Amy Winehouse – obituary/appreciation

The sad death of Amy Winehouse leaves a lot of ”˜what ifs’ and not enough songs.

It’s a measure of just how remarkable her second and last ”˜Back To Black’ album was that it has made such an impact. Most singers need an extensive catalogue, Amy Winehouse leaves hardly anything recorded, but will be remembered as one of the key performers of these times.

Amy Winehouse RIP

Amy Winehouse on the cusp of superstardom waits for her beehive to arrive

Never in the history of pop can someone have recorded so little and made so much impact. A whole raft of singers have got big careers on the back of Amy Winehouse who somehow found the knack of making the past sound like the future – taking the pre-pop era Sinatra and jazz standards, and pushing them into the pop mainstream. She was updating the style of those huge songs; full of emotion and raw nerve jangling beauty and making them resonate in far more cynical times.

Born in September 1983 in Southgate into a Jewish family who had a love of jazz, music was very much part of her background. She was the youngest child of Mitch Winehouse, a taxi driver, and Janis a pharmacist. She got her love of Sinatra from her father and from an early age she was singing constantly – driving her teachers mad.

She went to one of those weird showbiz schools, Susi Earnshaw Theatre School and then onto the Sylvia Young Theatre School, but coolly was kicked out for piercing her nose, but not before appearing on the BBC’s Fast Show in a crowd shot

She had one of those voices. A rare voice that cut through all the bullshit and cut through all the genres. It didn’t matter what style of music you liked – once you heard her sing you knew it was the real deal.

Dark, husky, emotionally powerful and yet vulnerable, this was a voice like no other. Her first album ‘Frank’ came out in 2003 and saw her positioned in the jazz scene; almost pushed to the side in a sub genre, the songs were good and her voice already had that power but it was with the follow up 2006’s ‘Back To Black’ that she really made her impact.

Marrying her amazing vocals to pure pop songs that she wrote herself and perfectly produced by Mark Ronson, this was a pop moment. Replacing the jazz flavour of her earlier work with the timeless genius of the girl groups and their deep and powerful songs of love and longing of emotional vulnerability with strident she-power she reinvented them for a new era.

Carefully balancing her underground smoky jazz cred with a mainstream pop and powerfully raw confessional lyrics of sex, love, longing, drugs and drinking that didn’t compromise either genre. My personal favourite ‘You Know I’m No Good’ seemed to capture everything that the album was aiming at in a dark slice of pop perfection and the album’s lead off track, ‘Rehab’ was ironically a defiant stance against drugs treatment. The album went on to sell ten million copies worldwide and catapulted a new type of pop star into the mainstream.

Amy Winehouse was an interviewers dream; the feisty North London, funny as fuck, gobshite with a cutting quip about all the mediocre talent that surrounded her – she could be cruel but funny/cruel and she was right as well l- she was gifted and they were rubbish.

She also morphed into a star – her hair piled up into a huge beehive and those tattoos on her already too skinny arms – she had the look, the suss and the dangerous aura that made her a perfect star. She looked amazing; a post grunge torch singer for the digital generation. More than just another pop chancer armed with auto-tune and ambition, this was someone who could genuinely sing and let her voice flow with an emotion that few others in the mainstream could even get close to.

The problem is that she also had the drink and the drugs – the baggage that seems to come with instant celebrity; perhaps starting out as fun or perhaps masking those emotional frailties. Her then husband and the love of her life Blake Fielder-Civil seemed to be leading her into darker waters and the five years since the album’s release were littered with, ironically, rehab- especially after the defiant song of the same name that was lead off track from the album. There were comebacks and attempts to record the third album, stops and starts and false promises.

Tapes of the third exist and no doubt it will get released- all who have worked on it claim that it isn’t the greatest work but maybe the context will add something to it.

The past half decade since her international stardom saw her become the butt of a tabloid joke- headlines about her drinking and drugs and cartoons of her falling about everywhere- strange that when a male rocker behaves like this it’s cool but if a woman singer goes doollaly it’s a joke. She clearly needed help but became a joke figure trapped and forlorn in the fallout of the dark side of celebrity. The curse of drink and drugs had got her and she could find no way out.

Her last gig in Belgrade looked a mess, fuck knows why she was attempting a comeback at such a big gig, maybe she should have retired or got clean but drugs are a sickness and a sickness with no clear-cut cure. They are messy and a deep and dark trough that is initially attractive and eventually full of despair. They are certainly not a place where tabloid cackling and getting the rough looking shot is the cure.

The only upside is that she left a small but amazing body of work that will be ultimately what she will be remembered for and maybe a chance to be more understanding of the problems face by people with drink and drug problems.

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5 comments on “Amy Winehouse – obituary/appreciation”

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  1. I’d disagree that when a male star does this it’s automatically cool. The analogous example that sprung to my mind is Pete Doherty, who is popularly perceived as an utter trainwreck – another enormously musically talented person who is just too susceptible to the damn drugs.

    What can we do for people in this situation?

  2. Alan A Hillier

    Us Brits do black humour like no one else. Unfortunately the \’jokes\’ are flying about already, but this particular commentator is not joining in the mirth. The death of Amy Winehouse is a complete tragedy and we have lost one of the greatest artists of her generation. There was nothing like her………..

    We all know that not all musicians are junkies, but what is apparent is that with success and with the fame that goes with that success the \’sweeties\’ are on offer and with the ability to stop worrying about paying the bills, \’Some\’ just enjoy the ride into oblivion
    John has summed it up…………Fucking tragedy

  3. Brilliantly written piece… A complete tragedy but sadly inevitable .

  4. A fair tribute and obituary to an artist eaten alive by the machine that propelled her career. I was never a fan, I liked her style but her voice was not for my ears, but I admired her talent. As her addiction grew she became that car crash that so many of the people eulogising about her now were so keen to ogle at. It is that old fading glamour that people love to watch, a living soap opera played out in the tabloids and through social media, but that is never the real person, addiction is pain, our culture glamourises that pain and celebrates that death, and the industry is revitalised in the death of its stars like some ritual sacrifice of the deity for the sake of the harvest.
    I saw her in Camden a few times before she was really famous, she was standing on the corner waiting even then. She already had what the dealers wanted. It happens to most bands, they sign the contract and then the dealers and pimps materialise, the business cards are proffered – anything you need, ring this number. And there is always the man with the credit card, whose job it is to pay the tab, and a car with blacked out windows when they need to reel you in.

  5. Enough with the’drugs’ and over-active imaginations bullshit already. It was the booze that got her

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