Amy Winehouse (1983 – 2011)
Many of us were not surprised, but shocked nonetheless to learn of British soul singer Amy Winehouse’s sudden death at the age of 27. Winehouse was found dead in her London home on July 23. As is the trend these days, fans and friends of Winehouse set Twitter on fire with condolences and all the mourning one can pack into 140 characters (or fewer). Sometimes, the internet is the only place big enough to collect all the sadness that accompanies such news. The world lost a very talented person two days ago.
Although the cause of death has yet to be determined, many have speculated that Winehouse’s long and highly publicized struggle with drugs is the reason--at least in part--for her leaving this realm at such a young age. More than likely, they are right. I hope, as information emerges that will inevitably contribute to the narrative chronicling Winehouse’s last few hours--a tale that will surely reach folkloric status--that we remember a few things. First, addiction, more accurately conquering an addiction, is not a matter of will power. Addiction is a disease that has to be treated, and those of us with hubris enough to judge folks who are struggling clearly have no idea that overcoming addiction is not a matter of strength of mind. Second, as much as we might romanticize the 27 Club, not many of us want to become members. There’s a stark correlation between what troubles an artist and that which makes her great--or at least a strong belief in this seeming phenomenon. As someone who does not believe that happy art is good, I fall prey to such thinking. Winehouse’s death is a moment to reflect on such theories. Finally, fame sucks. And if you don’t believe me, look around. I cannot begin to imagine what it would be like to have your fuck-ups, your mistakes at 18, 21, 25 publicized for everyone to see.
Inevitably, (more) conversations about Winehouse’s relationship to black music and larger issues of black cultural appropriation will re-emerge. It’s my view that one might place an asterisk by the names of white British soul singers (Lisa Stansfield, Simply Red, Eurhythmics) that are uttered in such discussions. No matter what one’s opinion of Winehouse and her relationship to black music is, she was a freakishly talented singer with a deep appreciation for (black) music, more than many of her black contemporaries featured prominently on your favorite blazing hip-hop and R&B station. At the end of the day, Winehouse made timeless, unforgettable music, and sadly left an abbreviated oeuvre for generations of fans to come to know and appreciate.
May she realize the peace she could not find while living.