The slow motion train wreck that was Amy Winehouse came to its inevitable conclusion with her reported death suspected from overdose in London at age 27 on July 23rd,2011. She joins a notorious group of 27 year old modern recording artists that found the combination of overwhelming fame and fragile psyche too much to survive. The brutal soup of music, nightlife, drugs and alcohol lies at the base of each tragic story and was no stranger to Amy Winehouse.
She came out of middle class mores from a jewish London family with a healthy exposure to jazz, Frank Sinatra, and 1960s soul and Motown performers that clashed with the rock trend youth culture of London. Her family recognized very early in her life two countervailing traits, a soulful voice that hearkened back to the style of Aretha Franklin and Billy Holliday, and an incorrigible personality that led Amy to do whatever she wanted when she wanted. Admitted to an artists school for advanced training she left early to seek her own way, and absorb any direction not associated with her parents. She had an obvious gift to all that listened however, and in a music world of lip synched performances and musical conformity, her throw back style and prodigious voice stood out. At age 19, her album Frank created a huge buzz and at 23 her followup Back To Black became a multi- Grammy award winning album and an international best seller. She was identified as talent on par with the greats, and world wide adulation and concert dates awaited.
No one bothered to see if Amy Winehouse was up to the pressure, and nothing in her personality suggested she was. She performed at various times late, smashed, high, incoherent and rambling and with each successive year more obviously out of control. Its difficult to identify a single performance where she wasn’t under the influence of mind altering agents, and the performance on the video below is no exception. Her mother upon hearing of her death, stated “her death was only a matter of time”. The complete absense of impulse control proved impossible for anyone in her family to intervene, and the progression from alcohol to heroin to crack cocaine to methylamphetamines proved, as it does in any case, a train wreck fullly predictable the moment it leaves the station.
So why bother to review the life of a willing, self destructive, self hateful person? It is really because of the power of musical talent to elevate that leads one to watch the train wreck unfold and hope against hope that it can be averted, that the artist can see with final clarity the gift they have, and can make full use of it to inspire. The truth is, the rescue required is an illusory dream that neither those family close enough nor the music appreciator should have any expectation to see to fruition. The musical gene, as powerful as it is, is overwhelmed by the base animal instincts to self imbibe, self pleasure, and self destroy.
Amy Winehouse may have been a star, but like so many others, she was just a shooting star.