Anyone walking into a grocery store in the United Kingdom will probably pass a magazine rack and see the melancholy, expressive face of Amy Winehouse gazing back at them. Since her death on July 23, at the age of 27, Winehouse has graced the covers and pages of nearly every entertainment and music publication.
The furor and publicity surrounding her death is an echo not just of the early enthusiasm the music world had for her, but also, unfortunately, of the many early deaths that have plagued the popular music world from its beginning.
Winehouse was unique for many reasons. Someone hearing her voice on the radio for the first time would probably think she was a soul singer from New Orleans or the southern US, wizened but somehow still full of fire.
Instead, she was a British girl, Jewish, in her twenties and right at the beginning of her career when she recorded her Grammy-winning LP, “Back to Black.” She gained commercial success in the U.S. and Britain at a time when corporate pop acts like Britney Spears were still dominating the charts. Winehouse infused jazz and blues, and was unabashedly writing about her own experiences rather than relying on a team of hit-makers to take over the crafting of her songs.
Success and talent, unsurprisingly, did not keep her demons at bay, and soon the media was more likely to report on her eating disorders, affairs, and addictions than her music. She never released another album, and ended up cancelling a tour after getting booed off the stage at a concert in the summer of 2011.
Then, came the news that she was dead, and the tributes poured in. While some sang her praises and others bemoaned her inability to save herself, all seemed to agree that Winehouse had so much to offer and died too soon.
Talking about the myth of the “27 Club” would be a disservice to her talent, and Winehouse stands tall enough as a musician without needing to aggrandize her status as a dead rock star, or deify her for being more than a musician. Whatever her flaws, she was unique, full of promise, and the world was lucky to have her.