Amy, Amy, Amy… I know I’ve been here before… Amy, Amy, Amy… she’s just too hard to ignore… Rhythmically she spins a spell – I know she’d wear me well… Amy, Amy, Amy… where’s her moral parallel?
Amy Jade Winehouse was our holiday. She was our release, our renaissance, our rehabilitation, and our rhythmic residency. She was her own body of work; she lived in the music, and through that magnificent manifestation she created a parallel world within and apart from the everyday mainstream anything.
In the midst of Neo-Prohibition Era America where false was ideal, imperial nudity was lauded, and deuces wild were on deck, Winehouse was our haven beneath said house of cards. Amy was a release. She was our speakeasy, her voice resonated with us as the hidden-in-plain-view perfection of human imperfection. She birthed a culture through her tales of love lost, found, and for which her heart would forever fiend. Her music brought us from the throws of auto-tune, from the perils of saccharine-infused ringtone jingles, high and away from the collective race to the bottom that was 2007.
She was our vantage into the vintage; our very own halfway point between Scott Joplin’s Post-Victorian Era Ragtime revolution, injecting the joie de vivre back into the mainstream, and Janis Joplin’s Post-Pleasantville Americana Blue-Eyed Psychedelic Soul. Amy was the embodiment of the Neo-Prohibition Jazz Era of modern music. She was the cause and the cure for our every cultural ailment. She was the radiant child, wise beyond her years – the rebellious child – but from the mouth of the basement baroness babe spoke truth. She provided a place for us to turn when the clock struck five, following our every dogged day, mourning every minute after the ninth lie. She was our happy hour. She was our winehouse – our own special place where humanity was okay, where everyone was in the dark together, where the soul and the sin were the norm. Beneath the blinding light, neither she nor we knew better than what we had – and after nearly a decade of lost everything, all we had was our lone selves.
Our modern musical Eve, Amy bore the weight of original sin on her shoulders in order to birth a culture. Without her temptation, without her vulnerability, without her torment, her lust for carnal knowledge, her insatiable need to release said pain, she would not have created that which catalyzed said culture, nor that which liberated her. Winehouse indulged in that life – that very sin is the very same determining factor of our human essence. The product of her original sin, the pain in creating a legacy and a culture; an assumed personal flaw – to fall beneath the weight of temptation, to indulge in the taboo – is the very unifying feature of our humanity. Only in Eve’s fatal bite did she see mortality, only in that moment did we as a race taste the beauty in impermanence, and the passion to live a life basking forever on the edge of reality and divinity. The pain of childbirth, the burden of creating a culture from the depths of that lambasted soul, is what fueled the subsequent life and art. It doesn’t begin or end with Adele, Duffy, La Roux, Little Boots, Ellie Goulding, Florence and The Machine; it reaches beyond GaGa, ?uestlove, John Legend, Jay-Z, and Janelle Monae; it’s more than Mark Ronson, Tony Bennett, or Quincy Jones – Amy Winehouse liberated the industry from its falsified self, she resurrected a culture of humanity for the sake of humanity, and she lifted the individual from the impossible expectation to be anything and everything except what you are. She reminded us of the necessity of the melancholy, the need for the bitter in order to understand the sweet; she did not shy away from her shadows – we pulled her from them; she was an artist, perceptive and true, she was just a child through and through… and from the mouth of that broken babe, spoke truth so beautifully it was impossible to ignore – all she had were her scars… sung so beautifully blue…
Our rehabilitation, Amy was the cure…
Back to Black is the view from rock bottom, but as above so below and vice versa. The addiction, the confusion, the haze of summer ’07 daze into the winter — unseasonably warmed by the seeming move towards Hell on Earth — all eerily chronicled by an album opening with “Rehab” (no doubt the word of the year). Literally: it was a snapshot soundtrack to the year of the DUI Five. Those celebrity trainwrecks that bankrolled their own economy via entertainment media, those who “had it all, but gave it all away recklessly,” those who held the U.S.’ attention if only because they were iconographies of a country who was in that same fateful place of the broken American Dream — from the shattered celebrity to the subprime fallout. As above, so below. Back to Black was the effortless death of autotune, the proverbial drummer to the 808, because like a drum machine, autotune has no soul. The controversy surrounding BtB’s well-deserved Grammy awards centered around the belief that Amy Winehouse should not be rewarded for bad behavior. However, Back to Black reflected who the artist was, who we were, and the inherent link between the musician and the masses — not who we deluded ourselves into believing we were. The album was Amy Winehouse’s drug addled rhymes and rhythms embodying the notion that where the artist suffers, the art succeeds.
Where Back to Black was the assumed anti-rehab anthem, it rehabilitated a dead medium. A drug is anything taken to alter one’s current state of being. Where Back to Black reiterated our current state as a generation, it was also the escapist drug that true music can’t help but be, and yet the detox to the industry that forgot its roots.
Winehouse tasted the lush life beneath the black light and that fall is what fueled her greatest piece of work – her magnum opus. Winehouse did not represent reality, she lived and recorded it. She was no different than any other Reagan/Thatcher-Era Eighties baby; she was merely gifted with the curse of artistry. As she lived through heartbreak, addiction, abuse, insecurity, and uncertainty, it was in her being to express it, for the sake of release. And as we found ourselves sharing in that so very familiarly foreign bond we built a need for her to lift us out of this place – as a celebrity, as our new ideal, as the mediated representation of us, we needed her to pull herself out of this, and in so doing pull us from the same bleak bottom – like we had done with Britney, as we had done with all of the Pop stars we created.
Our renaissance, Amy was the rebirth:
Winehouse’s first album, Frank, saw a 4 year stint between its 2003 UK debut and its 2007 US release; in the time between, Winehouse didn’t sail across the pond – she swam the blue Atlantic, removed the skepticism from British soul, and brought artistry to a world in the midst of the red hot celebrity. Never had our generation been introduced to such an aged fresh sound. Amy single-handedly brought us back to the Jazz Age. The world wasn’t Winehouse’s stage this decade – it was her speakeasy. Winehouse’s atmosphere was pop’s antithesis: overtly underground, drug-addled, authentic, counterculture, apathetic to everything but the art, forever in a harmonic haze – and a microcosm of a society, hidden in plain view.
Geographically, ethnically, musically, personally: we had never felt so innately connected to someone so human, yet so distant and unknown. She embodied our culture: immersed in the bright lights, but forever shielding ourselves in lieu of the intimacy of a nocturnal veil. The freaks no longer came out at night, the everyman freed themselves there. The moonlight was our sunlight, it fed and nourished our inner beasts. The world said our behavior was wrong, but it was a world of sub-prime lenders, warmongering politicians, backdoor lobbyists, and neo-conservative wolves in sheep’s clothing – or pseudo-emperors with none at all. Amidst a distorted reality of moral dichotomies we live in a comfort zone of taboos – and for the first time we had someone tell our tale; when Puritanical America was shining a fluorescent artificial light on the country, Winehouse brought us back to reality and Back to Black.
Winehouse: in her namesake – as in her work, and life – resided the essence and identity of our very world at the whim and mercy of misunderstood hyper-reality, clamoring for escapist intoxication. She created a world, a haven for our sinful selves separate and apart from the blinding limelight of panoramic Hollywood 2007. She tapped into a most sacred human speakeasy in the midst of gloriously falsified deafening roars. As she fueled our vices, so we expected her to be our vise. So we took an artist and created a celebrity. A celebrity status she did not welcome, did not invite, did not desire – but rather a status imposed upon her, like a false veneer to mask raw catharsis, by us – our own victimized villainous selves. We created L’Enfant Terrible in her very being, and she was at our every judgement. Amy did not die, because we never allowed our fair muse to live. In this assumed death though, in passing, in her now eternal state she rests, peacefully, for the first time since she became ours – and in posthumous liberation, she flies…
The So What: Frank is an amazing illustration of the beginning, the end, and how they are both contextual parallels. “October Song” is a masterpiece; it is a piece of art that needs no external interpretation because it is complete in and of itself. Preface: Frank‘s overseas lapse turned Back to Black into a bridge between two Amys — a cause and effect, past and future, ego and moral parallel — that are one in the same. Frank serves as the Summer before the Fall into Back to Black‘s Winter, and the Spring rebirth: a
Today my bird flew away
gone to find her big blue jay
Starlight before she took flight
I sung a lullaby of bird land every night
sung for my Ava everynight
Ava was the morning, now she’s gone
she’s reborn like Sarah Vaughan
In the sanctuary she has found
birds surround her sweet soun
and Ava flies in paradise
With dread I woke in my bed
to shooting pains up in my head
Lovebird, my beautiful bird
Spoken ’til one day she couldn’t be heard
she just stopped singing
Ava was the morning, now she’s gone
she’s reborn like Sarah Vaughan
In the sanctuary she has found
birds surround her sweet sound
and Ava flies in paradise
This is the sound: Sarah Vaughan. This is the story: release and return, the chase and the wait. This is the so what: the surface, the person(a), the real: Amy; this is the substance, the soul, the ideal: Ava.
Nevermind the Mercedes-Benz, forget the Purple Haze of London’s Eclectic Ladyland, Amy Winehouse opened The Doors to the Lush silhouetted Life, liberated her own caged bird – and ours – humming and harmonizing along said Birdland’s Lullaby… this little Lady did not merely Sing the Blues, she bathed in them… this Bitches Brew fueled the Cold Train through said night when we needed a conductor to charge on like a Rolling Stone, and Rebirth The Cool… as the reign came and went, so did our nocturnal trek, and as those Tears did assuredly Dry On Their Own by the time we Broke On Through to the other side of day, she remained our Lullabied Lady… and even with Miles to go before her sleep, she was our haven, our despaired hope, and forever our umbrella-Ella-Ella… safe.
I reiterate so intensely because when the inevitable ripple effect takes Amy’s legacy through the cultural sea changes, she will prevail to her rightful place among the pantheon of greats…
Amy Winehouse was the forever foreigner, never had we heard such blackened blue-eyed soul, bruised crooning so captivating, songs that lived so closely to our hearts, so unfathomable to the logical mind. This girl, this woman, this monarch of modern music was an artist. She did not ask us to adore her, she did not plead with us for acceptance or permission; her work, her plight, her struggle was her art. Her legacy is that of the modern human condition. She did not need rehabilitation – we did. Where we did not see ourselves in her, we lambasted her for beautiful lyrical truth. We glorified the artistry with one hand, and with the other gutted the artist – the very core of that heroic creation was our false enemy. Now we are at eternal confession; now in the midst of forgotten and ignored technicolor dreams, we fade back to black… awaiting baptism. Amy, Amy, Amy forever resting finally with Cherry at her fingertips, dried tears upon her prophetic lips… at long last one with her other half… her better self… her own immortal parallel.
You never miss the water ’til it’s gone… when touched by the divine, that water becomes wine… a votre sante Amy.