And I'm A Tiny Penny Rolling Up The Walls Inside

One thing I keep seeing, is people admitting how surprised they are by their own reaction to Amy Winehouse's death. Me too. I don't know why, but I'm really sad about it.

When was the first time you heard Back to Black? I remember hearing Amy Winehouse in late 2006, because my friends Chantal and Tommy were listening to her now-iconic second album. I fell in love, we all did. My friends and I had just graduated from college and moved to NYC and were becoming adults. And something about Amy Winehouse's songs felt really personal.

Jordan, who runs the adorable site EXECUTIVE REALNESS, tweeted "It's strange to revisited an album that was such a large part of a certain time in your life because of a tragedy."
I don't know what tragedy he's referring to (his own life vs. the tragedy of Amy's passing). I think that, for a lot of people our age, Back to Black was really important. Probably younger kids, who heard the record in high school will not think so. For those of us in our early-20s, it felt really right-on. They were songs about how difficult it can be to realize the truth about love. All these lessons you learn in your early 20s, about how to have feelings and how to deal with them.

Amy Winehouse did not die from drugs or drinking, she died from a broken heart.

Of course, she was successful from the get-go. Her first album, Frank, is really weird and really great. Amy seemed like the kind of girl we could all become. Like, all it took is some really amazing luck and then you'd be a pop star. And then, being a pop-star, all it would take is a little bit of difficulty to ruin everything. Such a cruel joke that "Rehab" was her break-out hit. Of course, she should've gone the first time. But then if she had done that maybe none of us would ever have known her. How sad.

The "Rehab" girl was someone I could identify with. Amy's record was about someone having a really hard time. (This was before Tiny Furniture's Aura wanted you to know that she was having "a very, very hard time"-- what? graduating from college? Moving back to your parents' loft in TriBeCa? I'm sorry, I have nothing against Ms. Dunham, I'm just grief-stricken). Amy's record was about real problems, though. But having this weird indomitable spirit about it. Like, "I know I am a mess. I know I am out of control. I can't help it." This is crazy that we got to hear this. In retrospect it's a gloomy foreshadowing of her death, but when I was 22 it really spoke to me. "Rehab" was about fucking up, and realizing it. What 22 year-old hasn't had a bad hangover?

Later, I identified with Amy Winehouse because she has a dental implant, like me.

I think it's really sad that she's gone. I loved her music, fiercely. Though I am pretty certain that even if we had known each other we would never have been friends.

I think the discussion around her death is awful. If she were not a woman, it would be totally different. If Amy Winehouse were a man, she might look a lot like this:

And she was totally iconic, though. Her retro thing is super problematic. Her style launched a kind of movement. British blue-eyed soul revival. This is, ultimately, a Colonialist aesthetic. The "Soul"/"Jazz"/"Blues" thing is a marketing gimmick. How different would Amy's landmark second album have sounded if Mark Ronson hadn't put her in the service of his fleeting Phil Spector Oedipal fantasies? I would hazard to say that the reason she was so popular, so engaging, so immediately iconic, was because of the contrast between her personality and her drag. Like, here is a pop star all tarted up in 60s kitten kitsch rockabilly glamour, how cute. But then she opens her mouth and she's a junky English Jewess, prefiguring her death, basically admitting to the fact that she is not interested in participating in the world. What the world saw in Amy Winehouse's sad-girl-in-a-party-dress beginnings was of course her demise. We all saw her driving off a cliff.

I've been thinking a lot lately about my friend Chuck, who died very suddenly in September 2005. He had had a really rough adolescence, and came quite close to dying for a number of other reasons. But then he got his act together. And then he got meningitis and died, like really quickly, over the course of a day. He would've thought Amy Winehouse was really lame. And he would've thought I am really pathetic for getting so sad about her death. Chuck would have likely called me a pussy. But you know what? He was obsessed with Morrissey (speaking of pussy) and he never even got to hear Amy's records. And anyway he's dead now so his opinion doesn't matter, I guess.

It's so easy to speak for the dead. Once they're gone you can make them mean just about anything.

There's a neat article on Fashionista about Amy Winehouse's influence on fashion. They leave out a biggie, though, Comme des Garçon's Fall/Winter 2008 collection. Apparently, Amy was the inspiration for this collection, and Rei Kawakubo played "Back to Black" during the runway show. Kawakubo's typically pithy description of the collection's theme was: "There's value in bad taste, too. This is Comme des Garçons bad taste."

Which is true of Amy Winehouse and her legacy, I guess. There's value in bad taste. In badness. In fucking up.

I tend to think that "Back to Black" also appealed to Kawakubo in more literal terms. The next year she opened BLACK Comme des Garçons, reinventing classic CdG pieces in Black at a (nominal) discount.

I guess what I am trying to say is that even though everybody knew she was a junky and everyone liked to make fun of her (because she was a woman?) Amy Winehouse managed to influence popular culture in a significant way.

Adolescence is really hard. I think a lot of us know people who never made it out of their teenage years. Even if they physically survived, they did so by deciding to forestall adulthood. We all know people who've chosen alternatives to being an adult in society, and sometimes those choices include death.

Lady G**a has often said that she began bleaching her hair because she wanted to avoid being confused with Amy. As if! Anyway, she can stop bleaching her hair now.

I'm pretty sad about Winehouse dying. I've been listening to her records over and over again since Saturday morning, trying to learn something new from them. We'll see.

1 comment:

Michelle-Lemon Meringue said...

That was a really well written eulogy. I've been feeling pretty broken up about Amy too... and I can't quite figure out why. I wrote about her on my blog as well... how tragic.

"I told you I was troubled, you know that I'm no good."

How freakin' quotable are her songs?