When I heard the news that Amy Winehouse had been found dead in her London home yesterday, I immediately wondered and hoped that it was a mistake. That it wasn’t is heartrending and provides the most tragic possible conclusion to an already terribly sad story.
What I have a tough time understanding is how this moment hadn’t been seen as more of a foregone conclusion. Her decline has been so absolute that I wonder why more of an effort wasn’t made to try and help her. Then again, maybe there were countless attempts made that I’m just not aware of. I don’t know.
It seemed a few months ago like 2011 might be Amy’s year to come back triumphantly into the spotlight. She’d played some strong shows in Brazil and there was finally talk about her third album actually being tinkered with. Then, she played a disastrous show in Belgrade where she was clearly intoxicated and things were suddenly in doubt all over again.
There’s a terrible public fascination with celebrity screw-ups, particularly female celebrity screw-ups. The Lindsey Lohans, Britney Spears, and Paris Hiltons become a strange kind of twisted diversion where ordinary people with ordinary problems can look out and say, “My life may be messed up, but I’m not nearly as messed up as she is.” It’s due in no small part to people eating things like that up that they continue. Public frenzy + demand for pictures/info = an insane amount of media attention. These poor people are hounded wherever they go and whatever they do. If you knew that you were being watched when you got drive-thru, not to mention when you went out on a Saturday night, how do you think you’d react? Do you think it’d be terribly conducive to helping you make better decisions about an already unstable life?
I hope that people will look back at her short 27 years of life and see more than the hopelessly lost woman who made headlines. Amy Winehouse was a fabulous musician with tremendous talent for vocal phrasing that made one of the finest soul albums in modern memory. That album, Back to Black, is full of songs that sound like they could have been at home on an Otis Redding or Aretha Franklin record. One of the things about Amy that I’ve always appreciated was the fact that she wrote her own material. She wasn’t the figurehead at the head of a publicity stunt to make a “star” a la the Spice Girls or the American Idol media machine. No, these fabulous soul songs were hers. She wasn’t just serving as a mouthpiece for what someone else had to say. They were HER thoughts and her emotions that she was trying to communicate. In an age of so many talented singers who seem to value technical skill more than an honest communication of emotion, Amy was a rarity.
And her voice . . . what do I say? If you sat in a dark room having no clue who she was or what she looked like, I’d have thought that she was a bodacious, curvaceous black woman from Brooklyn, not a skinny, white Jewish girl from London with a beehive. That’s the one of the beautiful things about first impressions. They’re only shadows and possibilities of what might be. The truth is often so much more exciting than that.
In conclusion, I’m grateful for the impact that Amy Winehouse has had on popular music. Would someone like Adele be 2011’s top seller to date without Amy having gone before her? I have my doubts. More importantly, I’m grateful for the impact that Amy Winehouse has had on my record collection.
My thoughts go out to her family and friends in this time of sadness.
My favorite AW song.