Hard to believe it’s nearly a year. This was written on July 24 2011.
Poor old Amy Winehouse. A great talent reduced to stumbling around a Serbian stage seemingly not knowing where she was, she’s apparently drank and snorted herself to death and is the latest affiliate member of the ‘27 club’.
It is indeed spooky the number of icons that have died at 27- Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison, along with Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, are cited as the core members of the ‘club’, but a quick Google shows that many, many more have signed up. Cobain’s membership may, or may not, have been intentional. His mother certainly thought it was; she said “He’s gone and joined that stupid club” when she heard of his suicide.
Both Jones and Morrison’s deaths were shrouded in mystery; while Joplin and Hendrix simply overdid the drugs. But whether the 27 Club is some mysterious force of greater cosmic significance- or 27 years is the amount of time the human body can survive the prodigious excesses these performers inflicted upon it before giving up- it’s really irrelevant. Music has yet another myth in the making.
Amy Winehouse may not get officially accepted in the 27 Club, at least going by the reaction on my Facebook feed, common consensus being she wasn’t as rawk or as talented as Kurt and co. But if we cast our minds back to 2006, not exactly an eternity ago, Winehouse was fast on her way to becoming an icon.
Her stunning, warmly rich voice, her undoubted song writing talent and her beehive hairdo were a fresh change from the Timbaland-produced R’n’B that dominated the charts of the time. For the first time in who-knew-how-long, soul was in the top ten. It’s no exaggeration that she kick-started the revival of blue-eyed soul, and we have her to thank for the likes of Adele and Duffy (well, we’re maybe not so grateful for Duffy). Some even credit her for the current wave of female dominated pop music; her success showed record companies that solo female artists sell records.
Her look -cutesy fifties dresses, beehive, eyeliner flicks, hardened with sailor tattoos and piercings- earned her many ‘Worst Dressed’ accolades. It also made her instantly recognisable. Anyone who went out on Hallowe’en 2007, at the height of her fame, will remember sharing the dance floor with at least three Amy Winehouses.
It remains to be seen which version of Winehouse will be remembered by the public. Sadly, after the release of Back To Black, Winehouse careered downhill, aided and abetted by the phenomenal tosspot she wrote the album about, ex-husband Blake Fielder-Civil. The tawdry details of Winehouse’s final three years have been raked over again and again, but suffice to say she rarely appeared in the media for her music. The last solo single she ever released was 2008’s ‘Just Friends’; her last significant appearance in the charts was the guest vocal on Mark Ronson’s smash-hit version of the Zutons’ ‘Valerie’. It’s in sharp contrast to the rest of the 27 Club, most of whom were recording and playing right up to their untimely deaths.
For so long Winehouse was snickered at in the media as ‘Amy Wino’ that the image of the great, wasted talent struggling to stand on the stage in Serbia may outlast her immense talent, which would be a shame. It’s almost unlucky that she had her heyday in an era which scrutinises celebrities with a microscope. Billie Holiday underwent similar addictions, but there were no bitchy blogs to document her death from cirrhosis of the liver. She is remembered for her music.
Hopefully Amy will be remembered for her music too. And though it seems unlikely, it might dissuade others from following the ‘live-fast-die-young’ ethos. Retirement can, and should be, an option in the music business.
For all the glamour associated with the icons of the 27 Club, they achieved nothing by their early deaths, only depriving their families of their presence and the world of their talents. Wendy Cobain was right; it is a stupid club.
RIP Amy Winehouse.