Monday, March 26, 2012

...did anyone detect cries for help in her music?

A while back, I wrote of Amy Winehouse, I posted that if I were growing up in today's world, I probably would have been a big Amy fan. I wrote about how she seemed so absorbed in her music, projecting something very deep from within. I wrote that just after her death, after getting curious as to what her music was about, and seeing and hearing her on YouTube. I began to research her music, and to the best of my knowledge, only two of her albums were released during her lifetime, with the most recent one ("Back To Black") being released in 2007. That's quite a while ago.

This is that album, "Back To Black". This is the one that won her so many Grammies. The song that initially hit me hard and caught my attention right away is "You Know I'm No Good". The line that hit me in the face was "I cheated I knew I would..." and that's so sad. "I told you I was know that I'm no good". She was in the prime of her career then, and yet this is how she saw things. It's as if she's at the edge of the abyss, looking in, ready to fall at any moment, knowing sooner or later that she'd succumb. It's a sort of pervasive, unrelievable sadness that is discomforting in the short term, and downright fatal if it's not dealt with somehow. In "Wake Up Alone", she sings of keeping herself busy in the daylight, but feeling out of sorts and lonely when the sun sets; here she is, the big star, who gets lonely like the rest of us. What sets her apart is that she can encapsulate that feeling for the rest of us, and that's what an artist does...make you feel things. She sings of "dying a hundred times; you go back to her and I go back to Black". Shiverrr...

This is her third album, "Lioness", released posthumously. On it are songs which were tentatively supposed to be on her third album but we'll never know for sure. It's just about all there's left. It contains five cover versions of someone else's songs. I believe that an artist selects certain 'outside' songs because those songs say something, or perhaps give hope or portray the blues that an artist expresses. She sings the hopeful old song, "Our Day Will Come", but the way she sings it, it's as if there's a chance that day will never come. She absolutely nails "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" and wrings her emotions dry in doing so; it's done so beautifully and yet is So Very Sad. She sounds like a very old soul here. Her version of "Girl From Ipanema" is playful; perhaps she wanted to take a break from all the heavy stuff by addressing this jazzy little number. Another cover-track is her version of Leon Russell's "A Song For You" which is meant to be sort-of a nice little something which she's left behind for someone in her life, that she's left behind for the rest of us, turns out. Lastly she duets with Tony Bennett on "Body And Soul"; I've read this is the last song she recorded, and to my ears, she appears to over-slur the lyrics and she seems out of it, and that is very sad. A couple of her songs feature rapping, but to me, those raps only add a degree of "in-your-face" to her sentiments and threaten to throw the songs off course, but I suppose she was looking for some kind of synthesis, some kind of "sound"; I'll chalk that up to musical exploration, testing the limits if you will.

She also wrote many of the songs on the "Lioness" disc; coming across as playful in her composition "Valerie"; she sounds as if she's really enjoying herself in the studio, playing with the rhythms and vocalizing very crisply. Another of her own songs, "Best Friends, Right?" describes a dysfunctional relationship in which both partners mistreat each other, "but we're Best Friends, Right?" The relationship that rips her apart but yet she needs to hang onto that. Another one of her compositions, "Like Smoke", comes right out and says it: "I never wanted you to be my man; I just needed your company". She approaches it on her terms, no matter if it's good for her or not. I think that's what makes her such a compelling singer. The contradictions abound, but her sheer talent outweighs the angst of her material.

She had problems and demons. She was in a relationship that was no good for her. She was constantly hounded by the British press, which shows absolutely no mercy; they probably drove her nuts. And there were alcohol and drug problems that she couldn't overcome. I'm sure that younger people who were her fans could write about her with more accuracy than I, at 57, can muster. At the same time, I find her very, very absorbing and fascinating. Was she a train wreck that was about to happen? Perhaps so, but if she or anyone else could see it, well, no one saw it. And it happened. I feel sad for her, her family, her friends and fans.

I've seen some of her appearances on YouTube. She'll sing the hell out of a song with her voice weaving, dodging and mightily projecting...and when the song ends, she stands still at the mike, her eyes turned upward with a meek little smile that appears to be saying, "Did You Guys really like that? You do?" Hers is a sad story. My one-word description of Amy: "Melancholy". She had all the talent in the world. And it wasn't enough. There are those who say that Artists are more vulnerable; maybe so. Maybe they're more sensitive. But maybe they're constantly under more stress. And, though the world is one big oyster, maybe the Music Press turns that one big oyster into a fishbowl.

I'm still waiting for my copy of her first album, "Frank" (as in Sinatra, who was an inspiration of hers) to arrive at my door. I can't wait to hear it. From all indications, it should be a good listen. Hers is music that seems to transcend the generations. How to end this...Sing like her, yes. Sound like her, of course. Write songs like she did? Go for it. But...nothing in life can be so bad that Suicide is justified. Maybe her suicide wasn't a suicide, but probably was in the long term. And don't let it happen to you.


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