Saturday, July 23, 2011

I'M SORRY, AMY WINEHOUSE. Back when I was crushing copy for the Voice, I sometimes had a bit of fun with the antics of Amy Winehouse. Her bizarre behavior and drug escapades made for good copy.

As you may imagine, I feel kind of bad about it now.

It's a bitter kind of amusement to joke about musicians headed for an early death, and musicians sometimes play along. Lou Reed once finished neck-and-neck with Keith Richards in a poll of likely casualties, and Reed deadpanned that he was proud to be mentioned in the same breath as Keef, "a real rock star." To an extent this is whistling in the dark. Sometimes people who dance on the edge successfully complete the performance and move to firmer ground, and the examples of the survivors (like Reed and Richards) insulate us from the possibility that the dancer may take a very hard fall. It's all fun and games until someone loses a life.

I make a joke now and again about the possibility of my own untimely demise (though it's getting a little late for that). This is a leftover from my punk rock days, when I was living a good deal harder than I do now, and more inclined to romantic, Wertherian broodings. (The title of the unfinished third Reverb Motherfuckers album was Goodbye Cruel World, and I blush to think of some of the lyrics I wrote for it.) When you tend that way, you don't always know how serious you are about it until life gives you a clue. The examples of some people who went all the way helped convince me that in matters of self-destruction I was a mere poseur. Now, though I sometimes sink into despair, I'm less likely to act it out. But the pose has stayed with me in the domesticated form of a writer's schtick. Does everything seem ridiculous and beyond hope? Well, then, there's always oblivion, a good card to play when nothing else seems to work.

It's easy to forget that some of us aren't playing. All I really know about Winehouse is that she was ferociously talented, a very good songwriter and a great singer. I like Back in Black but only ever owned Frank, which I'm listening to now. Her idiom was old-fashioned but she inhabited it fully; it was the product of great craft but also wholly natural; you can hear her taking pleasure in her own sound without abandoning the meaning of her songs. Her work always had more than one thing going on in it. When the songs were moody, her pleasure lifted them; when they were playful, her craft gave them ballast. ("Fuck Me Pumps" would sound much cheaper without it.)

As a million second-rate chanteuses have shown, this is no mean feat. It's the kind of mastery that makes you believe the singer can do anything. When she started to fall, some of us thought it was something her talent, or some innate respect for it, would pull her back from. When she stayed down, some of us still couldn't take it seriously. Now the seriousness is inescapably proven, and along with the regret that comes with the passing of any major artist, I feel regret that it took this to convince me. Celebrities aren't friends, and we're not obliged to act as if they were. In fact it's presumptuous to do so. But, generally speaking, it's never a good thing to treat the sufferings of another human being as if they were unimportant.

UPDATE. All of the comments are good, but I would draw your attention to that of BigHank53. Go look; I won't do it the violence of excerption.

UPDATE 2. Great tribute by Maura Johnston at Sound of the City.

UPDATE 3. I'm taking What Would Tyler Durden Do off the blogroll. I've long appreciated his harshness, but this is bullshit.

No comments:

Post a Comment