suffering.
In a recent study at Ohio University, students examined people’s reaction to the film “Atonement” which, ‘revealed that the film triggered thoughts about the viewers’ own relationships. It stimulated empathy, “reinforcing pro-social values”. http://www. oliverburkeman. com/blog/posts/thepsychology-of-morbid-curiosity) Oliver Burkeman suggests that the reason we are so fascinated by death, may only be the desire to feel more alive. From Marylin Monroe to Kurt Cobain, the untimely death of these stars has seemingly been romanticised. Lana Del Rey recently found herself being called up by Cobain’s only daughter Frances.
Del Rey had stated in an interview with the Guardian, “I wish I was dead already” which lead to Frances to speak out publicly, stating that “the death of young musicians is nothing to romanticize”. ttp://www. rollingstone. com/music/news/lanadel-rey-explains-i-wish-i-was-dead-quote-to-frances-beancobain-20140624) Del Rey, however, is not the first nor last of us to romanticise such events. “It’s better to burn out than to fade away”, a lyric from Neil Young’s “My My, Hey Hey” which was famously quoted in Cobain’s suicide note. Their seems to be a fascination with great musicians dying young, it could be argued that their image of greatness is persevered, and will hold it’s place in time forever, leaving no time for a slow demise or detereration.
There is sufficient evidence to argue that all of these points contribute to popular music’s fascination with tragic events. Whether it be a chemical reaction inside our brains, causing us to act in a way in which we have no control over. It could be argued that the loyalty of fans in popular music plays a large contribution to the persistant interest in cases such as Cobain, Winehouse and Parker. One might suggest that both of these points are relevant and that the allure of heart-breaking stories will always be a thought-provoking topic, at the fore-front of popular music.