To me the music of Amy Winehouse contained everything pop-music should contain; undoubtedly good music that is liked by all. And by ‘all’ I don’t mean the mainstream only.
Her music also stood far from vulgar entertainment. Rehab, her biggest hit, deals with a pretty controversial topic; not exactly something that immediately appeals to the masses. To me that’s another thing ‘good’ pop-music: it not only deals with the obvious issues like heartbreak but also addresses topics that may not exactly be your cup of tea. And if the artist is as good as Amy was, they manage to take you along on their journey and make you understand their feelings, however hard that may be. That’s art, and an art few contemporary artists seem to master.
I wasn’t a big fan of Amy Winehouse, but I always loved to hear her songs on the radio. Her music stood out in excellence compared to most ‘hits’ of today, It was a relief to hear something good in between all the crap. And I must admit that after seeing a live show of Miss Winehouse and her band on BBC television it turned me into a fan too. This was a show that depicted Amy at her best. No She obviously wasn’t sober, but she was in control. Everything about that show was great. She had a fabulous band, with great dancers, and her voice and performance were impeccable. The day after I saw that show I bought myself her albums, like 10 million people did before. And every time my I-tunes plays one of her songs I sing along. And that means a lot, being an old punk-rocker like I am, don’t you think?
Amy Winehouse died at the magical age of 27. But that’s not the only thing she has in common with other Rock Icons that died before their time. Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain all shared one thing; they had big problems with their respective record companies about the direction their music was going. Their record companies just wanted more of the same. So in their view the direction had to be ‘steady as she goes’.
Apart from experimenting with drugs and booze, Brian Jones experimented with music that stood far apart from the blues rock the Stones got famous for. Not only the record company didn’t like that, but Jagger and Richards, his fellow songwriters, weren’t pleased also.
It’s a well known fact that Jimi Hendrix wanted to change directions and make jazz instead of Rock. Some people even claim his record company didn’t shun violence to withhold him of that idea.
Jim Morrison had a big problem with the rock star idiom; he much more preferred to be a poet instead of a rock star.
Kurt Cobain wanted Nirvana to go into a direction that was much less commercial and stood a lot closer to his punk-rock roots. It’s said that Geffen; the company that had Nirvana under contract refused to release an album that was made in between ‘Nevermind’ and ‘in Utero’ because it didn’t fit into the genre that was known as Grunge and therefore wasn’t saleable.
Apart from Cobain, producer Steve Albini and Cobains spouse Courtney Love thought this album was the work of a genius and would have changed rock music, but it wasn’t to be.
Not all big rock stars went under because of problems like this, but it is striking that most of the stars who lived beyond their 27th birthday not only got talent for writing and performing, but were talented business man/women also . Take Prince and Madonna for instance; Prince set himself free from any involvement by major record companies and started releasing records on his own label, saying good bye to mass appeal. But he’s still doing well and doing exactly what he wants to do. Madonna built a business empire of her own and also chooses her own direction. That direction may be pretty commercial, but no one has a say in it except Madonna herself.
It’s not a proven fact that problems with record companies caused the demise of the stars I mentioned in this piece, but it may well be a reason for them to flee into a huge intake of drugs and liquor. It won’t surprise me if Amy Winehouse lost her way into drugs and booze because of similar problems.
I saw an old interview with Amy yesterday. An interview recorded in my own hometown as a matter of fact. In that interview Amy spoke of her love for Jazz music. It may well be that the reason the album after ‘back to black’ took so long to get recorded because Amy was changing directions. And that this change of directions caused a problem with Island/Universal; her record company.
We probably never know for sure unless a hidden diary or tapped phone conversations surface. But it’s for sure breaking at a young age and breaking fast, is hazardous to ones health. When serving your first contract with a major you’re dogmeat and the bigger your success the higher the pressure becomes. Take in mind that if an artist manages to sell 10 million copies of an album in this day and age, and your album is at the top of the charts for over a year, you become a cash cow. You may be the cork on which a major company is keeping afloat. All that may proof a bit much for frail shoulders like Amy’s.
(dit is de Engelse uitvoering van de column die ik eerder over Amy Winehouse plaatste. De Nederlands versie kan je hier vinden.)