Too much, too young
It may have been inevitable, but that still doesn’t make it any easier to believe: Amy Winehouse died on Saturday afternoon at the age of 27. Talented and tormented, Winehouse leaves behind a fantastic album (“Frank”), a magnificent album (“Back …
It may have been inevitable, but that still doesn’t make it any easier to believe: Amy Winehouse died on Saturday afternoon at the age of 27. Talented and tormented, Winehouse leaves behind a fantastic album (“Frank”), a magnificent album (“Back to Black”) and a lot of sighs and thoughts from those who were touched by that talent about what-might-have-been. What might have been a long, chequered career, full of superb songs and new standards. What might have been a new musical star shining brighter and bolder and better than the others in the firmament. What might have been something other than what it was.
But it wasn’t to be – and it was probably never going to be – anything like that. Instead of leaving us with a huge catalogue of great music, Winehouse leaves behind just tabloid headlines and those photos of a woman who looked old and wasted and lost beyond her years. It’s the chaotic Winehouse of the drink and drugs, Winehouse of the gigs which she should never have done because she was in no fit state to do them, Winehouse of the heartaches and heartbreaks. It would probably have made a great song or songs, but it was quickly apparent after “Back to Black” that she was never going to get it together to release another album (no doubt, demos of that third album will be on release schedules within 12 months to cash in on another young musical death). The fantastic talent had been lost to the self-inflicted troubles.
There has been a lot of tired, silly chatter over the weekend about this mythical 27 club which she’s now joined alongside Joplin, Jones, Hendrix, Morrison and Cobain, other artists who died at the age of 27. That sort of deluded romanticism around great artists dying young is a part of rock’n'roll lore which leaves me cold and angry. Anyone dying young is not something to be celebrated, yet artists who die at 27 are often more highly lauded than some who don’t clock out early. It may sound cynical, but the music industry often prefers dealing with the estate of a deceased artist than the real thing because there’s fewer rows over creative control and artistic direction. The industry also prefers to pitch and project the rebels and their bad-boy or bad-girl allure because it all feeds into this awful, cliched, mythical charade about what we’re supposed to want from our larger-than-life rock’n'roll characters.
Winehouse was a hugely talented artist, but she was also hugely messed up with drink and drugs taking their toll on her. In the end, though, it was success as much as anything else which probably accelerated her journey towards an early demise as she found herself surrounded by yes-men and enablers, those who regarded her as their meal ticket, who leeched off her talent and waywardness. Sure, she was an adult and well capable of making her own decisions when it came to wanton binges and appetites, but it’s hard to see if anything was done to protect her from herself.
I watched YouTube footage of that last gig in Belgrade last night for the first time and it was horrific car-crash viewing. Winehouse was not in any condition to play that show or do an European tour, yet agents, promoters and managers, people who she hired to help her make business decisions, thought otherwise. There just didn’t appear to be anyone who was thinking about the person rather than the pay-cheque. You may think that the crowd were cruel to boo her offstage at that gig in Serbia, but they probably wanted a show rather than the spectacle which always went with Winehouse. Some, of course, went to a Winehouse live show hoping that she and her beehive and tattoos would come a-cropper on those high heels and provide some voyeurism into a damaged, reckless, sad life, but there were just as many who willed her to overcome those demons. Sadly, the demons won in the end and that great potential, that amazing singer with that cracked, gravely roar of a voice, never came to pass. Let’s remember her this way instead: