By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Amy Jade Winehouse was exactly the woman your mother was terrified you’d become… and nagged at you to avoid. She covered her body with old-time sailor tattoos… had a beehive style hair-do that looked like it was construction art… popped pills like juju beans… drank like a fish and then became a “bad drunk”… found men, let them abuse her, then ditched them… to do it all over again. And, if this were not enough, she experimented with every drug her international contacts could get her… then went through some more.
Yeah, she was a mess alright… but there was one redeeming grace… and that was the lady had talent… and an outsized personality that enabled her to showcase her works… and (when she was at her best) wow the folks… while changing the outmoded verities in the musical world… where she was a seismic force smoking out hypocrisies, superficialities, and any hint of silly sweetness. She was authentic to her fingertips… and that made a lot of people — including mothers with young girls — plenty nervous.
Now this volcanic force is dead, aged just 27, and we are left to wonder at why she gave up everything she loved — including her very life — to feed her destructive passions. A good place to look for clues is in her prize-winning 2007 tune “Rehab”. Go to any search engine now. Play the song once or twice, and pay particular attention to the lyrics… “They tried to make me go to rehab but I said ‘no, no, no’.” And then the kicker we all knew to be true, “Yeah, I’m outta control.” She was right… and it was the tragedy of her life.
She did what she wanted… with whom she wanted… where she wanted.. when she wanted. She knew what was acceptable behavior… she ignored it to achieve who she was. If that upset others, too bad. Her need to behave in ways you found selfish, reprehensible, ridiculous made her maddeningly impossible to be around; you never knew what was coming next… because she never knew what she’d be doing next. It was an exhausting way to live…. and no one knew it better than she did and in moments of clarity she screamed for help “I don’t ever wanna drink again”. But she did drink… and smoke… and shoot up… and inhale… engaging in every form of abuse she could think of, devise or learn from her cadre of fellow travelers, each going to hell in their own fashion….
But through it all there was the music and the talent that produced it. And if we must condemn her, let us do so for this reason: that she abused her talent, wasted her talent, insulted her talent, and treated her talent with contempt, with every injection risking it, threatening it, threatening all. For this she deserves the strongest possible condemnation…
…. Amy Winehouse knew this. But as time went on, it didn’t matter anymore… she knew she was on the road to oblivion. “Can you blame me for being a slave to my passion?” Yes, most assuredly we can… because her passion was not ingestion and self abuse (though it seemed so)… her passion was the music she created… the sound she shaped… the impacting words… these things were her passion and she squandered these with too little remorse and regret. Damn her.
Winehouse was born September 14, 1983 in the Southgate area of north London to a Jewish family whose inclination to jazz later influenced her work. She was the younger of two children (older brother Alex) of Mitchell Winehouse, taxi driver, and Janis Winehouse (nee Seaton), pharmacist. Mitchell often sang Frank Sinatra songs to young Amy, who took to a constant habit of singing to the point that teachers found it difficult keeping her quiet in class. Even then it was clear she had talent… Like other young artists there were many false starts… she got her first guitar at 13 and began writing music a year later. She also began working at this time, for openers a showbiz journalist for the World Entertainment News Network, also singing with a local group the Bolsha Band.
But her passion was the all-girl groups of the ’60’s, particularly The Ronettes, her favorite; it’s where she got her “instantly recognizable” beehive hair-do and Cleopatra make-up.
Just 20, her debut album “Frank” was released October 20, 2003. Produced mainly by Salaam Remi, many songs were influenced by jazz and, apart from two covers, every song was co-written by Winehouse. The reviews were good and brought comparisons to Macy Gray and Sarah Vaughan. In due course, “Frank” garnered a host of awards and honors… and reached platinum sales levels. The little Jewish girl from north London had her foot on the ladder… but as usual did it her way. Instead of engaging in the usual puffery, she said of this album she was just “80 percent” behind it. Her producers fumed… but the world smiled; here was a person who told the (often inconvenient) truths… and we all liked her better.
In these days, Winehouse was a prodigious worker, an artist who never tolerated the second rate in herself, or anyone else. She knew what she wanted from herself… and from you. “Back to Black” was the result, released in the U.K. October 30, 2006. It became the best-selling U.K. album in 2007, selling a staggering 1.85 million copies over the year. The money guys heard the clink of coin… and were willing to tolerate Winehouse’s often eccentric behavior because she delivered the bucks.
The most influential song on this album was “Rehab”. “Time” magazine called it the “Best Song” of 2007. Interviewer Josh Tyrangiel praised Winehouse for her confidence, saying “What she is is mouthy, funny, sultry, and quite possibly crazy,” and “It’s impossible not to be seduced by her originality.” The world agreed; prizes and honors were showered upon her… and, of course, money, lots and lots of it. All she had to do was keep her demons under control. But who can promise so much, even with the entire world and its golden prizes at stake? She still had higher to fly… the farther to fall when her punishing descent began. Let’s stay a little on the lady still ascending, for her fall is painful, distressing, the stuff of agony and dismay.
In 2008 she won Grammy Awards in the categories for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for the single “Rehab,” while her album “Back to Black” was nominated for Album of the Year and won Best Pop Vocal award. She was now well and truly at the top of the world… for an instant, until the contrary forces she had kept in balance, began pulling in opposite directions she could no longer control. Thus did mighty mayhem break loose… and Amy Winehouse lose her ascendancy in the world… and, far too soon, her life.
She was drawn to, loved, married, dallied with and tolerated, all the wrong people… the weak men who pandered to her vices and abused her body, her weaknesses and kindness; the ones who fed her pills and substances of every kind which she never needed and was unable to resist. Thanks to the constant lurid tales in the tabloids, we all saw it. Hers was a tragedy occurring before our eyes, an irresistible inevitability which at last on July 23 bore its strange fruit. The scene was dirty, squalid, disgusting… with honors, awards, trophies strewn about the place, indicators that life was vanity, all vanity. Short, ironic, painful, pride abashed and all alone.
So did Amy Winehouse kill herself, her talent and her many dreams… but she could not kill her music, rhythmic, honest to a fault, intriguing, bold. Here was the woman at her best… and now this best must stand against the ages, to remind us of her integrity and audacity, for she had these in abundance, and so should we remember her.
About the Author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc., providing a wide range of online services for small and-home based businesses. Dr. Jeffrey Lant is also the author of 18 best-selling business books.
Republished with author’s permission by Graham Lee – The Income Zone
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