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Author: Subject: For the Amy Winehouse-haters

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  posted on 2/13/2008 at 01:35 PM
I found this article on Amy Winehouse over at the Slate.com, a good profile of her for people that dismiss her as a tabloid bimbo, rather than a massive (tragic) talent.

http://www.slate.com/id/2184209/nav/tap3/

Dark StarWhy Amy Winehouse is not just a celebrity train wreck.
By Jody Rosen
Posted Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2008, at 6:13 PM ET
Amy Winehouse. Click image to expand.Amy Winehouse

When Amy Winehouse finally appeared on Sunday night's 50th Annual Grammy Awards show, performing for a live audience on a London soundstage tricked out to look like a swank midcentury nightclub, it was just before 11 p.m. Eastern Time—almost 4 in the morning Greenwich Mean Time. By that point, viewers had heard at least a half-dozen teasers for the performance. They had watched presenters Cindy Lauper and Nelly Furtado accept awards on the singer's behalf, adding that Winehouse would be onstage performing live "in just a few minutes." And, as the hours dragged on, they had endured a mounting series of musical indignities, including a necrophiliac "duet" between Alicia Keys and Frank Sinatra, and a Cirque du Soleil contortionist writhing at the end of a bungee chord to the strains of "A Day in the Life."

But Winehouse was worth the wait. A curtain slid open to reveal the singer shimmying in a black cocktail dress beneath her signature beehive hairdo, leading a nifty nine-piece band through a medley of the hits "You Know I'm No Good" and "Rehab." The irony of the song choices was lost on no one. Winehouse was furloughed from a London rehab center to make her Grammy appearance, and has spent the past many months up to no good in the glare of tabloid klieg lights—on a spree of drug and drink binges, arrests, and abortive detox stints that culminated with the November arrest of her husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, and late last month with the release of a videotape allegedly showing the star smoking a crack pipe in her London home. Doubtless many viewers had tuned in to witness the latest chapter in the drama—another disastrous performance, or, if things went well, a tear-jerking moment of redemption.

What they saw was something more banal, and more uplifting: a professional. Winehouse sang with brassiness and style, dragging her phrases behind the beat, delivering playfully slurred melismas, and dropping deep into her lower register. She snarled and pouted for the TV camera, commanding the stage with a presence equal parts Betty Boop and Johnny Rotten. When "Rehab" won the award for Record of the Year—one of five Grammys Winehouse collected—she appeared slightly stunned, but recovered to deliver a sweet and, lo and behold, completely coherent acceptance speech, thanking "my mum and dad" and "my Blake," whom she also name-checked in her songs. She ended with a rallying cry—"Camden Town ain't gonna burn down!"—a shout-out to her North London stomping ground, which was ravaged by fire this past weekend. This burst of local pride was an especially good sign—a glimpse of the feisty London homegirl who emerged in 2003 with a rich mid-Atlantic musical mix, combining a connoisseur's passion for American soul and jazz with a strong sense of English particularism.
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Winehouse's Grammy appearance offered hope that she may finally be putting her worst self-destructive habits behind her. But it was also a reminder that, to a great degree, self-destruction is her muse. Winehouse isn't just a celebrity train wreck; she's a romantic poet of the train wreck. Her 2006 CD Back to Black (which was upset for the Album of the Year Grammy by Herbie Hancock's Joni Mitchell tribute Letters), features several songs about substance abuse, from the refusenik anthem "Rehab" ("They tried to make me go to rehab/ I said, no, no, no") to "Addicted"—a pothead's rant—to "Back to Black," in which Winehouse croons, "You love blow and I love puff/ And life is like a pipe." The album's larger theme, though, is another addiction. Nearly all the songs on Back to Black revolve around doomed love, with Winehouse returning time and again to hopeless relationships, and then to hitting the hard stuff. In "Rehab," she sings: "The man said, 'Why do you think you're here?'/ I said, 'I got no idea'/ I'm gonna, I'm gonna lose my baby/ So I always keep a bottle near."

Hard-bitten lyrics like those link Winehouse to the blues, and her music holds other echoes, from '50s vocal jazz to the '60s girl-group pop that Mark Ronson subtly updated in his superb production. Winehouse is less a straightforward revivalist than a clever postmodernist, mashing up old sounds with the racy bluntness of hip-hop. But she is certainly sentimental about the past—look no further than the beehive—and it is striking how Winehouse's retro-fetishism grades into her romanticization of suffering and squalor. The most obvious influence on her drawling, raspy vocal style is Billie Holiday, pop's supreme emotional masochist, who, by the way, drank and doped herself to death. In "Rehab," Winehouse spurns the detox clinic, saying she'd rather stay home listening to her Ray Charles and Donnie Hathaway records. Is it any coincidence that Charles was a notorious junkie and Hathaway a depressive and a suicide?

Byronic heroism has been part of rock 'n' roll's mythology from the beginning, and the pathetic deaths-by-excess of dozens of great musicians have done nothing to diminish its glamour. (Quite the contrary.) Obviously, Amy Winehouse is a genuinely troubled soul; the songs on Back to Black chronicle her tumultuous relationship with Fielder-Civil, and "Rehab" is reportedly something close to reportage, a more or less autobiographical account of her record company's efforts to get her into alcohol-addiction treatment back in 2005. But one wonders if Winehouse would have turned into quite such a mess had it not proved so fruitful for her music.

It's worth remembering that when Amy Winehouse first appeared, she was a rather different character. The Winehouse we met on her debut album, Frank (2003), was a streetwise 21st-century neosouler with an air of insouciance that was echoed in the record production: a sleek blend of cocktail jazz and hip-hop beats. The songs were catchy and her singing had charm, but the results were emotionally distant and unsatisfying—a far cry from the depths of feeling and meaning Winehouse would plumb when she started listening to the Shangri-Las and remade herself as a manic-depressive goth-barfly with an unhealthy appetite for pot and lager and ne'er-do-well men. If indeed Sunday night's Grammy triumph is the start of true comeback, this talented singer-songwriter may find herself facing something of an existential career crisis, in need of new subject matter, some healthier ideas about musical authenticity, and maybe even a less flamboyant hair style. There are other, better things to romanticize than hard times and hard booze, other metaphors for life than a pipe.

 

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Zen Peach



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  posted on 2/13/2008 at 01:42 PM
nice article............Love Amy......have several boot dvd's,& she fantastic live....

 

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  posted on 2/13/2008 at 01:53 PM
I think she's great, powerful voice. Best singer to come along in a quite a while.

 

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  posted on 2/13/2008 at 02:26 PM
quote:
I think she's great, powerful voice. Best singer to come along in a quite a while.
quote:
Love Amy......have several boot dvd's,& she fantastic live....
Agree on both counts! What a breath of fresh air after some recent female vocalist offerings like brittney, lindsey, paris (? please??), etc. Would love to see Amy live long and continue to contribute to the musical scene.

 

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  posted on 2/13/2008 at 02:31 PM
Maybe she'll cover "I'm no Angel"...

 

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  posted on 2/13/2008 at 02:31 PM
I have no problems with her.

 

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  posted on 2/13/2008 at 02:31 PM
quote:
quote:
I think she's great, powerful voice. Best singer to come along in a quite a while.
quote:
Love Amy......have several boot dvd's,& she fantastic live....
Agree on both counts! What a breath of fresh air after some recent female vocalist offerings like brittney, lindsey, paris (? please??), etc. Would love to see Amy live long and continue to contribute to the musical scene.


I agree too! What a voice!! Amy's the most exciting thing that's happened to the music scene in a very long time. Part of her success is her backing band. Those guys are sensational!!

 

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  posted on 2/13/2008 at 02:34 PM
Really don't know tons of her music. Just a few songs and I think she can sing. Was a little shocked at before and after pictures someone posted on here though.

Hope she gets all the help she needs.

 

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  posted on 2/13/2008 at 03:04 PM
My teenage daughters turned me onto Amy a few years back (normally, we dont agree musically...) however, the first time I heard her voice, she reminded me of the beloved Motown, motor city music that I cut my teen teeth on. I had no idea she was white when I first listened to her.

I love her pop songs. Talented writer in that genre. Great voice...

I try to ignore the tabloid rubbish..

 

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  posted on 2/13/2008 at 04:18 PM
So glad to see these messages supportive of Amy W. I thought she may be one of these Brit artistes that the Yanks don't get. She has a unique voice and style and divides opinions due to her problems and the way the UK tabloid press exploit her problems to sell papers. Hoping she manages to overcome her demons and becomes a huge success worldwide, although the downside of that is the best place to see her would be a small venue, not arenas.

 

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  posted on 2/13/2008 at 05:54 PM
I don't hate Amy Winehouse, but I certainly don't think she has a "unique voice and style."

Her music sounds good, but I find it totally derivative. If I was a bigger fan of Ronnie Spector and the Shangri-Las and that kind of music, maybe I'd like Winehouse more, but I still can't imagine seeing her as anything other than a retro-sounding copycat.

She has good taste, and if you're going to blatantly rip off an existing genre of music, then old-school R&B is a fine one to rip off. But I don't think she adds anything original. Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, the band Winehouse used for her recent album, are twice as good as Amy Winehouse and 10 times more authentic. Check them out for the real thing.

Just my opinion...

 
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  posted on 2/13/2008 at 06:17 PM
I think she has a very unique voice & delivery...& she writes much of her material..I just don't see the "rip-off or retro" thing at all...If that were true,you could say that about pretty much every artist....I'm not calling her voice "original",but definately unique. just my .02 on that. & btw,I respect any opinion,not trying to argue at all...

 

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  posted on 2/13/2008 at 08:37 PM
Her music is fine, but I think she's rather homely looking. Maybe it's that horrid hair, or maybe it's all those tattoos. Pretty tough on the eyes in my opinion.

I could be wrong, but isn't she also missing teeth?

[Edited on 2/14/2008 by BarrySmith]

 

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  posted on 2/13/2008 at 09:14 PM
I hear where you're coming from, Rob, but Amy is still young and no one's art is wholly without inspiration (even the Allmans sounded like another Yardbirds to a lot of people in 1969). I won't claim Amy is reinventing the wheel, but I think she totally turns the retro "wall of sound" on its head by mixing it with hip-hop and unrepentant, honest, auto-biographical confessionals that would make Richard Pryor proud. Add her unique voice I find her pretty refreshing. I dig Sharon Jones, too, but I feel the opposite way. Great stuff, but I don't find her as interesting, she's trapped in a Stax Studios time warp and doesn't bring much new to the table for me. Hey, different strokes.

Cheers

 

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  posted on 2/13/2008 at 09:28 PM
I had heard OF her.....a couple of her songs not knowing it WAS her....so I saw the Grammy performance from essentially scratch. I loved her! The band kicked ass--altho' she could do away with the dancers. Something about her 'persona' that tickled me. Sort of Elvira meets Cindy Lauper meets Shangri-Las meets Gilda Radner doing Patty Smith.
I feel some sort of 'sense of humor' behind her eyes....like she's in on the joke yet she wails. I'm gonna investigate her a little further I think. I don't pay much attention to 'what is hip'...(other than Tower of Power)...so I've missed the tabloid stuff about her.

 

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  posted on 2/13/2008 at 10:50 PM
I think she's brilliant. Not only can she sing like a motherf'er she writes great songs as well. Her pen is as mighty as her pipes.

It certainly helps that she's paired with two great bands (between the two I prefer the Dap Kings), and the production and arrangements on Back to Black are the best I've heard in years.



 

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  posted on 2/13/2008 at 11:51 PM
i like her style
 

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  posted on 2/14/2008 at 12:11 AM
quote:
I don't hate Amy Winehouse, but I certainly don't think she has a "unique voice and style."

Her music sounds good, but I find it totally derivative. If I was a bigger fan of Ronnie Spector and the Shangri-Las and that kind of music, maybe I'd like Winehouse more, but I still can't imagine seeing her as anything other than a retro-sounding copycat.

She has good taste, and if you're going to blatantly rip off an existing genre of music, then old-school R&B is a fine one to rip off. But I don't think she adds anything original. Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, the band Winehouse used for her recent album, are twice as good as Amy Winehouse and 10 times more authentic. Check them out for the real thing.

Just my opinion...

Rob, I know that it's just your opinion, but how can you diss Winehouse for what she's doing when you have Mofro's Country Ghetto as #4 on your Top 10 Albums of 2007 list? It's roots music man, the main reason why we're all on this messageboard. Hell, the ABB were recycling roots music at their inception, and they still continue to do so ("Maydell", "Woman Across The River"). And dTb, Mule....all the same. These bands exist because of this music. Winehouse is doing the same thing. She is inspired by the music she loves, which just happens to be that which inspires all of us.

Just my opinion.

 

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  posted on 2/14/2008 at 02:35 AM
I think Amy is a real talent and has the pipes, if she would just get healthy and regain the weight and confidence.

And yes, almost every band and artist takes a note or three from past music. I remember finally getting the chance to listen to a bunch of Elmore James, and I soon realized where Duane got a whole lot of riffs, in some cases almost identical. Eye opener, for sure. But, he took it further. Hopefully Amy will as well, as the talent is there.

DH

 

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  posted on 2/14/2008 at 03:23 AM
If she didn't look the way she does ,and if she didn't do the drink- drugs thing, then the press here in the UK would have no interest in her what so ever.

I don't like her, I'd rather listen to Susan Tedeschi

 

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  posted on 2/14/2008 at 08:19 AM
I love her voice, love her songs... not sure about her "look" , but that doesn't really matter to me.
Hope she can get herself together.

 

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  posted on 2/14/2008 at 08:22 AM
I love her voice... shes edgy.... brave..... Hope she stays well....

 

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  posted on 2/14/2008 at 09:36 AM
Say no to drugs!

 

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  posted on 2/14/2008 at 09:38 AM
quote:
Say no to drugs!


Poster child for Say No To Drugs.

 

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  posted on 2/14/2008 at 09:39 AM
Oh dear

 

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