Popular British music has taken a massive tear in it’s seam following the untimely passing of Jazz diva Amy Winehouse in July. Questions need answering on how her, and so many others, have found themselves teetering at their end at the young and promising age of 27.
Back in August 1938, no one could have predicted the dark and unruly trend that the death of popular blues singer and guitarist Robert Johnson would start. After drinking a bottle of whisky fatally laced with Strychnine, Johnson’s fame, talent and genius bled through the pages of history, and his legacy became limited to just 27 short years. Time after time, this has happened again and again. Amy Jade Winehouse, of Southgate, London, is the newest member of the slated 27 club.
It’s still a hard thing to swallow, for many of her fans, let alone her family and friends. The last, bitter years of her life were spent ingesting class-A drugs and binging on alcohol week after week, and only finding a limited amount of time to present herself in the recording studio to produce her third album. 2006’s Back to Black was a global sensation, and a mark of her talent and genius. When reading certain newspaper articles on Winehouse and her passing, it’s easy to forget exactly why she is famous. Not for her drug taking or heavy drinking. She’s famous for the exact same reason every member of the 27 club is famous. Because she was brilliant.
Her sassy and rebellious image stuck a middle finger up at the conformist nature pushed upon many popular artists, and made herself recognizable and relatable to her public fan base. She always kept close to family, too. Even when the money was pouring out of every nook and cranny, and fans were chasing her from Camden to Soho, she only moved to Camden, London, so she could reside close to her routes.
The story sounds typical then. So conventional and plays so close to the inevitably unravelling seams of the definition of the 27 club. Simple, deprived and indifferent background, but propelled into the burning spotlight by natural talent. Perhaps a deterministic view to say that this has happened and will happen again, but it seems likely. Brilliance has always walked with the fingers of demise creeping over it’s shoulder, but it still never makes much sense. Even after giving you a simplified version, no one ever quite grasps how much of a social loss each member of this stupid club has been, let alone the loss their families have suffered. Especially Amy.
Vodka bottles, cigarette packets and cans of lager were just a select few of trophies left outside her Camden home following her death. Outweighing the album sleeves, singles and items representing her talent and actual career. Says a lot about Amy, in truth. To many she’ll just be a big haired, tattooed junkie jazz singer who died at her apparent ‘prime’, as they use the world loosely, after stumbling and stuttering through her last over priced concerts leaving a mark of disappointment. And you know what, that’s why we loved her.
Her reckless persona and appetite for self destruction, laced on to her architectural hair raising voice, she redefined Jazz as a popular genre. She looked just as sweet and beautiful with a roll up at her lips as she did with a microphone instead. With a fusion of Billy Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and her own unique voice, her influence is just as memorable as the mess she spilt on the floor and finger prints on every tabloid newspaper in England.
Yesterday, the 14th of September, on what would have been her 28th birthday, her previously unreleased cover of “Body and Soul” duet with Tony Bennet was released. The first line Bennet throats out of the speakers is “My heart is sad and lonely”. Even at this time after her death, Bennet says what most of the British public is thinking. Seems fitting, in a way. In her 27 short years she spent on this planet, we witnessed every bit of body, and every single melodic and harmonious fraction of Amy’s soul she had to give. Yeah, she’s been enrolled in that ‘stupid’ club. But she’s also got a photo hung high in the music hall of frame.
We say goodbye to a person who had given so much, and yet had so much more to give. Tragic and heartbreaking, but so fitting with her story. She’ll never be forgotten, but there’s a big gap on every radio station in the UK. She’ll be looking back on the chaos she’s created with the time she had, and she’ll be smiling. And in my opinion, that’s just the way she would have wanted it.