My intent when starting this blog was to focus on a song and relate it to how I was feeling at the time, or involve it within a larger humanistic idea. I might briefly talk about the artist, but I primarily analyze the music itself. What the words mean despite what is being said, and what the musical track represents thematically. This week’s entry is going to be a little different because I want to talk about the artist.
The life and career of Amy Winehouse was tragically short. Spending nearly a decade in the spotlight, Winehouse represented a musical paradox. Her public image as an addict with severe substance abuse issues contradicted her enormous talent as a singer. While her offstage life was filled with scrutiny and ridicule, she managed to garner international respect from music critics and musicians. Winehouse was incredibly young when she passed in July 2011. At only 27 years old, the world lost a tremendous talent who would have continued to surpass herself artistically and commercially with each new release.
I remember the days leading up to her death. She was in the middle of touring across Europe while sporadically working on her follow-up to the 2006 global hit “Back to Black.” You could see it in the headlines and YouTube clips she was not doing well. Performing in Belgrade at was what to be her final concert, Winehouse kept falling down onstage and needed to be picked up her security. I watched the clip thinking that she would alright. Over the years, Winehouse’s addiction was a rollercoaster ride complete with the uplifting highs and lonely lows. When she would get rid of toxic people around her, Amy would be flying high and ready to be the star she was always meant to be. I chalked off the Belgrade performance as just another low in a series of lows she had successfully ridden out before. I knew that staying out of the spotlight and working in the studio would be exactly what she needed to ride out the storm. I believed in Amy.
When Amy died, I became disappointed in the people around me. My social media feeds were filled with jokes and ridicule of someone who struggled. Comments about how she deserved to die a junkie’s death because she bragged about not going to rehab in her hit single were everywhere. The callousness I witnessed from friends over the death of someone with deep mental health issues was disturbing. What others saw as a moment to congratulate themselves for their stability, I saw it as another victim in a system that alienates and preys upon the sick.
In 2014, I noticed something that heightened by disappointment. That summer, Robin Williams committed suicide by hanging himself. A lot of speculation circulated around the media for weeks as to why such a lovely and funny man would do this. As it turns out, Williams suffered from depression stemming from years of addiction; another example of amazing talent torn apart by mental health issues. However, the world over mourned Williams and the very same people I saw ridicule Amy now had a progressive stance on helping those who suffer from mental illness and addiction. I was disgusted by their inauthenticity. I don’t know why there was a difference. Williams openly joked about his drug abuse. Maybe he was a more likeable and accessible figure. Or maybe sexism is the issue here. Regardless of the differences, we shouldn’t cherry pick who decide to help and who we decide to chastise for something they cannot help.
This month marks the four years anniversary of Amy’s death and the release of a documentary about her life. I thoroughly believe time will be good to Amy and her legacy as one of the great contemporary artists will become legitimized. Twelve years after the release of her first album “Frank,” Amy has already influenced her generation and will continue to influence future generations. Lady Gaga, Duffy, Adele, and other women in music have cited Amy’s influence in paving the way for offbeat women to succeed in music today. And even long-established artists like Tony Bennett and Herbie Hancock have heralded Amy as being one of the great jazz singers.
Picking a track from Winehouse for my weekly blog was tough. I could pick any track from her discography and it would be a winner. For this week, I decided to spotlight her first single “Stronger Than Me.” This was Amy’s debut; her message to the world crying out that she had arrived and she planned to stay. However, there is some irony in picking this track. In the song, Amy ridicules her man for not playing his gender role in being the protector and provider. He is supposed to be stronger than her, Amy says. But you can hear the power and strength in her voice as the song progresses. Her voice becomes less low and more lilting. She doesn’t need anyone to be strong for her.
Amy has always had the strength in her and she didn’t need the help from a man, alcohol, or drugs. But she lost that voice before she realized the lioness strength within her. Though Amy could not find that strength to battle her demons, her legacy will inspire others to find their strength. Her legacy is secure and I eagerly await to see how her spirit manifests itself in the musicians of tomorrow.