July 23, 2011

I Tread A Troubled Track, My Odds Are Stacked...

Amy Winehouse was the embodiment of a hot mess.  Her personal life was, famously, a wreck.  Her live performances were unpredictable; even at her best, she never looked comfortable on stage.

She leaves behind--let's face it--one really great album.  And yes, its artistic success owes a lot to the backing band and to the production process.  No question, when we're talking about sheer pipes and stage presence, Sharon Jones is by far the more talented frontperson for a Dap Kings record.

The unique offering that made Back to Black--and for a brief moment, Amy Winehouse--compelling was a potent cocktail of passion and frailty.
Not that we're implying anything...

Amy Winehouse did not put herself forth as a woman in control of her own urges, be they chemical or sexual.  She owned her weaknesses as profoundly as her desires.  There was a tremendous self-awareness in those songs, delivered with a bitchy insouciance that recalled Ronnie Spector, Dusty Springfield, maybe a soupcon of Joan Jett.  

Winehouse's look and lyrics both hearkened back to the past and declared an ironic detachment therefrom.  Even the retro schtick, the beehive and the eyeliner, spoke to a generational rootlessness, a palpable discomfort with the twinned implications of liberation and responsibility.  

Amy Winehouse, in short, had the bravery to say that she was screwed up.  Not in a charming, gosh-aren't-I-a-caution hipster way.  No.  In real, life-altering mistakes; in poorly-controlled appetites; in hedonistic bad choices of all flavors.

It would be great if every woman channelled her inner Aretha; would that we were paragons of self-possesion.  But in the real world, there are moments that any woman with a pulse ends up allowing her emotions to override good sense, moments of infatuation with a choice intoxicant, be that booze or a man or something purchased furtively in an alley.

Those sordid little tales set in cheap bars and strange beds are resonant precisely because they're about weak moments.  It's never been fashionable to own up to the kind of emotional sloppiness that fuels Amy Winehouse's best work.  I cry for you on the kitchen floor.  Too messy for those autotuned blondies; not even a shade of grrrrl power as demanded by the granola set.

Weakness.  It's not pretty.  It's not neat.  It's universal, though, and Amy Winehouse's ability to face down her own fuckuppedness was strangely beautiful.

Would that she could have followed all that introspection with some corrective action.

Nobody's surprised that Amy Winehouse (ostensibly) OD'd; it is of course frustrating that she had every opportunity to get help.  But in the end, I feel sorry for her in a way that I couldn't about a dead child-molesting pop star who shall remain nameless.  She dragged herself into a dark place, but only herself.

Addiction forces us to regard the perpetrator and the victim in one body.  It's a terrifying sight, one that fills us in turns with rage and nervous laughter and confusion.  Sympathy or blame?  Empathy or judgement?  Yes.

It's no surprise, but it is a shame.

She may not have put on the brakes, but she warned us.  I told you I was trouble.  Yeah, you know that I'm no good.