When artists cry out for help, how do we justify our silence?

I recently watched the Oscar-nominated Amy Winehouse documentary. Having gone through college at the height of both Winehouse’s popularity and notoriety, the film was uncomfortable to watch.

Of course, in retrospect, the late-night monologues that mocked the incredible singer’s substance abuse issues and eating disorders feel incredibly tone-deaf and abusive in their own right. Shouldn’t we have known better? Well, we didn’t. But at that time, Winehouse was everyone’s favorite go-to punchline and mockery — track marks were just as important as the cat eye for any complete Amy Winehouse Halloween costume.

Even after Winehouse died in 2011, we didn’t take responsibility for how we — as a culture happily gobbling up every piece of gossipy tabloid trash tossed into our mouths — all but certainly contributed to this young woman’s demise at the age of just 27. And, in the curious case of Kanye West, we arguably are doing it again.

Look, I’m not going to defend Kanye West’s misogyny. Nor his defense of a certain high-profile alleged rapist. But West’s outbursts have become so extreme and so commonplace so as to clearly suggest there’s more to the story than just some publicity-seeking rich rapper. But instead, we happily share the latest hot take on the latest Kanye incident and shake our heads: “Can you believe this guy? Who the f*** does he think he is?!”

We’re not asking the questions we should be of one of the music industry’s most innovating rappers of all time. Questions like, “Is he OK? Is he getting the help he might need? Is he surrounded by people who will see to it he gets that help, should he need it, before it’s too late?”

As Amy made painfully clear, money doesn’t buy happiness. And it doesn’t buy health. And just because an artist seems to have every tool in their box to overcome whatever challenge they are facing, not everyone is so lucky.

And not everyone is brave or savvy enough to do what they need to do to face their demons. In a interview taped last year for ABC’s Nightline show, Australian pop music genius Sia sat down to explain why she has taken the unusual approach to not exposing her face in interviews, live performances or videos.

In the interview, she explains that, in 2010, she reached a breaking point where she was struggling with her budding status as a celebrity and touring musician, and how she turned to substance abuse to cope. Not exposing her face has made it possible for her to go about her life in a way that works for her.

I couldn’t help but think back to April of that year, when I was lucky enough to interview Sia over the phone for EDGE Media, an LGBT-focused news website, amid what appears will be her final proper concert tour.

Over the phone from the back of her tour bus, Sia described how she’s “scared of people” and becoming “a bit messy, shaky and anxious.” The response struck me as a bit strange and I delved further, but, at the same time, I can’t help but feel guilty that I didn’t feel more concerned for her wellbeing. I felt detached from it, an observer, even as she articulated her feelings of unhappiness:

“When I’m doing jazz hands for these thousands of people I don’t know but for some reason have become important to me, I don’t have any energy left over for my friends or family. I used to be entertaining in my private life, the class clown and the heart of the party. I was silly and would bring everyone costumes to have fun and play board games. But I have no energy for that anymore. I’m exhausted. And that’s not really OK with me. I’ve decided that I really want to give the people I love and am close to more of my energy while working out what’s best for me in the long term.”

Sia was able to figure out a way to go about her career in a way that was healthy for her.

But people like me didn’t help her do that. People like me probably aren’t concerned for ‘Ye either, just like they weren’t for Amy. Maybe we should be.

Breathe me

It’s been a while since I last wrote on this blog, and the two-week hiatus has left with me with far too many thoughts to condense into an entry that’s even remotely cohesive, though I will try my best.

Valentine’s Day was this past Thursday, and as I celebrated my singledom with a group of friends that evening, I took a step back and looked around. Despite the fact that the pub was packed to capacity with patrons busy smiling, laughing and sipping Long Island Iced Teas, a closer look into many eyes revealed a different story: Fear, apprehension, desperation, loneliness. It seems as though no one knows who to turn to when they most need help; how to break through the walls of self-interest and idol worship — who will provide the next hug, compliment, kiss, orgasm. We are Americans; always left wanting more and better, because this is what we have grown up to value. What we don’t see, however, is that interpersonal consumerism is one of the strongest isolating and deprecating forces imaginable. When can we all just be happy being you and me?

My thoughts this week have also been with the victims of senseless violence at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill., and E.O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard, Calif. In case you missed these stories, on Tuesday, February 12, Lawrence King, an openly gay 15-year-old, was shot in the head by a classmate in Oxnard. Because he wore “feminine accessories” and makeup. Later this past week, on Thursday (the day of St. Valentine himself), five students were gunned down while many others were wounded by a shooter who attacked a lecture hall on the NIU campus.

To me, perhaps the most chilling part of the NIU tragedy is this quotation from the university’s public safety chief Donald Grady: “There were no red flags … It’s unlikely that anyone would ever have the ability to stop an incident like this from beginning.” In other words, to sum it up, “these things happen.” Complacency could not be any further removed from the route to social change.

This entry is dedicated to the memory of Larry King and the victims in DeKalb. Even acknowledging the tragedy of these shootings, however, I can’t ignore those who are dying every day in far-away areas of Africa and the Middle East as political unrest continues to result in violence in places such as Kenya, Sudan, Chad, Afghanistan and Palestine. In Kenya, 1000 people have died and 300,000 have lost their homes in the fallout from a disputed election this past December, with peace-making talks stagnating. In the continued Darfur genocide, experts estimate that 200,000 people have died, while 3.5 million have been displaced from their homes.

Lawrence King died Thursday when he was removed from life support, after being shot by a classmate Tuesday.

A photo of Lawrence King lays among flowers and gifts in his memorial.

Maybe one day we can overcome hate and injustice, but it probably won’t be anytime soon. In the meantime, care for each other and care for yourself. Volunteer. Fight for equality. And enjoy the below tunes, loosely based around the themes of love, friendship and happiness.

Download: Sia ‘Breathe Me’
Download: Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings ‘100 Days, 100 Nights’
Download: Pnau ‘Come Together’