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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sunday Jukebox - A Commentary On The Death Of Amy Winehouse

I'm sure by now, everyone reading this blog has heard about the death of troubled soul singer Amy Winehouse, who was found dead at her home in London on July 23, 2011 at age 27.

As news quickly spread through media outlets and throughout social media, it became very clear that everybody had an opinion on Amy's passing.  Lately, it seemed that she was beginning to stray from the road to fame to dilly-dally in the land of infamy.  With her drug and alcohol dependency being well-documented, and the British paparazzi scrutinizing every move she made, it was almost as if Amy Winehouse had become a joke in a sense.  No longer known for the sultry, soulful voice that won her so many accolades just five years earlier, it was almost as if we were watching the media tear her apart with stories and articles that may or may not have been the whole truth.  Add in her relationship drama and bouts of irrational and erratic behaviour, and we were witness to a recipe for disaster in the making.

I certainly am not going to make any excuses for the way she lived life, but I do feel that there were some aspects that were quite unfair in retrospect.
I hate the way that the media descends on the personal problems of celebrities like vultures who haven't eaten in ten days, and then proceed to publish a slew of half-truths just to sell their magazines and keep their sponsors happy.  In fact, it infuriates me.

Yes, Amy Winehouse had her problems.  Yes, Amy Winehouse could have sought help at any time, but refused.  Yes, Amy Winehouse had some inkling that she would have to be in the public eye if she was to pursue a recording career.  Yes, Amy Winehouse's death could have been avoided. 

At the same time, no, I don't feel Amy Winehouse deserved the poison and vitriol and mean-spiritedness that some of these gossip rags had the gall to print.  She needed the same things that all addicts need.  Tough love.  Support.  The knowledge that there is life in sobriety.  Instead, all that the media gave her was scrutiny and despair, which may have sped up her demise.

I'm not saying that the press did not have the right to write any publicity for Amy Winehouse.  But there are limitations as to how far someone can go to get a story.  In fact, Winehouse herself obtained an injunction against a group of paparazzi for taking unwanted photos of her for publication under a United Kingdom law known as the 'Protection from Harassment 1997' act.  Soon after, photographers and paparazzi could not go within 100 metres of her home, and they were barred from taking photographs of her inside her home, as well as the homes of her immediate family and close friends.  The reason she did this was to protect herself and her family from them due to safety concerns.

I guess the opinion that I have regarding this is that I believe the statement 'all publicity is good publicity' is a load of horse dung.  Clearly, Amy Winehouse was uncomfortable with paparazzi invading her personal space, and I can't say I blame her one bit.  It is true that as a celebrity, Winehouse should have expected to give interviews and allow herself to be photographed, or filmed, or what have you.  Under the right circumstances, she would have been more than happy to have allowed it.  But some of those photographers crossed a line they had no business crossing in the first place, and in my honest opinion, it was one factor that may have lead to the self-inflicted destruction that would inevitably cost Amy Winehouse her life.

But, don't get me wrong.  I know that in the end, Amy had every possible opportunity in the world to try and overcome her addictions, and to become a better person.  The whole point for this blog is not to make judgment calls on anyone, and to not judge anyone harshly without reason.  Nobody knows what went on inside Amy's head except Amy, and while her death is heartbreaking for her family as well as her fans, there is something that we can learn from it.

Her problems with substance abuse have been well documented in the press.  While some media outlets skewered and distorted facts to make the articles more sensationalistic in nature, the fact remains that even Winehouse herself had admitted to the overuse of drugs and alcohol.  Winehouse's family speculated that the death of her grandmother may have kick-started Amy's dependency of substances, and in the summer of 2007, was hospitalized due to an overdose. 

Ironically enough, it was during this time period that Amy's singing career really began to skyrocket.  Having had great success in the UK with her 2003 debut album Frank, Amy's second album Back to Black received even more critical praise.  She had attained American success with the album, and at the 2007 Grammy Awards, she was nominated for six awards, and won five of them.  The categories she won an award in included 'Best New Artist', 'Record Of The Year', and 'Song Of The Year'.

Amy's personal life seemed to be hitting speed bump after speed bump, but her career was on smooth sailing.

I have heard that the irony pill is a really bitter one to swallow, and in the case of Amy Winehouse, not even sucking the juice out of fifty lemons could be as bitter as the irony that surrounded Amy's success.  For it was this song that really put her on the map.  A song that is the very definition of tragic irony, given her ultimate fate.

ARTIST: Amy Winehouse
SONG: Rehab
ALBUM: Back To Black
DATE RELEASED:  October 23, 2006

Although the song was initially released in the United Kingdom in late October 2006, it wouldn't be until early 2007 until the American audience was introduced to Amy through this song, which peaked at #9 on the American charts (and #7 on the UK charts).

What makes this song stand out is that the lyrics of the song are autobiographical.  The story behind the creation of the song was that Amy's management team wanted her to check into an alcohol treatment center, and she flat out refused to go.  She talked to her father about it and asked him his thoughts about it, and what she should do.  Her father told her that she should try it out but felt as though she didn't need it at the time. 

Hence the chorus,

"They tried to make me go to rehab, I said no, no, no
Yes, I've been black but when I come back you'll know, know, know
I ain't got the time and if my daddy thinks I'm fine
He's tried to make me go to rehab, I won't go, go, go.

Quite the song, eh?  Now that Amy Winehouse has passed on, these lyrics become even more haunting.

It's important to know that Amy Winehouse did attempt rehab on a couple of noted occasions, and I do believe that she wanted to better herself, especially after what would become one of her final public appearances before her death.

June 18, 2011 was supposed to have been a good day for Winehouse.  It was the kick-off to her 2011 European tour in Belgrade, and it had all the makings of being a great show.  It turned out to anything but.  It was bad enough that she had forgotten song lyrics as well as the names of her band members, but on top of that, she could not remember what city she was in.  She was reportedly booed off of the stage due to her being too intoxicated to perform, and three days later, she cancelled the remainder of the tour.

Did she have every intention of wanting to change after that incident?  Nobody can say for sure.  Certainly, she had sought help from a variety of sources in the past, but you could tell that she was, at best, flippant over the matter.  I would like to believe that she meant it when she said that she wanted to sort herself out, and honestly, I think in Amy's mind, she wanted to believe that too. 

Nobody could have known what kind of an impact Amy Winehouse would have had in the music business five, even ten years into the future.  Sadly, we will never know.  What we do know is that in the short time Amy Winehouse was alive, she breathed new life into the British music industry, and revived the genre of soul.  Her success in the United States helped up-and-coming British singers Duffy and Adele gain a following within America, and even current popular artists like Lady Gaga admits to being influenced by Amy Winehouse.  Amy's distinct look and unconventional appearance gave other women the strength to go after their dreams.  After all, if Amy could have success on the charts, there's no reason why they couldn't.

Amy Winehouse also had one of the best musical voices that I myself have ever heard.  Rich, soulful, was very pleasing to the ear.  What was even more astounding about it was that Winehouse possessed real natural talent.  Unlike some of the current crop of singers and recording artists out currently, Amy never needed a voice modifier or crafty editing.  Her talent was real.  And that's the cruelest twist of fate in this very sad event.

As of this writing, we really don't know what killed Amy Winehouse.  However, no matter what the cause of death, it is sadly another example of great talent being lost forever, and a lesson for all of us in the horrible effects of drug and alcohol abuse.  I guess in some ways, I'm glad that I never so much as went down that road, even though I could have easily succumbed to it in my youth.  I'm happy that I didn't.  Watching people like Amy Winehouse lose everything because of it makes me not want to touch another drop of alcohol ever again.  And I've seen too many people do that to themselves to start anytime soon.
I just hope that when the dust settles and all the pieces to the puzzle are put together, that Amy Winehouse will finally be able to rest in peace.  More importantly, I wish that one day, people will look past the tabloid reports and the demons that haunted her in life, and in death, remember her for the musical talent she brought forth in a life that was cut too short.

Amy Winehouse

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