I found out Amy Winehouse had died after reading a text from my mother, in a pub toilet on Saturday afternoon. “Was she 27?” was the first thing I said. And she was.
I’m not going to attempt a real obit, or a treatise on the tragedy of her death. You’ll have your own feelings on that, and anyway with nothing harder than a Nutella habit under my belt, I’m about as qualified to wax lyrical on the subject of addiction as Ashley Cole is on marital commitment. But I’m going to say something, if only to silence the harping adolescents on my brother’s Facebook page claiming she doesn’t merit comparison to Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix or any of the other fateful “27 club” members.
Reasons Amy Winehouse will be remembered – by me.
She was a London landmark. In my first year of uni, just as Amy was getting big (and her hair bigger), glimpses of that famous beehive were a standard feature in Camden pubs – like sticky floors and seatless toilets. In an area full of vivid characters, even if she hadn’t been getting famous, she still cut a dash. Holding court over the pool table, bantering with the bar staff, even out of earshot you could usually tell she was being hilarious. To a suburban 18-year-old, she represented everything alluring about moving to the city.
She stole my friend’s pub stool once. We didn’t say anything, just let her have it. She definitely could have taken us in a fight. She was an alternative version of womanhood. Much has been written about Amy’s style – her skill in taking retro references and making them utterly fresh, her knowing way with accessories and her artful way of dressing up and down simultaneously, always with ease. But to me the true brilliance of her appearance was that she was totally sexy, without ever really playing to a male audience. She never danced in her pants, the way every other popstress seems to think she has to. Her cartoonish, exaggerated aesthetic was an antidote to all the flawless grooming alongside her in the charts.
And while it was painfully sad to watch her once voluptuous form whittle away to nothing, with her bodily insecurities broadcast so publicly she remained an icon for the imperfect girl. Inspiration for every gap-toothed, knock-kneed, grubby-around-the-edges girl to crayon on some eyeliner and feel hot.
She wrote really good songs. Looking back now it’s funny to remember that when Amy first emerged she was lumped into the “nu jazz” scene with Katie Melua and Jamie Cullum. It became obvious pretty soon that she was too much of an old soul, with an old voice, to be properly new – and basically not moronic enough to be “nu”.
Everyone will talk about the way her music was filled with pain, proper, straight-from-the-heart pain, but for me the best thing is that it’s filled with so much more – it is uplifting music, raunchy music, party music, if you want it to be.