British soul singer Amy Winehouse was found dead this morning in her London flat. Even those people who followed pop music on a cursory basis were probably familiar with Winehouse, or at least her troubles; dubbed (almost too easily) “Wino” by the tabloids both in her homeland and around the world, she was a mainstay on the gossip pages for her problems with alcohol and drugs and her ex-husband Blake Fielder-Civil, not to mention her signature beehive-and-cats-eye look. But her talent was prodigious as both a singer and a songwriter; she wrote or co-wrote all the songs on her stunning 2006 breakthrough Back To Black, an album that she was still working on following up.
When she was on, Winehouse had few peers—she wasn’t an octave-jumper like other big divas of the moment, but her contralto had a snap to it that enriched even the simplest syllables with a full spectrum of emotion. Back To Black was filled with aching songs like “Love Is A Losing Game” and “You Know That I’m No Good” that chronicled mutually detrimental relationships and the people who stayed in them, for whatever reasons they had. And that she could speak of such pain with a fair amount of lyrical wit is a testament to her talent, which was nurtured at the BRIT School and which resulted in her debut album Frank coming out when she was only 20 years old.
Many in the online peanut gallery are saying that her death was “inevitable”—that the gamut of her gossip-page-worthy problems, which she nodded to in her top-10 hit “Rehab” as well as in other tracks, was going to result in sadness no matter what. It is hard, as someone who has watched the music news cycle up close for the past few years, to think that she hadn’t already had enough tragedy befall her, to wonder if this particular closing chapter wasn’t preventable somehow by not rushing her back to the stage when she clearly wasn’t ready, as she wasn’t a month ago in Serbia and earlier in other far-flung locales where people would point and click and snicker at her woes as they were brought into the public eye, or if the point-and-gawk cycle was just too powerful.
A piece in the Washington Post, written after her Stateside debut at Joe’s Pub and right before Black came out over here, implied that her real-life problems would be a way to help her get her noticed by online outlets that didn’t specialize in music, particularly the gossip sites that were ascendant (and definitely outdrawing music-centric sites) back then; the idea that this would be what set her from the pack, and not her talent as a singer and a songwriter, was loathsome then, but it’s just tragic now.
Also from that article, written in February 2007:
“I don’t give a [expletive]. I know it’s good for the record company if I do well here. I don’t care.
“If I had my choice, I’d be a roller-skating waitress in the middle of nowhere, singing songs to my husband while I’m cooking grits somewhere. What I’m doing I’m so grateful to be doing—it’s so exciting, so fun. But I’ve never been the kind of girl who knocks on someone’s door and says, ‘Make me famous.’ “
Winehouse was 27.