The self-destructive lifestyles beloved of some musicians is not normally a matter which I spend much time worrying about. Yet the tragic, and oh-so-predictable, death of Amy Winehouse did give me pause for thought. As a teenager and young man I regarded premature celebrity deaths as being mere rock n roll casualties, they bought the ticket, and if they couldn’t handle the ride – tough. The glamour of the mortuary room slab has always eluded me.
But Amy’s death was the first celebrity casualty I have thought about as a parent. I didn’t see her as a role model, but as a hugely talented young woman who could have been my daughter. I reflect upon the despair of her parents who had to watch helpless as their daughter embarked on a kamikaze mission of self destruction ,whilst cherishing the magnificent talent which they had seen grow befrore their eyes. When I heard her songs I “knew” where she was coming from, and felt guilty. Listening to her singing “Back to Black” or “Love is a Losing Game” is like reading a secret diary (or listening to someone’s phone calls/ voice messages). Her singing offered a window into her soul, and it was an awful, inspiring experience. It was the same listening to Karen Carpenter singing “Goodbye to Love”, or Janis Joplin with “Ball and Chain” they always felt as though they should be sung from the spirit world rather than the temporal one.
That’s the problem isn’t it? I’m not sure that it would have been possible for Amy and Karen and Janis to emote those songs without embodying them. Instead of singing a part, they became that part. My guilt comes from this, wondering at the heart wrenching reality of Amy’s best performances, yet knowing that they were from a doomed soul. Some are speculating on what she might have achieved, I prefer to give thanks for what she had achieved. She might never have surpassed “Back to Black” and “Love is a losing Game” and it wouldn’t have mattered, they were done – in the can.
I am reminded of the story of a journalist who sniped at Joseph Heller complaining that he had never replicated the majesty of “Catch 22”. Heller replied: “Who has?”