Life creeps up on you, man. I don’t understand how it is that I am 27 years old because it feels like I was 16 just yesterday. And in little ways, I feel older than my age – I no longer even attempt to seek out new music, I’m content in the songs and album of the past – they are always better, right?
But not long ago, the present had a superstar who I adored – Amy Winehouse. Hindsight is cocky son-of-a-bitch, it always tells you the truth after you needed the information and what hindsight tells me is that, at minimum, Amy was one of the best British musical artists of my generation.
Only a handful of female artists have made a noticeable impact on me – Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu and Janelle Monae. This is not to say that I don’t enjoy music from female artists, it is just difficult for me to relate to them and the subject matter they choose to sing about.
Hand on heart, I would rank Amy above the artists stated above – for me Amy was the embodiment of why I love music. The woman put her very soul into her music, warts and all, and she seemingly didn’t care. She was also a very contradictory artist and that is best illustrated by her two studio albums.
Frank was bursting with youth; it was brash, confident and it had the trademark Amy honesty which still sounds refreshing. I remember listening to ‘I heard love is blind’ and being absolutely blown to bits. It took me a while to comprehend what I was listening to – this woman made a song about telling her fella she cheated on him. To add insult to injury, the song was hilarious!
Back to Black is, for me, one of the greatest albums of all time. It is a haunting, grim old piece of work which has its roots planted more in the blues genre rather than the 50/60s Do Wop music she clearly wanted to reference. ‘Addicted’, ‘You know I’m no good’ and ‘Me and Mr Jones’ are a continuation of the brash, tongue in cheek Amy from the Frank album but there is a dark cloud that stops you from laughing – while listening to this album you are more likely to chuckle nervously. It is songs like ‘Love is a losing game’, ‘Wake up alone’ and ‘Rehab’ that propels Back to Black into the stratosphere simply because they are heart-breaking to listen to and you identify with Amy – even if you have a penis. These songs and indeed the whole album makes you feel like you are listening to someone’s inner most personal thoughts and I personally felt like I had no right to be privy to that information.
The older Back to Black gets, the more the brilliance of the album shows and, conversely, the more difficult it is to listen to. For me, it now sounds like the cry of a vulnerable and lonely addict who felt like she had nowhere to turn – maybe I’m looking too much into it. As a public, we were too busy laughing at her, reading about her in the press and referring to her as Wino to even realise that she probably needed urgent help.
When she died there were a lot of ironic jokes about the song ‘Rehab’ and it drove me nuts because it felt like people only listened to the chorus but not the verses. The final verse is particularly difficult to listen to:
“I don’t ever wanna drink again. I just, ohh, I just need a friend.”
What is so funny about that?
It’s tough for me to listen to any British female artist and not compare them to Amy – in fact, it is damn near impossible. That is probably why I have never cared much for Adele.
But I am happy to have such a high threshold for new artists to jump through in order for them to get my attention – I’m not sure they’re after my vote anyway. I am happy listening to my Ella asking me to cry her a river and Ms Holiday telling me about the strange fruit she saw. And most of all, I am happy listening to Amy talk about why she is trouble and I am happy to grieve for her and her talent for the foreseeable future.