Monday, July 25, 2011

A tribute to Amy Winehouse


This is a reprint of something I wrote in July of 2008, I don't see any reason to change a word of it:

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 Fitzgerald 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

3 comments:

Diane Mason said...

I thought of this post the other day, as soon as I heard she'd died. I'm glad you reposted it.

Publius said...

Thank you for your humanity - the usual modus operandi among the moralists, which seem to be in the majority, is to say something akin to, "what did she expect." I think that often addicts and people who have trouble with substances/alcohol, etc. - often addicts are unusually sensitive souls who feel more of the pain and angst of the world than the average person. The substance is a way of numbing that pain.

She was a great talent, and I hope that she brought joy, and not just worry and pain, to her friends and family.

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

In the music business there is lots of pressure and there are lots of pushers...