1983 – 2011
“If I died tomorrow, I would be a happy girl.” - Amy Winehouse
“My justification is that most people my age spend a lot of time thinking about what they’re going to do for the next five or ten years. The time they spend thinking about their life, I just spend drinking.” – Amy Winehouse
“I only write about stuff that’s happened to me.. stuff I can’t get past personally. Luckily, I’m quite self-destructive.” – Amy Winehouse
In our lives there are many musicians that’ll mean something to us, but only a few attach themselves eternally to our souls. For me, Amy Winehouse was one of those performers. I listen to Amy Winehouse every day. Her pictures hang on my walls, her image is branded on articles of clothing, an autographed photo of her hangs in my office, her music is in my car, my CD player, my MP3 player and on my computer. She is always accessible, always there. I listen to her music through every emotion of every day. She greets me in the morning, and she sings me to sleep at night. I talk about her in every music conversation I have, but it often seems that I am faced with more people who know of her notoriety then they do her music. If they did then they wouldn’t have to say “Amy Winehouse? She’s a sketched out crack whore.” Well, perhaps that is the truth, but that sketched out chick can sing, and I happen to love that crack whore. But I don’t need to defend Amy anymore. My heart is still in my throat and a pain is in my chest as I write this because Amy Winehouse’s song ended today, and her death at the age of 27 ensures that she’ll always be a legend.
Ironically, if it hadn’t been for her notoriety she probably would have never entered my world. With little faith in the current industry, I’m not a man with his thumb on what’s happening on the music scene. Thus, when stories of Amy Winehouse’s dramatic lifestyle of drugs and alcohol abuse began to cross my radar over and over again, I decided that perhaps it was time to actually take a listen and see what all the fuss was about. By this time Amy had already released two albums and won five Grammy Awards. Obviously I was a little late to the party. Late, but once I heard Amy for the first time her music had a powerful effect on me. It flew me to the moon. It continues to fly me to the moon every time I hear her. Listening to Amy was like if I had heard music for the first time in my life. I can only think of two or three other artists who had ever had that effect on me, and even then when I was much younger. Amy Winehouse was something so different and so special. Here was this little white British girl who could sing like Billie Holiday, had the soul of Aretha Franklin, the power of Mahalia Jackson and wrote songs as blunt and real as Lou Reed. She wasn’t doing anything new as much as finding a new way of doing something retro. She was harnessing the spirit of Phil Spector’s girl groups and fusing it with a little bit of jazz, a little bit of soul, a little bit of pop and making it something her very own. With her trademark bee hive and large fake eyelashes, she had an eccentric style that separated her from the generic pop princesses that littered the musical landscape, and emerged as a truly talented and evolved performer, inspiring young female singers world wide who didn’t want to be just another girl with a guitar, or a bubble head pop tart. Amy Winehouse was something all her own, but as a result walked in a world completely alone.
So why Amy? I suppose it comes down to this. I am a man who tends to internalize my own pain, loneliness and insecurities. These are feelings that everyone everywhere shares, but I feel that to show them is a sign of weakness. But I am a man who lives alone, has had far too many heart breaks and bad romances then he’d care to admit and feels the same pain that everyone goes through. But through Amy Winehouse’s music I found a way to harness that pain on a daily basis. The overall themes in Amy’s music are about love gone wrong and about living in a lonely world that doesn’t understand you – two things that I know plenty about. I can’t say that I ever connected to the actual lyrics in Amy’s songs, but the overall sorrow and darkness and heartache and alienation match my darkest of moods. She speaks to a side of my psyche which I keep hidden from the world, but is far more real then the façade that I reveal to the public. Via Amy’s music I’m able to turn my sorrows into joy, my pain into perseverance and my heartache into numbness. It’s as if her music heals all my inner wounds so that I can continue to walk through this world as if I am unscathed and undamaged.
But if Amy’s music helps heal the wounds of the world, its effect on herself was like the portrait of Dorian Grey. While her fans found solace in her tortured lyrics, Amy’s mind and body suffered from her long and public history with drugs, alcohol, self mutilation, depression and mental health issues. Amy was far too gone for anybody to ever help her, and despite entering rehab again, and again, she couldn’t get herself together. Why couldn’t she get help? Perhaps she had lost all faith in herself that she could ever do it. Perhaps she just didn’t want to. Perhaps she got off of the high and the drama. While her music numbed my pain, drugs and alcohol numbed hers, and through her own tortured soul she was able to write the songs, and hit the emotional chords, that touched the hearts of her fans. It was a vicious cycle. Amy’s personal hell made her the artist that she was, and we all got off on it. Did Amy suffer for her music, or did she just suffer? Whatever was the case, her lifestyle created her music, but killed her in the process.
But even at her worst Amy Winehouse was still better then some artists at their best. Last month I received a bootleg of her disastrous concert in Belgrade, which was reported to be so bad that it cancelled her long awaited European tour. Although it was clear that Amy was, once again, completely unhinged, shattering reports that she had cleaned up and was working on a new album, she was still able to finish her songs, and although wobbly, was able to bring forth the same amount of power and pathos to her performance. She had the same power of an aging and cracked out Judy Garland at the end of her career, in which a whole subculture supports and adores. Even when wasted she was still, clearly, Amy Winehouse and I was still blown away by her power and perfection. I know that I would have paid good money to see a show that was even that bad. Perhaps it was Amy at her worst, but it was also Amy at her rawest. Unfortunately it would be the final performance that Amy ever gave, and an unappreciative audience booed her off the stage. Hopefully those in attendance now realize what they were really watching now that it is gone.
In what is probably the most crass and cynical statement I ever made, I have said on many occasions that at this point in Amy’s career she had two options to stay on top – she could get her act together and complete another album, or she had to die while still on the public radar. To maintain a status in the public an artist needs more then two albums. However, if Amy kept upon her path of self destruction, burning herself out after only two albums and dying twenty years later of a drug related death long after anybody cared she’d just become another Nico – alone and unknown on a slab while the world doesn’t even notice. Yet a death while still in the public sphere would ensure her to have a legendary status, much in the same vein of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison or Kurt Cobain. It’s the difference between being a major headline and considered a cultural loss, or becoming a page five obituary and a curiosity. It’s better to die young then to burn out. I hoped for another album, a world tour and to finally get a chance to see Amy in concert, but in my heart I knew it’d be the other way around.
But now Amy’s short and angst filled life is over. But lets not allow sentimentality over Amy blind us to the fact that most of the time she caused her own pain. Her inability to work beyond her demons and addictions, and to lose her life to drugs, alcohol and mental disease destroyed her as an entire world sat by and watched. Now the flood of Amy Winehouse jokes will begin, the cynical remarks that “we all saw it coming” and, of course, the phony adoration from the same people who called her a “crack whore” a month ago but claims they were always her fans now that shes gone. But in my world Amy Winehouse still lives on in her words and her music, singing to me in her sweet and dark melodies like an angel from my stereo speakers. A career spanning eight years, two albums and a hand full of bootlegs and demos, Amy Winehouse made a body of work like no other, and which will forever be amongst the most important music of my life.
“I wish I could say no regrets,
And no emotional debts,
Cause as we kiss goodbye the sun sets,
So we are history,
The shadow covers me,
The sky above a blaze that only lovers see,
He walks away,
The sun goes down,
He takes the day but I’m grown,
And in your way,
My blue Shade,
My tears dry on their own,”
- Amy Winehouse, “Tears Dry On Their Own”