By: Cecilia Smith of Houston TREND
The cry of a tortured artist is one that resonates loudly, the notes ringing crisp and clear. Yet often we ignore their pain, placated by the music that it produces, lauding the result, while disregarding the cause.
On July 23, 2011, troubled Grammy-award winning singer Amy Winehouse was found dead in her Camden, North London apartment. She was just 27.
Known for her 1960s inspired beehived tresses, a smoky fusion of jazz and soul, and a protracted battle with drugs and alcohol, the British singer now joins the ranks of Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones, and Jim Morrison in an ill-fated assemblage of tormented artists that some have coined as the “27-Club.”
Whether this deserves a mention in musical lore, or is pure coincidence is debatable; but one thing is certain:
They died too young, and far too soon.
With the passing of Winehouse, we see yet another well of talent left behind, the depths of which will never fully be brought to the surface.
But the music remains.
Winehouse’s musical ambitions were sparked at a young age, and stints in two performing arts institutes both honed her craft and fueled her drive.
As her New York Times obituary reads, “Winehouse showed an early talent for performing, as well as an eclecticism that would characterize her later work. She loved her father’s Sinatra records, but also liked hip-hop; at age 10 she and a friend formed a rap group called Sweet ‘n’ Sour that Ms. Winehouse later described as “the little white Jewish Salt-N-Pepa.”
Winehouse was “Sour” of course.
She first gained prominence in the UK in 2003 with her debut album “Frank.” Hailed as a re-introduction of jazz for a new generation, Winehouse soon found herself being mentioned among the likes of Macy Gray. Although critically praised, she would later admit that she was “only 80% behind the project,” yet it would go on to garner her accolades, including a Mercury Prize, a prominent UK music award for Best Album, nomination.
If “Frank” introduced her to Europe, it would be the 2006 follow-up “Back to Black,” that would introduce her to the world. Universally praised, the masses became enamored by the young woman with the big sultry voice that belted out a concoction of jazz, soul, and rock. Spurred by a string of hits including the now eerily prophetic “Rehab,” the album would go on to win five Grammy awards, making her the first female British artist to do so.
But like many musicians before her, the rich tapestry that she wove her notes upon, were fueled by inner demons; resulting in the turmoil that she would eventually succumb to.
Though riding high on her commercial success, Winehouse would eventually begin a slow descent that would make it hard to discern if her life were imitating art, or if her art was inspired by her life.
Rumors began to swirl about her tumultous relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil, a man that some have cited as an “industry hanger-on”, and was reported by a tabloid as having admitted to introducing Winehouse to drugs. Against the wishes of her family the two would wed, but the union would be marred by domestic abuse, self-destruction, and dangerous binges on drugs and alcohol.
Although her family would try in vain to seperate the duo, blaming Civil for Winehouse’s troubles, ultimately it would be the court that would do so for them. After Civil was jailed for a previous offense, Winehouse would be left to her own devices.
But after a public disclosure of her battles with self mutilation, substance abuse, and eating disorders it became clear that although Civil may have enabled her, Winehouse was the problem. She needed protection from herself.
Though she attempted to regain her former self, even (gasp) entering rehab; the demons that she carried with her would remain on her shoulders, whispering in her ear.
Erratic behavior including incoherent performances, cancelled shows, drug fueled weight flucuations, an ardent love of alcohol binges and hard partying would soon overshadow what mattered most; the music.
As she continued to falter we could only look on, knowing that a star that had once shined so brightly, was eventually destined to crash and burn.
And crash she did.
For many, her death has been received with poignant grief, yet is void of surprise.
In the end perhaps she said it best, “I don’t need help because if I can’t help myself I can’t be helped,” she once stated.
While she was unable to help herself, her music provides solace for those who loved her.
Though she is now beyond the music…her music lives.
May she rest in peace.