I don’t have anything particularly new or different to say about the death of Amy Winehouse. I will say that I liked her work a lot, and that she seemed incredibly talented to me. And I view her passing as a real loss to those of us who listen to music and who intend to be kicking around for a while longer.
It also strikes me that if there’s any lesson in an apparently stupid and unnecessary death like hers (Is it really “unexplained”? I think not.), it is that talent, like intelligence and other lovely gifts, only takes you so far. It doesn’t tell you how to live your life, it doesn’t help you along. Hell, it probably hurts, making you flounder around, as we all do, but without the lovely benefit of anonymity.
Lord, that all sounds like pretentious nonsense (can I call it claptrap? I like that word.). But I wrote it, so there it is. Anyhow, back to Ms. Winehouse. I will point you to a portion of the comments of Tim Marchman on her passing, pointing out a bit of Winehouse work of which I was previously unaware:
I would like for everyone who scoffs at the dead junky and everyone who writes mournfully about temptation and misery—and there is not a lot of difference there—to listen to The Ska EP, which I think was released just as a fan club issue in the UK but is easily enough available through the magical internet. Despite the faux 2-Tone packaging and the lineage of the songs in neo-ska revival, the four numbers on it are a callback not so much to the Specials and the Selecter as to the deep, nasty funk they themselves were calling back, acts like The Paragons and Clancy Jones whose music came into the UK as skinhead rhythm and ended up serving as part of the baseline concept of what black music was to a couple of generations of brilliant young English musicians (which is a lot of why what they did sounds off to American ears.) This stuff sounded like what it actually was, R&B as heard and learned through cheap radios set to distorted broadcasts, and it was at times as thick as the sludgiest Stax and at times just corny, exuberant party music.
Winehouse kills it. She gets at the whole range of this music in four songs and proves herself one of the few people who’s ever been able to sing a Sam Cooke number without sounding ridiculous. She sounds even happier than she probably was to be singing these songs, not a one of which has to do with booze and coke or doomed romance, and yet never sounds sincere for a moment. It’s a trifle of a record and I wouldn’t want to put too much weight on it (not that you couldn’t if you were ridiculous: ‘You’re wondering now, what to do, now you know this is the end/You’re wondering how, you will pay, for the way you did behave,’ she sings at one point) but offhand Joe Strummer is the only other singer I can think of who pulled off anything like the same trick.
I thought that was a great tribute, and I dutifully followed the instructions and found the Ska EP for myself, and I will say that the music is pretty worthwhile in its own right (although I am a total sucker for Ska). May she rest in peace.