When Amy Winehouse died two weeks ago, I felt a deep sadness. Say what you will about her, the girl had talent. And she lived a tortured life. Like a lot of people I know, I was surprised at her death, but not entirely. I was also surprised to learn that she was only 27. She was an old soul.
It seemed like the days when famous musicians would die so tragically young were mostly behind us. Sure, celebrities still took too many drugs and drank a lot, but didn’t they all end up in expensive institutions where they were watched over and set on the right course?
Amy famously sang about not wanting to go into rehab, but I think people mostly took that song as a kind of joke. The song is undeniably upbeat musically, and it brilliantly mixes a lot of emotions: it’s funny, it’s tough, it’s soulful, it’s sad. For me, the most telling line in the song is, “It’s not just my pride, it’s just ’til these tears have dried.”
That’s the thing about Amy Winehouse — she knew she was fucked up, and that’s what she sang about. She had a sense of humor about it, for sure, but what really comes through when I listen to her songs — songs like “You Know I’m No Good,” “Back to Black,” and “Wake Up Alone” — is a real sense of regret about how her addictions were ruining her life.
This is honest self-reflection on her part — Amy Winehouse is not apologetic, but she’s not proud either. No pathos for Amy; she seeks neither our pity nor our approval. She just tells it like it is. And that’s what makes her music so great.