What kind of f**kery is this?

In 2007, I was listening to the CBC on my way home from work when Matt Galloway, the afternoon guy on Here and Now, introduced me to Amy Winehouse in the form of You Know I’m No Good. It was obvious to me within the first three bars of that song that she was a force to be reckoned with. I dare anyone to listen to Me and Mr Jones and not be blown away. Four years after first hearing that amazing voice, Amy Winehouse is dead and we’re all thinking, what a waste

I’m always looking for lessons in things that happen to and around me, and I think there’s a pretty simple one here, in addition to the obvious, “youngsters, don’t play with drugs” we’ll undoubtably hear for the coming weeks and months. The big one for me: don’t squeeze to death your golden goose.

The recording industry is notorious for overlooking or in some cases actively exploiting the weaknesses of their talent. I suppose it’s true that any PR is good PR (would Anthony Weiner agree?) but it was pretty clear that Winehouse was on her way to the “stupid club” (think Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain) these last several months. Someone, anyone, should have stepped in to save her from herself and the disastrous display, and now final performance in Belgrade, where she was booed off the stage for obvious inebriation. The woman couldn’t even stand, let alone perform. Why put her in the position where she feels she has to, or worse, where she thinks she can when quite obviously, she couldn’t.

So what does Amy Winehouse have to do with a blog on communication, change and organizational effectiveness in general? A lot, actually. It’s an extreme example, but organizations put similar pressure on their talent daily, especially during change, and especially when shareholders are pressing for bigger returns. People burn out, especially our superstars. Like the flowers in the drought we’re experiencing in Canada this summer, they need constant tending, watering and care, especially when they’re under stress. Amy Winehouse needed this too, but conceivably her handlers, her A&R guy, her manager, her record company, maybe even her family, needed her to make them money. Why else would they let her on stage in that state, really?

Sure, there’s a good chance Winehouse would have died at 27 anyway; she was, after all, an adult. She wasn’t incapacitated in any traditional way, so couldn’t be forced to do what she didn’t want to do, like stay in rehab, give up live performances while she got her act together, etc. This can’t be all the recording industry’s fault; she too played a major role in her own demise. And so do the hundreds, perhaps thousands of people who suffer from exhaustion, depression, breakdowns, heart attacks as a result of work. But we do have a responsibility here too, don’t we? Call it the good samaritan responsibility, the one that tells us to step in, pull something off their plate, stop dumping stuff on them, stop relying on them so much.

One thing I will not be doing in the coming months is purchasing any posthumous Amy Winehouse recordings. She was on the hook for 3 more as part of her contract, so doubtless her producers will splice together some crazy quilt from the stuff that landed on the cutting room floor and the vultures will get their money. They just won’t get mine. And the next time I see someone drowning under the weight of overwhelming responsibility, I’ll offer a hand. That’s my nod to Amy Winehouse, and the lesson she reminded me of yesterday, the day her music died.