RIP Amy Winehouse, 10 years on – why the little Jewish girl from London still matters.
today at 9:28 am
Legendary British singer Amy Winehouse died ten years ago this Friday, July 23rd, a member of that damnable “27 Club” that took so many artists before her – Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones, Kurt Cobain – at age 27.
Afflicted by acute alcohol addiction and the effects of years of bulimia (she had quit dope several years’ prior), Amy’s heart simply stopped, and she died alone on her bed, laptop by her side, one of its last items viewed a video of her singing on YouTube.
Winehouse’s death ended a sad, complex and cautionary tale of great talent, self-doubt, the terrible price of fame and the vicious nature of addiction when it’s not systematically treated. Even when it is, some don’t make it. They one day just run out of road.
Unforunately, Amy Winehouse’s saga took place in full view of a certain cruel public sector, as the Internet was ramping up content to satisfy the 24/7 voracious appetites of its voyeuristic hordes. As her personal issues (the addictions, a headline-grabbing violent marriage) began to overshadow her talent, the press went rabid. Often called a “train wreck,” with many performances labeled “shambolic,” Amy seemed the ‘Net’s perfect It Girl, if “It” meant someone destined to hit a wall at 80 mph. London’s notorious Fleet Street paps were especially merciless in pursuit and taunting of her, gleeful to catch her loaded or emotionally distraught. Much online content attests to this. It’s horrible to witness.
And how she hated it! Yet the press continued to the end to hunt, devour and spit her out, and she was powerless to stop them.
Amy Winehouse’s biggest hit was a song called Rehab, the infamous gist of which is that friends tried to make her go to rehab but she said No, No, No. Bitter irony, of course, in that rehab was exactly what she needed. She did end up there several times, never fully committing until the very end, but by then it was too late. Her health and voice were shot, her fragile emotions shredded.
By now you may be asking, so why did Amy Winehouse – a small, Jewish girl from North London, a hard-core addict – matter?
She mattered for the same reason that Billie Holliday, Judy Garland and Janis Joplin did before her. Addicts all, yes, but also once-in-a-generation talents of blinding brilliance. Amy truly was every bit the equal of those greats and others artists whom she worshipped, like Sarah Vaughan, Tony Bennett, Sinatra and Dinah Washington.
Hyperbole? It’s not. She wrote her own music and performed it indelibly with incredible sidemen. Her look morphed into pure 60s girl-group – skinny, giant black beehive and swoopey black eyeliner, a la Ronnie Spector – but her lyrics and sensibilities were solid London Chick of the new Millennium. She wrote amazing lyrics of modern heartache and romantic ennui better than anyone, in a soul/R&B/jazz mode that respected the past yet was utterly fresh. Amy Winehouse connected in a way that few had before her or since. She was adored by fans from the jump.
She wrote, always, with depth and humour. Her clever, sometimes bawdy lyrics could make you laugh one minute and gut you the next.
And her voice – that voice! One of the most unique ever, a throaty contralto with the depth and seasoning of the very best jazz singers. It was often said that Amy was an old soul in a young body – emphasis on soul.
Sadly, her recorded output while alive was only two albums – 2003’s Frank, and the legendary Back to Black from 2006, which was the all-time best selling album in the U.K. for years. (A posthumous album, Lioness, came out in late 2011.) Thankfully, there is a ton of concert footage online, mainly on YouTube, with many of her concerts also available on DVD.
A fine, if controversial documentary entitled Amy, by noted director Asif Kapadia, came out in 2015, not sanctioned by her family. A new BBC documentary is to air this week to commemorate the tenth anniversary of her death, and a big-screen biopic is said to be in the works, both with the family’s blessing.
As a huge Winehouse fan, I’ve heard and seen probably 99% of her available music, and read every book on her I could find. A great one came out just last month called My Amy, by her lifelong friend, Brit soul singer Tyler James. Brutally honest, he pulls no punches, yet his love for her shines. It’s my favorite of the many books on Amy. (Also very good and very honest are the two separate books written by her mother and father, both seriously misunderstood people.)
So give the girl a listen, for the first time if you don’t know her or the 50th time if you do. Delve into her fascinating life. Watch her many concerts and videos on YouTube. She’ll get in deep. You will never forget her.
RIP, Amy. May you now have the peace that so eluded you when you were here, treading your “troubled track.”
If only you truly could have believed how talented you were, how beautiful – and how loved.[embedded content] [embedded content]
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