Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Soul That Snapped Her Control

I had made up my mind. Anybody who could steal a band out from under one of my favorite soul singers, make an album with that band that sold millions of copies, and walk away with an armful of Grammys was someone to be detested. She didn't deserve to have farted on the couch next to the ratty-looking orange chair Sharon Jones had sat in as a queen sits on her throne on the cover of Naturally, her second album with the Dap-Kings. This jazz impostor's song about avoiding getting off drugs and alcohol was everywhere to boot, compounding things by being just a little too catchy.

So, that was that. I couldn't stand Amy Winehouse and I would never never buy one of her albums.

Well, I keep learning to never say never. A reissue of Winehouse's first album, Frank, was out, and I was curious, especially when I learned that a version of "Moody's Mood For Love" was on there. Made famous by King Pleasure, it's a mid-fifties quasi-scat masterpiece that is a challenge for any singer, and, aside from the idiotic arrangement she had to sing over, I had to admit that her vocal treatment of it was pretty damned good, even if Winehouse was a skinny-yet-curvy Jewish broad whose hair was bigger than she was. I also had to admit that her style and her attitude were hooking me...especially that partly scornful/partly celebratory shout-out to all the Victoria Beckham-wannabes and north London bar-hopping tarts, "F___ Me Pumps." The trouble with Frank wasn't the woman's voice, though - it was trying to back it up. Her style and quality was at times much older than she was, and the instrumentals didn't always complement her.

Maybe it was the assistance of a different producer and co-songwriter. Maybe it was the backing band that had the chops to not only complement that voice, but boost its vulnerability into the stratosphere. Maybe it was one too many nights boozing, fighting with boyfriends (especially that one who became her husband for a time), and listening to the Shangri-Las. Whatever it was, it became Back To Black, a whirlwind of Ronnie Spector plus Anita O'Day, with a chaser of Janis Joplin for good measure, and Winehouse was no longer just some Brit jazz singer, but a tattooed, beehived international star. She was also drinking quite heavily and greedily from the cup of life, inhabiting the bad girl persona with every inch of her increasingly rail-thin self. In this day and age of any and all news traveling instantly through the internet, everyone who cared to follow, and even those who didn't, could vicariously ooh and aah over her "authenticity" while tsk-ing over the excess of it, and with that, some sort of sick die was cast that I, for one, hoped the stronger side of her would be able to bust wide open. Having never been an addict, myself, I failed to get that she needed much, much more than inner strength to get through her troubles, especially because the eyes of the public seemed trained on her every move. These past few years or so, it seemed she was taking the time to get it together, and then she had a disastrous appearance in Belgrade, followed some time later by being found dead in her flat.

Just because you can see something coming like this for someone like Amy doesn't make it any less sad. What makes it infuriating, however, is when you see her death reported by a blogger concerned with Jewish issues and the comments include attacks on the life she led (which, well, everybody had done many times over already) and saying that, because of all her tattoos, she couldn't have a Jewish burial anyhow. She sported a "Daddy's Girl" on her left arm that kinda stereotypically screamed "Jewish princess," so I think a Jewish burial could've come about on the basis of that alone, but I bristled at the automatic condemnation on the basis of what was on her outside. Amy Winehouse had a supportive family, friends, and great talent, chose a terrible path, and seemed to be working her way out of it when she passed away, but the commenter forgot that even in the Tanakh, there are bad girls who aren't all bad. He also forgot that the ceremonies surrounding the burial for the dead are just as much for the living. It heartened me to learn that even though she was cremated, there was a Jewish service for her. It wasn't all about glorification of this flawed human being, it was an acknowledgment of her humanity: that she was beloved to some despite the choices she'd made.

At any rate, I look at her performances and wish she hadn't joined any damned club of the young, famous dead. I wish the peace for her had been longer-lasting, that she could have survived whatever losing game she put herself through. But that's past and gone, fading away, leaving nothing but her voice and the impression that a little girl got very, very lost.