Amy Winehouse’s death was the least surprising shock news that could have happened.
From the moment she entered the spotlight with her debut album Frank in 2003 Amy lived much of her life in the glare of publicity, a train crash waiting to happen. While she hadn’t been in the news so often over the past couple of years, footage of her abortive concert in Belgrade last month showed that Amy had not managed to rid herself of the demons that had plagued her career.
Strangely enough, the biggest emotion I felt at her death was anger. Not anger at the paparazzi and tabloid reporters who had never given her the chance to live a normal life, nor at those who had made her troubled life even more difficult, but anger at Amy for dying far too young, way before her time. Selfish, I know, but I wanted to see the full flowering of a special talent.
Amy had a great voice, and one which could have helped her produce great music for decades to come. I think it was Jools Holland who, at the peak of her fame, said she transcended genres and eras. She could be compared not just with the great pop singers of her time, but jazz, blues, soul singers of years gone by. Had things worked out differently, Amy Winehouse could have ranked alongside the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Dinah Washington. Sadly, there will be no comeback against the odds, nor even a substantial body of work for which she can be judged by posterity.
The inevitable comparisons are being made – Joplin, Cobain, Hendrix, Morrison. All, as has been reported ad nauseum since the news broke, died at the same age as Amy. All were plagued by demons.
All except Cobain had shown signs that their most creative days were behind them. Yet they also left a considerable amount of material that meant they will be remembered for their music first, and their early deaths second. In contrast, Amy’s recorded output predominantly consists of two albums, ‘Frank’ and its equally highly-regarded follow-up ‘Back to Black’. No doubt her record company will now release every scrap of unreleased material they possess, with more emphasis on profit than quality control, but there’s no great back catalogue to give her rightful place amongst the greats.
I know this sounds shallow; a deeply troubled individual has died at a tragically young age and my prime concern is that I won’t hear any more of her music. In my own defence, I feel much more at the news. Sorrow at her death, anger at the media ghouls who followed Amy’s career in the way the eighteenth centry gentry toured Bedlam. Sympathy for her family and friends, who will be denied even the ability to grieve in private, and especially for her father Mitch, who conducted himself with enormous dignity as he watched his daughter self-destruct. Even pity for those who can only sneer – one more druggie gone, serve her right.
Amy Winehouse should be remembered for that incredibly mature voice and songwriting ability – Frank was recorded while she was still a teenager – and the way in which she helped revitalise the British music scene. Hers was a wonderful talent and its memory deserves to be respected.