I knew Amy was dead a little over a month ago. Once the concert footage from Belgrade hit the Internet, I knew, just like I knew that Kurt Cobain was dead after he OD’d in Italy. It was easy to laugh at her latest public embarrassment, but it was clear that her days were numbered and that she would not, in fact, finally get her shit together and live to a ripe old age. The smoky voice, the beehive and the endearingly self-destructive behavior all came to an end Saturday when Amy Winehouse went one toke over the line, sweet Jesus.

It’s undeniable that there’s something intrinsically attractive about a hot mess. Her fellow members in Forever 27 all have a bit of glamorous sparkle in no small part because of their bad habits. Only a couple months ago we could chuckle ironically about Amy, self-satisfied with the hope that one day she would clean up her act. We could look forward to seeing her at the age of 50, singing about the hard times from the other side of the mountain. No more. Now all we have are two records and an impossible number of photographs to remind us that something truly unique and beautiful is gone. It’s hard not to wonder if someone could have done something to prevent what will retroactively be deemed “inevitable.”

Above all, Amy should be remembered for her music. In an age of plastic pop stars more product than artist, Amy wrote many of her own songs. Her “image” is little more than a woman who finally has enough cash at her disposal to make a dream of being the fourth member of the Shirelles come true. Her voice is as unique as Tom Waits raspy growl, with an instantly recognizable timbre that spawned legions of imitators lacking both her exceptional interpretive talent and panache. Her debut, the mostly unremarkable Frank, stands apart from the pack precisely because of her voice. Amy really comes into her own when she acquires The Dap-Kings, the Daptone records house band. This coupled with a vintage, analog tape production sound make Back to Black everything an Amy Winehouse record should be: passionately muted with one foot in 196X and one foot in today.

Amy had one thing to offer that no one else can — her life. Her voice isn’t merely a product of superior breeding or physiological gifts. It certainly isn’t the product of hard work and gumption. Rather, it’s represents a lifetime of sorrow compacted in a few years and a superhuman ability to feel the suffering of others before translating it into great art. Our girl leaves a massive hole in pop culture, with a number of imitators and followers seeking to capitalize on the retro chic of ’60s girl pop and soul. Much like the passing of Kurt Cobain, there will be many pretenders to the throne, all of whom fall embarrassingly short.


NICHOLAS PELL writes about the untold corners of popular culture just before they bubble over into the mainstream and become bowdlerized. His work first appeared in the alleged "punk rock bible" Maximumrocknroll when he was just 15 years old. Since then he has written for The Hit List and London PA. He is currently working on a history of the 1990s hardcore punk sub-genre known as powerviolence. When not writing, editing and researching he can be found dancing to soul and rocksteady or searching for the perfect pair of Levi Sta-Prest jeans. His personal website is nicholaspell.com.

8 responses to “Goodbye, Darlin’…”

  1. Gloria says:

    Beautifully said.

    I highly encourage you to read Russell Brand’s words about Winehouse from The Guardian.

    • I’m amazed that Russell Brand did something that I don’t hate. This is making me cry a little again.


      • Gloria says:

        You might also enjoy reading My Booky Wook. It, too, is not what you’d expect from Brand. It’s the reason I love him, actually.

        Sorry for your sadness.


    • Riley says:

      Hopefully Brand will be next; sure the Arab spring has failed comically but this could be the time that a lot of annoying celebs die hopefully in a lot of pain first.

  2. Vittoria says:

    What angers me is the attitude of those unsympathetic to this loss. People who show no remorse for a life lost, a daughter, an aunt, an artist. Someone who a few years ago was a fresh-faced, beautiful girl with a voice that carried emotion like I’ve never heard before, or thought possible.

    One wrong turn in her path. One bad decision and we strip her life of any worth and categorise her as a junkie, regardless of the gift she shared.

    Fact is, she gave more in a few years whilst suffering from addiction than the best of us could ever give in our entire lifetime.

    • You’ve really said a lot here that I’ve struggled to express coherently.

    • Riley says:

      Vittoria, you’re right there is a double standard; millions of people who lack Winehouse’s undeserved fame and money die routinely and people like you who live vicariously through vapid celebs certainly don’t care about them.

  3. Riley says:

    Amy Winehouse was an annoying sperm dumpster with an awful voice that sounded as if she had a permanent sinus condition; good riddance to that talentless cu**. So what if she wrote songs? That fact partly explains the lack of quality or do you think it takes a genius to rhyme bar and star?

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