August 1st, 2011
Her voice. It’s hard to believe that, except on record, it’s gone: the spellbinding sass, bite & swagger of it. That’s also the side of Amy that most everyone knew best — the saucy blustering Winehouse of “Rehab” & of lyrics full of sneering, profane kiss-offs. And, in its extremes, this was the side of Amy that was unfortunately even celebrated (or at least obsessively catalogued): the Winehouse of garish tabloid spreads, of tattoos & brawls & of unapologetic loutishness.
Her sharp edges & stylish Sid Viciousness aren’t why I’ll miss her most though. & I certainly won’t miss the aggressive public dysfunction — anyone with a complicated childhood (i.e., most of us) can collapse and/or lash out for the camera. What made her special to me was her vulnerability and enormous sensitivity as an artist, qualities that tended to get obscured against the backdrop of her overdocumented mess. It was how her lyrics reveal a shrewd self-regard, often disarmingly brave in how thoroughly it explored (and skewered) her longings, malfunctions & love-life disappointments. It was how she invited everyone in to listen to her struggles with needing love and pushing love away. It was naked lyrics like these: “I stay up, clean the house, at least I’m not drinking / Run around just so I don’t have to think about thinking / That silent sense of content everyone gets / Just disappears soon as the sun sets”. It was how her voice softens into silk & yearning in songs like “Wake up Alone”, “Back in Black” and the wrenching “Love is a Losing Game” (probably my favorite Winehouse song). And it was how she’d get you with a sudden long-lashed wink, some smirky bit of black humor, some lyrical equivalent of a soft sad chuckle in the midst of all this. That’s what I’ll miss most about her art. Without this side of Winehouse — without the insight & playfulness & yearning & songwriting prowess — the punchy assertions of lyrics like “you don’t mean dick to me”, & the vinegar of her Fuck The World persona would lack context and be unremarkable.
Let no one forget why it should matter to us that she’s gone — & it’s got nothing to do with the “27 club” bullshit or the “tragedy” of another addiction-death (there is no “tragedy” here, just someone intelligent who continued to make awful decisions & not avail herself of all the resources money and influence can secure) — her absence moves us like it does because she was such a damned good singer & songwriter, because she fought valiantly to wrest beauty from the pain of her life, because she had so much more to share with us all.
All writing © copyright C. Way / Snailcrow.com 2011