The Death of Amy Winehouse

by BINOY KAMPMARK

The writing was on the wall even before news came of the Saturday demise of Amy Winehouse at the age of 27.  Her ‘unexplained’ death (or was it a broken heart?) at such a tender age paralleled that of others who perished before reaching the age of 30.  The door to the 27 club has a tendency to open at rare moments, but exceptional additions do take place.  The club’s membership includes, as various commentators have noted, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix.

That said, the discussion is already taking place as to whether she even deserves to be ushered in that ‘club’.  Even as the body is still warm, the pundits are chattering about whether she truly deserves her role in that exclusive necropolis of talent.  Again, the act of dying early and dying young tends to feed the hagiographers.  A few albums under one’s belt is certainly no buffer against sainthood, especially if one is someone like Jeff Buckley.  Winehouse has such triumphs as Back to Black to point to, but she might have had several more in her.

Winehouse was always going to be the music industry’s soft spot, an easy target for the press vultures keen to find copy and fill columns. Vulnerable, mad, and plunging into drug and alcohol filled depths with seemingly no visible bottom, she was always going to be easy game.  In January 2007, a review in the Village Voice by Amy Linden summed up the Winehouse effect even as her smoky voice was starting to fill the airwaves.  Even then, Linden would note how, ‘as the knockout set went on she appeared increasingly tentative and distracted.  Whether chatting to her backup singer while he was still backup singing, continuously adjusting her waterfall hairpiece, nervously tugging up her frock’ making her look ‘like a Motown-informed cross between Fiona Apple and Pete Doherty’.

In terms of her musical presence, commentators saw her as typifying the post-soul era, or at the very least one who gave it renewed force by incubating it in a British setting.  The Dap Kings, for instance, shored up Winehouse, filling out her Grammy nominations.  Musically, she was to be taken seriously.

That said the torrid personal life of the bruised singer can be its own combustible fuel.  Could Winehouse have existed on her music alone, a stable figure putting lyrics together in an untroubled existence? Such questions can never be answered.

Her mournful tones and themes were very much her own.  Composers often create their music in order to mirror a tragedy, if not live it.  But the personal can become banal, the material of tabloid worth.  Did she vomit on her breakfast buffet on a trip to St. Lucia?  Did she send a few seniors to their graves by dancing topless on a balcony?  Even Maclean’s (Mar 23, 2009) would note how Winehouse’s ambition to learn driving was encouraged to keep her sober.  Besides, a tarnished image might not be such a bad thing.  The public relations wonks at Fred Perry may well have had other things on their minds when they signed Winehouse to be their brand ambassador.  And what of PPQ and the party hounds?

As is so often with such figures, dying need not only fill shrines but pockets.   Record sales have spiked.  But as she is laid to rest, one can only wonder whether it would have been better had she remained a brilliant singer rather than a deeply troubled star.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

 

 

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
July 31-33, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie and the Sandernistas
John Pilger
Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice
Roberto J. González – David Price
Remaking the Human Terrain: The US Military’s Continuing Quest to Commandeer Culture
Lawrence Ware
Bernie Sanders’ Race Problem
Andrew Levine
The Logic of Illlogic: Narrow Self-Interest Keeps Israel’s “Existential Threats” Alive
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Kos, Bodrum, Desperate Refugees and a Dying Child
Paul Street
“That’s Politics”: the Sandernistas on the Master’s Schedule
Ted Rall
How the LAPD Conspired to Get Me Fired from the LA Times
Mike Whitney
Power-Mad Erdogan Launches War in Attempt to Become Turkey’s Supreme Leader
Ellen Brown
The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion
Stephen Lendman
Russia Challenges America’s Orwellian NED
Will Parrish
The Politics of California’s Water System
John Wight
The Murder of Ali Saad Dawabsha, a Palestinian Infant Burned Alive by Israeli Terrorists
Jeffrey Blankfort
Leading Bibi’s Army in the War for Washington
Geoffrey McDonald
Obama’s Overtime Tweak: What is the Fair Price of a Missed Life?
Brian Cloughley
Hypocrisy, Obama-Style
Robert Fantina
Israeli Missteps Take a Toll
Pete Dolack
Speculators Circling Puerto Rico Latest Mode of Colonialism
Ron Jacobs
Spying on Black Writers: the FB Eye Blues
Paul Buhle
The Leftwing Seventies?
Binoy Kampmark
The TPP Trade Deal: of Sovereignty and Secrecy
David Swanson
Vietnam, Fifty Years After Defeating the US
Robert Hunziker
Human-Made Evolution
Shamus Cooke
Why Obama’s “Safe Zone” in Syria Will Inflame the War Zone
David Rosen
Hillary Clinton: Learn From Your Sisters
Sam Husseini
How #AllLivesMatter and #BlackLivesMatter Can Devalue Life
Shepherd Bliss
Why I Support Bernie Sanders for President
Louis Proyect
Manufacturing Denial
Howard Lisnoff
The Wrong Argument
Tracey Harris
Living Tiny: a Richer and More Sustainable Future
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
A Day of Tears: Report from the “sHell No!” Action in Portland
Tom Clifford
Guns of August: the Gulf War Revisited
Renee Lovelace
I Dream of Ghana
Colin Todhunter
GMOs: Where Does Science Begin and Lobbying End?
Ben Debney
Modern Newspeak Dictionary, pt. II
Christopher Brauchli
Guns Don’t Kill People, Immigrants Do and Other Congressional Words of Wisdom
S. Mubashir Noor
India’s UNSC Endgame
Ellen Taylor
The Voyage of the Golden Rule
Norman Ball
Ten Questions for Lee Drutman: Author of “The Business of America is Lobbying”
Franklin Lamb
Return to Ma’loula, Syria
Masturah Alatas
Six Critics in Search of an Author
Mark Hand
Cinéma Engagé: Filmmaker Chronicles Texas Fracking Wars
Mary Lou Singleton
Gender, Patriarchy, and All That Jazz
Patrick Hiller
The Icebreaker and #ShellNo: How Activists Determine the Course
Charles Larson
Tango Bends Its Gender: Carolina De Robertis’s “The Gods of Tango”