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A Stray Moment: 'We Only Said Goodbye with Words'
July 28, 2011 Doug Harris   

Read more by Doug Harris
In the wake of all the appalling man-made catastrophes that seem to find themselves in the headlines with shocking regularity of late, it is debatably inappropriate to focus on one life lost amid so many. But I can’t help myself. The sad death of British pop diva Amy Winehouse has been rightfully eclipsed by greater terrible events. I wonder if I am being selfish to hold a candle in her memory. The horror unleashed last weekend by a hell-bent Norwegian is just the latest example of a world gone mad.
The juxtaposition of that backdrop against a known alcoholic and drug addled rock star dead at the age of 27 is stark. Nevertheless the death of Amy Winehouse is a tragedy. Pundits across the globe have cited her demise in passing, blithely noting they were not surprised.

There seems to be little sympathy from outside a core of faithful fans. The talking heads have speculated that Ms. Winehouse chose her fate and gleefully walked into the jaws of premature death with a scowl on her face and a bottle in her hand. Had she lived the life of a ‘nice girl’ and suffered from a socially acceptable disease, I doubt the media ghouls would seem so delighted in their ‘told you so’ smugness. While no cause of death has been confirmed, it is not illogical to assume substance abuse a likely culprit. Police in London have said no foul play appears to be involved.

To those of us who followed her career, Ms. Winehouse was clearly a spirited and rare talent, but she was also clearly bedeviled with the gift of self-destruction. Over the precious few years she was in the public eye the multiple Grammy winning singer released two excellent albums of original work that echoed the earlier eras of pure rhythm and blues. Arranged with sleek horn sections and orchestrations bringing back the jazz-pop days of Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan, it is remarkable she achieved such a large fan base among young listeners. The ‘older-set’ who have maybe never heard her music before would likely be surprised and happy to see the big-band and bossa nova sound so freshly reinterpreted. But she said it herself in her smash hit ‘Rehab’ …. “I tread a troubled track, my odds are stacked.”

Winehouse walked upon the razors edge. On the one side was a life of fame, fortune and accolades. On the other side a life of drink, drug addiction, troubled relationships, and the war with the inner demons she apparently succumbed to. She had a brash style musically and as a public persona. Who else today could wear a beehive hairdo and garish gypsy make-up and make it seem both cool and new at the same time?

Her sneering personality got her into trouble on several occasions. She was booed off the stage in recent engagements, having arrived too intoxicated to remember her own brilliant lyrics. She was banned from coming to the United States to accept her Grammy awards due to drug violations in England. Yet she also had a softer side revealed in her music. The new-soul she brought explored confessional themes of self-abuse and loathing, the ache of lost love, and the vulnerability of a real woman seeking happiness in the wrong company.

There has been the inevitable talk about her joining the cryptic ’27 Club’ of so many other youthful rock stars who burned the candle from both ends. Death at age 27 is not a badge of honor regardless of who you share it with. It is just a plain sad fact that a very talented and tortured young woman has left the world in a flash as quick as the meteor of the talent she shared. Her work will be remembered and with luck some new chanteuse will build upon it.

It isn’t like she didn’t warn us and herself. She sang in 2007, “I cheated myself, like I knew I would, I told you I was trouble, you know that I’m no good.” But I would hope we don’t judge her as harshly as she judged herself. A complex and honest light burned out last weekend. She brought something unique and lasting to the world. Her legacy is not one of mayhem and pain, but art and beauty. She didn’t hurt anyone but herself. Another troubled soul laid to rest; may she finally rest in peace.

It isn’t with irony I end with this quote from the Book of Proverbs, but it does fall within chapter 27: “Death and destruction are never satisfied, and neither are human eyes.”
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