It is obvious, too much so indeed, to reach for the coincidence of the rock’s “27 Club”, and attach the name of the deceased Amy Winehouse to its list of passed talents. Winehouse was, almost from the start, a major British talent lost to the glare of a media world she wasn’t designed for.
When my former boss at work, a woman in her late 50s, first heard “Rehab” on BBC Radio 2, she genuinely believed the voice coming through her speakers was that of a 1960s Motown star. That voice – so distinct, tainted with lost hope, quite a lot of booze and a heck-load of attitude, can be heard still today in every female singer who has chosen to speak with pronounced Estuary English and a glint in the eye. Winehouse’s launchpad into the commercial world could have been the introduction to one of Britain’s most distinctive, long-lasting female talents; she was funny, bold, brave. Ultimately, most tragically, she was misguided and misdirected.
Her tragic death is tinged with dark irony. Her final live performances, caught on camera and shared across the world, are stumbling, incoherent messes; her mind seems completely overblown, her attention lost to the glare of lights, music, voices, crowd. What was there, still in the back of her mind, caught in the grip of booze and drugs? The younger Amy, the star she could have been, desperate to repair damage and carry on?
Amy was a tabloid journalist’s dream ticket. Potential megastar wrapped in scandal after scandal – snortable distractions, celebrity lifestyle, body image to mock. And as much as she ran away, she inevitably followed, cuckoo-like, the glare of each and every camera.
Her legacy will be those songs which showcase the woman who was, fleetingly, the biggest British star with the greatest soul voice for generations. What could have been – that perennial question for all rock’s lost young talents – will rest on the breeze for all our lives.
When Kurt Cobain was found dead, his generation mourned the loss of a singer and songwriter whose best work could have still made the radiowaves and stadium stages. Today, a new generation finds an icon similarly tortured by genius and drug addiction, and mourns her just the same.
She will be missed.