Amy Winehouse 14/09/83-23/07/11

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At about 5:30 on Saturday afternoon, I opened a text from one of my oldest friends which told me that Amy Winehouse had been found dead at her home.  A quick check on the BBC website confirmed the news that one of Britain’s most troubled performers was finally at peace.  The headline which, unsurprisingly, focussed on her age also confirmed that she had joined what Kurt Cobain’s  mother, Wendy, called “that stupid club” of stars who died at the age of 27.  It’s a nice convenient piece of pigeonholing, but it’s lazy because it misses the point by a long way.

The rock stars referred to by Wendy O’Connor (Brian Jones, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin) died in a short period of time in the late 60s, and Cobain died in 1994.  Amy Winehouse confronted her demons in the glare of the ubiquitous and unforgiving instant news culture of the new millennium, where any dodgy performance is only a smartphone away from worldwide exposure.  Even Cobain’s death was pre-internet; we all knew it was going to happen, but our updates only came every 7 days in the music press.  The 60s deaths came as a complete surprise, because drug habits were kept within the performer’s inner circle and only became public property when the performer died.

Amy Winehouse’s problems were probably with her from the start of her performing career at stage school, but became increasingly public as she became more successful.  Her first album “Frank” was critically and commercially acclaimed, but the problems really started with the success of “Back to Black”.  The album was hailed, quite rightly, as a modern classic and Amy Winehouse was thrust into a spotlight which she found increasingly difficult to deal with.  The pressure came not only from the music press but from every imaginable direction; television, radio, newspapers (tabloid and broadsheet) and of course the internet.  Any step out of line immediately became public property and each exposure seemed to raise the stakes.

This isn’t an attempt to sanctify to Amy Winehouse but it’s time to stop the demonization process which the British media launched after the success of “Back to Black” in 2006.  She made the same mistakes that people everywhere make every day; she listened to the wrong people, she got romantically involved with the wrong people and she thought that she could find the answers to her problems in drugs and alcohol.  Unfortunately, she made those mistakes very publicly and in the spotlight of a censorious, prurient and unforgiving media circus.

In the light of all of her long-standing problems, it wasn’t surprising to hear of Amy’s untimely death on Saturday, particularly after the ill-advised European tour which ended with the much-publicised recent appearance in Belgrade.  She should have been one of the UK’s greatest ever jazz and soul singers but she only leaves a legacy of 2 albums released so far.  Stick “Back to Black” in your CD player or find it in your media player and listen to it.  That’s how you should remember Amy Winehouse.