It’s hard to believe it was a full year ago today that the world lost one of the most talented voices of this generation, Amy Winehouse. To many, it was an inevitable footnote to what had become a continuing tragedy with no possibility for a happy ending. To others, such as the millions of fans the singer amassed all over the world, it was a sorrowful outcome that defied the hopes they had been holding for Amy’s eventual return to the stage, where she shone brightly and – as she would admit herself over the years – where she was able to finally feel comfortable in her own skin.
Fan or not, Amy was unarguably a diamond in the rough of the music industry, scaling numerous genres and styles. She was – at only 27 – an accomplished lyricist with a penchant for self-expression that was direct, frank and at times, incredibly painful. Her goal was simple: to convey the experience of being a young, modern English girl in a truthful, stripped back fashion, without all the bubblegum romanticism of her pop contemporaries. With influences ranging from jazz to hip hop to Motown, she was the courageous – and sometimes laughably cantankerous – captain of her own ship, and became a megastar in the process.
Following her death, praise for Amy came from all corners of the globe – from fans and fellow artists who had been touched by the sincerity of the music she produced and so generously shared with the world. Sales of her two albums – 2006′s stunning debut Frank and its groundbreaking follow-up, Back to Black – skyrocketed as new listeners climbed aboard and listened intently to what she had to say, desperate to connect, to understand the years and heartbreaks which ultimately defeated her.
Make no mistake – Amy Winehouse was not weak. She was a woman who lived life on the edge of an invisible precipice, excited by the prospect of falling and grateful for the perpetual near misses. Some would call her reckless, and perhaps to some degree, the word applies. Still, I cannot help but connect with the part of her that I see crying out from the center of each of her songs, the part that doesn’t want fame or money or glory. Rather, she just wants you to listen, and she wants you to love what you hear.
Amy is not the first to have lost her life prematurely, to have been pulled under by the all-powerful current of that small pocket of humanity which is so raw, so demanding, that it turns us into people we never intended to become. It was not drugs that killed her, nor alcohol. Instead, it was the intense need to escape the heaviness of existence which she was so attuned to that led her to seek the void – not forever, just for a while. The problem is, once you’re in, getting out is a whole other issue.
Great singers are a dime a dozen; songwriters just as common. However, Amy Winehouse was something special – a small dose of comfort in the midst of this big wide world, and a year later, her loss is still a sharp reminder of how hard it can be to hold onto a heavy heart.