Thursday, July 10, 2008

I couldn't believe what I was hearing

David Seaton's News Links
I admit that I had thought that Amy Winehouse was just another one of the media grotesques, a sort of Paris Hilton with a beat.

I thought that her big hit "Rehab" was a catchy update of the Stax/Atlantic sound, sung in blackface. I sang it in the shower, hummed it in the metro.

This afternoon I was having coffee in my local, when the video shown above was played on some music channel and then, suddenly I discovered that I was listening to a very fine, an extraordinarily fine, potential saloon singer.

A saloon singer, by my definition, is someone that is able to take an ordinary, flat, tin pan alley lyric, and through what Noel Coward called "the power of cheap music", to mysteriously and effortlessly enter uninvited into some of the painful inner reaches that we, the most empathetic of anthropoids possess... as if they had been given a pass key.

A saloon singer is not a jazz singer. Billy Holiday was a saloon singer and Ella Fitazgerald was a jazz singer -- to name the two finest of their species. Someone said that when Billy Holiday sang, "my man is gone", your heart broke and when Ella sang the same line, it would be "my man is gone. He went out for cigarettes, he'll be back in ten minutes, can I take a message?"

You don't even have to understand the lyrics for this to work. Edith Piaf was perhaps, with Lady Day, the greatest saloon singer that ever lived and when I was a kid and didn't understand a word of French, I used to play her records over and over again. It's in the voice, not the lyrics.

There is one line in Amy Winehouse's song, "Back to Black", that goes, "I died a hundred times"... and bang there she is right into the special place that only saloon singers find, with nothing... and she does it every time she sings the line.

If this young lady doesn't die of a drug overdose, or ruin her voice, she could recreate saloon singing, be the female Sinatra.

If they finally do drag her off to those ten weeks of "rehab", she says she doesn't have time for, I suggest that she take some time and a piano player and go over the great American songbook. She could wash her face and shave her head, cut the stepin fetchit and live to be a hundred. It's there, she has it, I hope we don't lose it. DS

1 comment:

RC said...

I've missed the entire Amy Oeuvre so far, but seen the news reports of her pulmonary demise.
I block out most of pop culture and miss it not. Living in a non English speaking place, Amy hasn't started playing out of the car windows yet.
But, now that you insist, Dave, I'll ask the statesiders to lend me a CD.
So far, Amy's trajectory seems so much like that of Janis Joplin. Now you have me curious about what Amy can do. Thanks for the tip.