Farewell, Goddess with the beehive

In our cynical times there’s something to be said for living intensively, like Amy Winehouse did.

Julia Stitch

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Farewell then, Amy Winehouse. Goddess with a black beehive.

The editor has asked me to write a tribute – but there are far better ones you can hear all over London, as girls career in their cars, windows wound down, murdering ‘Tears Dry On Their Own’ with their tuneless wailing.

No one singing today has a voice like Winehouse had. And no one could write lyrics like her either.

They spoke to something you hear little about in a cynical age – soul. As the music industry slips further, year on year, into complete vapidity, she will be sorely missed. As a female icon she will rival Debbie Harry.

Judgement will hail down upon her and loudly declare that being Forever 27 is a rather pathetic way to get your name mentioned alongside Cobain, Johnson and Joplin, but had Winehouse not died her name still would have been mentioned among them – for her sound rather than her slipping away.

Even though Amy is not now in a position to reform her ways, it seems likely that she will still have her hair pulled (or the Romanian extensions that made up that glorious barnet) by various new moral arbiters, sickened by the drink and the drugs, for setting a bad example and depriving the world of her talent.

But there are far worse examples to set than to write blisteringly good records that will be played for decades after one is gone – and to have done it all before the age of 23. She didn’t have them written for her, like Cheryl Cole, didn’t rely on gobby opinions to promote herself, like Lily Allen, didn’t hire a haute couture bondage stylist to get herself noticed, like Lady Gaga, or mock flagellate the backing dancers, like Rihanna. She was so far beyond most of her contemporaries that even finishing this paragraph seems rather fatuous. Whether Winehouse lived or whether Winehouse died, the material – and that amazing voice – will live on.

It is only in myth that the hero is asked – from Achilles to Cu Chulainn – if he wants to live a long, peaceful life or die brutally, too early, for lasting glory. Winehouse’s death has certainly secured her that. In her short life, she has produced more than any of her detractors are likely to in three lifetimes.

That’s not to say that she is great because she died of drink and drugs at an early age. There are plenty of terrible musicians who do that every year. But she lived intensively, and to the current way of thinking, very unfashionably: those too tart emotions that went into her lyrics also sank all that vodka.

As soon as news of her death leaked out, the new default process for rock death began. Celebrities took to Twitter to lament the loss of her ‘talent’. Talent such as Amy’s isn’t even in their lexicon. And, besides, the talent stays. It’s Amy who has gone. And that awful loss is for her friends and family to bear.

The rest of us can pay tribute by turning the radio up, winding the window down, and letting those beautiful ballads rise up to meet her above the cold July air.

Julia Stitch is a writer based in London.

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