“My justification is that most people my age spend a lot of time thinking about what they’re going to do for the next five or ten years. The time they spend thinking about their life, I just spend drinking.”
Later this month marks three years since Amy Winehouse’s death. In the time since, I’ve used the duration as sort of an ongoing case study of Amy’s life, her music, her demons and ultimately every endearing and addictive trait that made her such a polarizing commodity during her 27 years on Earth.
Because much of what I remember from Amy while she was alive were always horror stories of her addictions or discrepancies, a common thought around the time was that she was merely another overhyped pop culture deity hellbent on destroying her own career, in the vein of a modern-day Lindsay Lohan.
Her music never met much of an appeal with me. Then again, I never gave it much a chance either. Friends, throughout college, sang the praises of pieces like Frank and Back To Black with unanimous adulation. The two albums became landmark compilations of work our generation could hang our collective hats on, they would say. Or how the albums blended genre after genre the best way to describe the music was a Thanksgiving potluck mesh of styles only a chef like Winehouse herself could simmer at the correct temperature.
And by the time she passed from apparent alcohol poisoning, my assumptions had been proven true, or so I had figured.
I hate being “that guy.” The one who flocks to an artist after their death. However much I try to deny, such is the case with Winehouse. The past 35 months uncovering nuances and facts about the singer from across the pond, the more the allure has made increasingly more sense. The more I’ve gravitated towards her anxieties, the more I see several aligning with my own.
Was she still hellbent on plowing herself into a premature grave? Apparently so, but she’s not the first singer to battle personal vices while crafting explicitly transparent music in the process. I like my artists flawed, in part because I am. We all are.
Tupac Shakur somehow packed six lifetimes into 25 years. A walking contradiction in countless ways, Pac found peace with understanding the true appreciation for his music and beliefs would never be accepted while air was still in his body. Not everyone can embrace a responsibility like that.
The late ’90s DMX was a ticking time bomb.
Marvin Gaye was, too.
In 1979, Donny Hathaway became so paranoid with the music industry he plunged off his 15th floor balcony at the Essex Hotel in New York City.
Amy was no different from Tupac, Marvin, X or Hathaway in the sense her highs provided for great triumphs and her lows provided a mirror for a fraction of our own flaws.
“My greatest fear is probably dying with no one knowing of any contribution I’d ever made to creative music.”
We’re discussing the same woman who was barred from entering America to attend the 2008 Grammys because of a failed drug test. Which made sense because the release a home video showed her smoking a glass pipe, only minutes after exclaiming she was already six tablets deep of Valium.
Through word of mouth, social media, due diligence and everything in between, Amy’s own set of rules frequently and openly mocked that of society’s. Marching to the beat of her own drum all but ensured living to see old age or at least witness her kids become parents of their own (she had no kids) was little more than a pipe dream.
By now, the realization isn’t eerie. It’s outright cliché. Certain artists aren’t meant to grow old. They’re born, they harness their talent, spread it amongst the masses in hopes their pain is the cause for another’s strength. Then, they extinguish.
A person can live to be 95-years-old and lay on their death bed questioning if they ever truly “lived.” Meanwhile, a person can die at 27, become the voice for the voiceless and author a full life. Memories provide timestamps, not age.
Her cover of The Shirelles’ “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” is a quintessential example of the complexity of Amy, the singer and young lady who never truly mastered the balancing act allowing her two personalities to coexist. Hearing an artist unconditionally bare their soul is rare. The type of baring where it’s difficult to decipher if said artist is sitting on your couch pillaging through problems and insecurities instead of a studio. The type of baring where you abandon yourself in the music and maybe, just maybe, seeing said artist’s heartbeat is, indeed, possible.
“Will You” classifies as soul music. For three-and-a-half minutes, Amy Winehouse, her controversies, the alcohol, the drugs, the rehabs, they all became moot points. Winehouse’s total package was on full display. She expressed identical fears found in the majority of people, regardless if never publicly acknowledged. Her desires, interwoven with those of the millions of fans who came to pinpoint her music as their life’s soundtrack, became a linchpin for the song’s connectivity. Her vulnerability was her music’s most powerful idiosyncrasy.
A few weeks ago, Jim Carrey provided a quote that has both tattooed itself into my psyche and defined how, I think, Amy chose to matriculate through life regardless of results. “You can fail at what you don’t want,” he said. “So you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.”
Amy wasn’t perfect. She chose her lifestyle; one eventually manifesting in career cut short, a script all too common in the movie of life. What she loved to do and what she thought she loved doing to herself were two conflicting vices separable only by death, it proved.
Then again, “perfect” wasn’t a calling card of mine either for judging a book by its cover without bothering to read its chapters.
Imperfection truly is inherited.