Putrid Modern Hell #19

by HST UK on October 19, 2011

When I heard Amy Winehouse had died, I was not surprised; still the timing didn’t seem right. The shaky YouTube footage of the under the radar Eastern European festival appearances a few months back showcased someone on the edge, but no more than usual, Winehouse had frequently dangled her career from the cliff top. Those clips reminded me of Iggy Pop on the Tom Snyder show back in ’81, in that, it was evident a lifestyle change and dramatic reinvention was desperately needed for her. Maybe she’d find God, or take up Zumba classes and become a dancing fitness freak. The drugs and booze would be left behind, and eventually a third album would be released, and a career revival. At the time of writing this, Amy’s most celebrated work ‘Back to Black’ is the UK’s best-selling album. The career revival has come, but under tragic circumstances.

You may think that we at HST would celebrate the trashy side of Winehouse. There’s a time to celebrate low culture, particularly when the options for the creative force are limited, and all they can do is react to their surroundings. When someone realises there potential and rises above, producing a work of ‘greatness’, you don’t really want to acknowledge the fall from grace despite the evidence being available in all its gory detail.

Live fast, die young. Dying at 27 puts you in the company of rock’s biggest casualties. Most of which died within a morbidly fascinating short period of time. Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones died in July 1969. Hendrix and Joplin died a month apart in 1970. Jim Morrison July 1971. Then a few decades later the book of the ’27 Club’ got re-opened in 1994 when Kurt Cobain died.
Winehouse has more in common with Cobain than the old guard since she was a musician that existed in the age of celebrity. Every move she made was under worldwide scrutiny; whereas Cobain was trailed by MTV News, Winehouse was followed by the paparazzi and TMZ. Every public mistake and ill-advised lifestyle choice was analysed far deeper than back in the sixties and seventies when freewheeling decadence and self-destruction was almost expected.

Away from the tabloid tornado, like Cobain, Winehouse faced enormous commercial pressures that came with following up a big selling critically acclaimed album. As an artist she faced a dilemma. How could she top her last creation?

‘Back to Black’ reappearance in the charts appears underlines just how important album it was in reshaping the pop landscape, allowing current artists such as Adele the platform for global domination. Stuttering musicians like rapper stroke soul man Plan B could mimic Mark Ronson’s retro sounding production, and Salaam Remi’s contemporary melding, and reinvent themselves completely. In the UK, it was probably the most significant, and influential album of the noughties.

My favourite track from the album is ‘Tears Dry On Their Own’, I consider the song great partly because it channels the instrumentation of ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’, reminding me of the Sister Act 2 version. The defiant lyrics –
“He walks away,
The sun goes down,
He takes the day but I’m grown,
And in your way, in this blue shade
My tears dry on their own.”

recall a woman who can put on a brave face, can appear strong on the outside, however inside the vulnerabilities eat away.

We want our songwriters to craft songs that we can fit our own misshapen emotional jigsaw pieces into. If a relationship disintegrates, then I want somebody to sing that experience for me. If I hit the bottle then I want someone to eloquently describe those barfly nights. Winehouse was able to candidly appropriate her own experiences to an audience of damaged listeners, in one sense she felt alone, and alienated from her audience, however they were always closer to her then she probably thought.

This was evidenced by the mixture of peculiar gawpers and genuine grievers who stood outside her apartment lighting candles and leaving bottles of spirits, gleefully collecting hand-me-downs from Winehouse’s father Mitch. We have a tendency in this country to put on an eerie spectacle when someone dies. Our masks of repressed emotions slip, and we perform over the top displays of sadness. Call it the post-Diana response.

Touchingly it says a lot that though we poke fun, and snidely comment at the famous at their lowest, deep down we still care, and though we mock them when they are fucking up, we hope, at the end of the day they can turn things around, and re-climb that pedestal that we love to pull them down from. There is no better sight than the phoenix flying from the flames.

-RJW

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