Monday, July 25, 2011

891 Amy Winehouse (1983-2011)

891 Amy Winehouse (1983-2011)

Not since Bessie Smith died in a car crash in 1937 had there been a public voice like that of Amy Winehouse.  Smoky, dusky, tragic lyrics with wry twists and turns.

Winehouse died in a kind of car crash of her own, although she was in her London apartment at the time.  Her whole life was a car crash.  Addiction, alcoholism, who knows what psychological problems.

Some of the Winehouse “legend” was schtick, but she really was in bad shape, a lazy artist who maybe had it too easy with a hit album at the age of 19 and a voice and style that barely needed practice and rehearsal.

She was a raw-living, raw singing queen of the tabloids and people often went to her concerts to see whether during them, she’d self-destruct, which she often did.  They went to boo her and then to cheer her and to be fascinated with her as they would be watching an open cesspool that smelled like perfume.  She, like the pool, confused the senses.

Now the news reports say the fans are flocking to London to say goodbye.  No need. You can do that from home.

One moment she could be a skinny British kid who had many too many, weaving back and forth in front of the microphone, tottering on heels that were too high, legs that were spindles, her hair a black beehive after an air raid, and then she could charm you, wrap that magic sound around your ears and heart and mind and you forgot you were looking at a car bomb that could blow up in the next second.

A day earlier, Winehouse’s mother had said “she seemed out of it just the day she died.”  How do you tell?  To most of us, she always seemed “out of it.”

The speculation now centers on the question of where her music would have taken her and taken us had she lived.   Impossible to tell.  But she had the ingredients that could have finally emerged as an accomplished matured artist.  A Bessie Smith.  An Alberta Hunter. At least a Tracy Chapman.

She didn’t let her whiteness or her Jewishness or her Britishness get in the way of her art, uncommon among white Jewish girls from Britain.  Those things were crowded out by what must have been an early life in the tattoo parlor, and a later life in the throes of booze and drugs and a studied “I don’t care” attitude.

So, what’s left is her music and her memory, both startling and powerful.  Eventually, the memory will fade and so will the novelty and power.  It always does.

There’s no message in this death.  And even calling it “premature” doesn’t make sense. As her mother Janis is quoted as saying, “it was only a matter of time.”

Amy:  Back to Black

Bessie: Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2011

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