Sunday, July 24, 2011

Brilliant, bright, brief

What a depressing couple of days. A lone nutjob massacres almost 100 people in Norway and then surely one of music's most inevitable headlines: Amy Winehouse Found Dead. If there's one good thing out of all this, it's taken the name Murdoch off the front pages for the first time in a month.

No sooner had we begun to digest the true, psychopathic horror of Utoya and Oslo (ignore the chronological reversal - sadly, the later events of Friday eclipsed what took place earlier in the Norwegian capital), than a story broke that was probably written a long, long time ago.

No one - least me - will compare the horrendous waste of young life in Norway and North London equally. But despite the inevitability of Winehouse's death, it would be wholly wrong to look upon in it as another rock'n'roll triviality. As Billy Bragg pointed out, quite simply, "It's not age that Hendrix, [Brian] Jones, Joplin, Morrison, Cobain and Amy have in common, it's drug abuse, sadly." 

'Abuse' may be the right functional description, but addiction is a condition. It may be the result of experimentation, of recreational diversion, of boredom, of pressure to escape reality - whatever - but it is a disease. Alcohol, drugs, food - these addictions are born from the progressive dismissal of the sufferer that they have a problem. Some are lucky and can kick it before it kicks them. Some need intervention. Some may never be saved. 

If you've never suffered addiction it's easy to say addicts are victims of their own misfortune. It's also easy to say they shouldn't be regarded as victims at all, that it's their fault with society picking up the pieces. It's not.

Like all her peers in the infamous club of 27-year-old rock tragedies, Amy Winehouse was a talent of rare quality. Before her breakthrough Back To Black album emerged in 2006, she was earning a deserved reputation bridging the vintage jazz, soul and blues she so obviously evoked, and an urban-smart sensibility reflecting her Southgate stamping ground. 

The industry buzz was well justified. She couldn't be packaged. You couldn't simply describe her as a retro act. She was no ironic Mike Flowers Pops take on yesteryear, no Style Council homage. Hers was application of the best of Sarah Vaughan with a new and modern twist. But unlike Duffy and Adele who've followed, Winehouse wasn't a comfortable fit on daytime TV. I doubt if she would have known what daytime TV was.

What happened after her glorious arrival, why it happened and who it happened with is no longer important. It needs to be understood. It needs to be prevented from happening again. But as long as there are temptations and opportunities in the way of those susceptible to them, there will be tragedies. 

I know this blog has appeared to have a morbid obsession with dead rock stars in recent months. Please grant me comment on just one more: Amy Winehouse's passing may have admitted her to illustrious, if tragic, company. but in joining Jones, Joplin, Morrison, Cobain and Hendrix, she has given credence to Keith Richards' keen observation, mentioned on these pages not so long ago. The commonality between these people is not only tragedy or addiction, but that - whether through fate or design - their stars shone brilliantly, brightly and briefly. If your record collection only includes the handful of albums the so-called 'Forever 27' club made, you'd have a very decent record collection indeed.

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