British songstress Amy Winehouse was declared dead on 23 July 2011. While the authorities initially declared her death to be “unexplained”, her enthusiastic substance abuse habit and history, lead us to deduce she was finally consumed by those infamous inner demons that have plagued artists so. SIPHO HLONGWANE says farewell to this generation’s Janis Joplin.
If you’ve ever seen “The Commitments”, which may be one of the truest films ever made about rock and roll, you’ll remember the character played by Robert Arkins musing about sex, the old rock and roll demon that devours and finally conquers all music artists. He wasn’t wrong – but he might have added drugs to his list.
Because that is what finally destroyed the career of Amy Winehouse. She was found dead in her London flat on Saturday, after paramedics received calls to attend to a “deceased woman”.
The London Metropolitan Police are treating her death as “unexplained”. According to the Daily Mail, she was found dead. “’On arrival officers found the body of a 27-year-old female who was pronounced dead at the scene,” the statement by the police said. “’Enquiries continue into the circumstances of the death. At this early stage it is being treated as unexplained.”
Watch: Love is a losing game
The number 27 strikes again. Music fans will know about this one – Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain and Janis Joplin were all called forth by the Grim Reaper at this age. And now, Amy Winehouse joins them. And like those before her, she defies understanding. Much like Hendrix, Cobain, Morrison and Joplin, she comfortably straddled genres and defied the constraints mere mortals placed on her. And much like them, she was gone too soon, conquered by the habits she had adopted.
In that time-honoured tradition we must dip into her works to decipher clues into the psyche of a person who produced genius and snorted her life away in equal measure. For the sake of brevity, we will confine ourselves to her second album: “Back to Black”.
The album opens with the morose yet defiant “Rehab”, where Amy defiantly declares that “They try to make me go to rehab/ I say no, no, no… They try to make go to rehab/ I won’t go, go, go.” It is in the sixth track where this artist seems to let go of defiance and bares her true soul. She’s mournful and very lonely when she sings that “love is a losing game”.
Watch: Amy Winehouse booed off the stage in Serbia
She might have substituted love for life in that lyric. Very early on in her career, she was diagnosed with multiple health issues, including depression, self-harm, eating disorders and the very unsexy emphysema. All of these were laid at one door – her alcohol and crack cocaine addiction. Her death is also being blamed on substance abuse. It isn’t an outrageous conjecture to make, if her final concert performance is anything to go by.
On 18 June 2011 she appeared in Belgrade on the first leg of her European tour. She was clearly intoxicated and unable to perform, and eventually angry fans booed her off the stage. The rest of her tour was cancelled. This was just the latest in a string of substance-abuse incidents that have plagued her career. She was constantly in and out of rehabilitation facilities for her addictions to alcohol, tobacco and cocaine. They destroyed both her marriage to Blake Fielder-Civil, and now apparently her life.
Born in London on 14 September 1983, Winehouse showed potential for talent – and trouble – from an early age. She was expelled from the Sylvia Young Theatre School for piercing her nose and not applying herself, but went on to attend other theatre schools. Her debut album, drenched in jazz influences, was released in 2003 to critical acclaim. But it was with her second, and last, album that she showed the breadth of her talent. She proved to be just as adept at jazz as she was with soul and R&B.
Photo: Funeral workers carry the body of Amy Winehouse outside her house in London July 23, 2011. Winehouse, one of the most talented singers of her generation whose hit song “Rehab” summed up her personal struggles with addiction, died in London on Saturday at the age of 27. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth.
It may seem a little easy to simply substitute the word “love” for “life” in one of her songs to cast a grim pall over her entire life, but the truth is it wasn’t just Winehouse’s love life that proved too much for her – it seemed everything she did had to be rendered difficult by the very choices she made. The very idea of existence seemed too much for her. (Dare we say that this is what layered her music with a brilliant depth of feeling?)
They always seem to go too soon – yet, go they must. The very genius we admire is what eventually devours them. DM
Main photo: British singer Amy Winehouse performs at the Brit Awards at Earls Court in London in this February 20, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Alessia Pierdomenico
While we have your attention...
An increasingly rare commodity, quality independent journalism costs money - though not nearly as much as its absence.
Every article, every day, is our contribution to Defending Truth in South Africa. If you would like to join us on this mission, you could do much worse than support Daily Maverick's quest by becoming a Maverick Insider.
Click here to become a Maverick Insider and get a closer look at the Truth.
Whale stress levels dropped dramatically after 9/11 due to reduced ocean-borne shipping. This was measured by analysing said whales' droppings.