The previous night was the highlight of my summer -I was visiting my hometown and met up with some old friends, including my high school crush. Since my ten-year-reunion (which I didn’t attend) I’ve made it a point to look up my old gang whenever I’m not tourwhoring it through town. The night started with a small group, just four of us, and within a couple of hours it was down to just me and HSC. So we decided to hit a bar in the gayborhood called Woody’s (too clichè, I know). There was some country pop spinning, and the line-dancing crowd (which I had previously disdained) was tearing up the floor with furious footwork. I was a good sport and let him teach me a few of the dances (a barn dance, and a reel, and a basic two-step) while his buddies cheered us on. Then after sitting a few out to catch a beer …and my breath, watching him work the floor, he pulls me back into the fray to slow dance -you’ve gotta understand, I’ve carried a torch for this guy for so long that my hand is a burnt and blackened ruin…
So the next day I’m sitting in my car reading over a late-night response text from him asking “Awww why don’t you?” [move back to Jersey] and trying to compose the perfect 160 character response that makes up for the fact that I totally pussied-out on telling HSC how I really feel when we were face-to-face.
Then my phone rings.
… It’s my mom.
“Did you hear they just found Amy Winehouse dead in her apartment?”
“No. Wait. What?” My brain wasn’t processing this new data.
“It says they just found Amy Winehouse dead this morning in her London apartment.”
“Wai- What the fuck?! Really??” I unabashedly cut her off, the information finally clicking into a spot where it made sense after sliding around gibberishtown for a while.
We discussed the details (which, at the time, were meager at best) for a moment more before we said goodbye with my mother admonishing me to “Be careful”, and I, the dutiful son, promising that I would do my damnedest. Then I sat and thought about Amy.
My Facebook status (“the grim eventuality has come to pass … r.i.p.”) belied the turmoil I feel about Amy Winehouse’s passing. We all could’ve guessed how it would end, but it doesn’t make the event any less tragic. Amy, while on top of the world (or at least the charts) for a minute, got a raw deal. Sure, she had money, recognition, even fame-bouying (to a point) notoriety, but at the end of the day, she didn’t have anyone who cared about her well-being enough to distract them from the plush seats of the gravy train.
She admittedly struggled with self-esteem, and after she hit the UK charts with her major-label debut, Frank, she was criticized for her weight despite being in fine shape. She was barely thick, but she wasn’t a Spice Girl and the gasbags of the British music press let her know it. Back To Black, her breakout hit that brought her international stardom was laced with warnings, the first of which being that it is an entire album about how in love she is with a man who won’t leave his current girl for her. Mitch Winehouse, her father, has admitted that he thinks he ruined his children’s lives with a longstanding affair that eventually led to him moving in with his mistress. He made little effort to conceal the situation for the eight years he stepped out on his wife (the kids knew about her and called her his “work wife”). I’m no psychologist but the old chestnut about girls seeking their dads wouldn’t be a cliche without at least a grain of truth. The lyrics of BTB are peppered with lines that scream ”somebody –anybody love me’ while winking at her depression and her disparaging idea of herself:
Back To Black: “He left no time to regret / Kept his dick wet / With his same old safe bet”
He Can Only Hold Her: “…The lights are on but no one’s home / She’s so vacant / Her soul is taken… ”
Tears Dry On Their Own: “Even if I stop wanting you, a perspective pushes through / I’ll be some next man’s other woman soon”
Hidden behind its brilliant production Back To Black‘s lyrics bespeak this sort of fatalism about her life and it’s direction. A woman dedicated to self-sabotage and seeking salvation in the wrong men for the worst reasons, which is an unremarkable circumstance until you factor in her talent. Everyone raved over her voice, myself included, but after I became a fan I realized that she was an even better lyricist than a vocalist. And that’s saying a fucking ton. In songs like Best Friends where she dissects an old friendship that’s falling apart, she touched me with imagery and cultural references that I initially didn’t fully get (not being raised in England), but despite that the weight of the lyrics combined with the simplicity of the track and the emotion of her performance made me tear up the first time I heard it.
She had a slew of songs where her lyrics spoke simply, then out of the blue a turn of phrase would layer multiple meanings onto what was just said, and she would top it all off with one of her acrobatic, though tasteful, jazz-influenced runs.
If only you could have taken some of the advice you dispensed to your own brother Alex in your song Brother
“Realize that you don’t have to answer to no man / Responsibility comes down to you
But how can I expect you to understand / When you live life like you’re so run through”
You were a wonderful singer before you adopted your latter-day m.o. of stepping onstage too blasted to stand, let alone remember your own gorgeously poignant lyrics. You were a brilliant lyricist, and I ache to hear your unreleased demos. I only wish that you had someone in your life who was strong enough and smart enough to make you love yourself; sure, you might have sacrificed some of your success for contentment, but you’d still be a genuinely brilliant talent and I’d rather you be obscure and happy than famous and dead.
A parting shot, from her debut Frank : Know You Now
Rest In Power, Amy J.
I love you.