“I died a hundred times,” says a line from Back to Black, one of the most famous songs of Amy Winehouse. In fact, in her twenties, the singer-songwriter had already lived a few lives.
Amy seems to have been born by mistake in the 1980s. When we hear her voice, we have the feeling as if she had come out from the midst of the great jazz and blues black voices like Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Nina Simone and Billie Holiday. When she interpreted Dinah Washington’s song “Teach me tonight”, it is difficult to distinguish her voice from Dinah’s.
At the same time, she brought back the spotlight to the British music scene again. She was born in the suburb of Southgate, north London, in 1983. Daughter of a Jewish family, she grew up listening to great singers as well as distinguished jazz icons such as Thelonious Monk, and the singers Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra, which inspired the name of the first of her three albums, Frank (2003).
She learned to play the guitar when she was around 12, with some tips from her brother Alex. As for singing, Amy says she learned listening to songs during her childhood. When she was 13 she won a scholarship to study at the Sylvia Young Theatre School, one of the largest schools in England.
In a short essay required from all students, Amy wrote: “I dream of being famous. Working on stage. It is a lifetime’s ambition. I want people to hear my voice and just … forget their problems for five minutes.”
Amy also studied at the British Performing Arts & Technology School, one of the world’s most important. At that time, she had an interim work singing at the National Youth Jazz Orchestra. There she was found by Simon Fuller, of the program Pop Idol, the British version of American Idols in US. Their relationship was not one of the best. This pop world was not exactly what Amy wanted. “Business people do not make a good impression. They do not stay in my mind”, she stated about Fuller.
A genious mixing of genres
Amy built her own style. Her first album, Frank, released only in the UK, had the clear influence of jazz. But the songs already showed the mixing of jazz with other rhythms of black music such as funk, soul, hip-hop, rap and blues.
Except for two reinterpreted tracks, Amy co-authored one song and wrote all the others. Take the Box was the hit for this album which remained on top of the charts. In the lyrics, Amy gives back the gifts she had been given by her lover, including a CD by Frank Sinatra.
After Frank, Amy disappeared and reappeared only in 2006 with Back to Black (2006), her second album, which definitely put her in the world of celebrities. The album’s title – and also one of the songs – was inspired in a traumatic end of a relationship.
The song Rehab is the best known and one of the most speculated about. The song generates ridiculous interpretations such as “it is a cry for help”. But it is nothing but the history of the breaking up with her former agency, which wanted her to go through a medical treatment. The song has a tone of mischief, as if she had run away from school to skip classes.
Amy had not liked Frank. She used to say she wanted to play it on the stage, but not listen to it. By the way, she never listened to the album to the end. In Back to Black, she decided to be more direct and to use simpler chords, lowering the jazz tone and establishing a style even more defined.
Amy’s lyrics are almost always funny, no matter how hard some people try to give them a depressive interpretation. She said she wrote “songs that could be sung with a bottle of whiskey.” Relationships were her favorite subject, especially her own relationships. She used to play with her own disappointments and conflicts.
Amy’s music has reached an unexpected combination of successes. In a world where success is measured in numbers, she managed, with her style, by no means standardized, to access the hit parade, be approved by the critics and be coveted by the recording industry.
A walking contradiction
Amy was voted the second “most hated” personality among the celebrities in a poll in the United Kingdom and was accused of being responsible for the “hunger” in Africa, in a United Nations meeting. Beyond the ridiculous hype, she was an extremely self-critical person and, of course, a contradictory one.
The fact of being a woman meant that Amy was constantly criticized for her appearance, despite her immeasurable talent. Obviously, for this reason (being a woman) she was much more criticized for her lifestyle than the male artists, like Noel Gallagher of Oasis, who starred in so many scandals as she did.
To utter slander against the singer increased sales. Photos of Amy’s nostrils turned white because of cocaine were very profitable. So was presenting her with her breasts naked. With her ex-husband Blake Fielder-Civil, she starred in a couple scenes of a kind not seen since Nancy Spungen and Sid Vicious, of Sex Pistols.
The criticism caused Amy to feel insecure, which was reinforced by her own critical sense. “I’m very insecure about my appearance. I mean, I’m a singer, not a model. The more I suffer, the more I drink”, she said.
27 years old
Amy died when she was 27 years old, a bloody age for many other geniuses of music: Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain. No word yet on the circumstances of Amy’s death, but it seems obvious that, like the others, her death is related to the use of hard drugs and alcohol.
In recent years Amy’s appearance turned grotesque. Self-destruction was apparent. Amy could no longer finish her shows. She used to forget the lyrics, fall on stage, was booed. In Brazil, in January, she performed three concerts. During the second, in Rio, she fell on the stage. Then in June 2011, she canceled her European tour to start a medical treatment.
On July 23, 2011, death prematurely took away all her potential skills. In a time of few talents, that was not a small loss.
Source: Opinião Socialista no. 428, July 2011