The cliche when reacting to the deaths of famous people is to say how “shocked” you are. That doesn’t really apply in the case of Amy Winehouse, who was found dead earlier today (July 23) of a suspected drugs overdose, aged 27.
It’s deeply sad, of course, and tragic -but not shocking. Winehouse had been on a wilful fast-track to oblivion for a long time. Indeed, one of the most heartbreaking things about her all-too-brief career is that the second, downward spiral phase lasted longer than the happy first flush of fame, when she was simply a phenomenal performer, with a confessional vulnerability that drew you in, and a voice that could pin you to the back of the room.
There is a certain awful inevitability to all this. Winehouse did little to dispel the notion of herself as a tragic chanteuse. She clearly identified with performers such as Billie Holiday, women with troubled lives whose incredible voices communicated a deep inner sadness.
But this was no pose: Winehouse was a deeply damaged soul. Once, while being interviewed by Spin magazine, she broke off talking to carve her then-boyfriend Blake Fielder-Civil’s name into her stomach with a shard of mirror.
But it wasn’t all tears and sorrow. Sure, given the circumstances people are bound to focus on heartbroken laments such as ‘Love Is A Losing Game’. But Winehouse also gave us moments of floor-filling pop euphoria like ‘Rehab’ and ‘Valerie’. The latter song, in particular, must have soundtracked a million messy nights out. It’s the sound of freewheeling drunken Britain.
Because Winehouse is an authentically British voice too: as much as she was the superstar who sold 10 million copies of ‘Back To Black’, won a wheelbarrow full of Grammys and duetted with Prince, she never stopped being the archetypal hard-drinking Londoner, getting smashed in the Hawley Arms before picking up the red-tops in the morning to see if she was in them.
What a voice. What a unique personality. What a horrible waste. But what could anyone have done? Amy Winehouse had plenty of people trying to help her, plenty of chances to turn things round. Ultimately, the bleak truth is that the forces driving her to get blitzed were stronger than the ones driving her to write and perform.
How will you remember her?