Sunday, July 24, 2011

tears dry on their own

At first, I was going to refrain from adding my tiny voice to the clattering din. Social media can overwhelm the senses every now and then. And in times of "news" overload, it's easy to feel like the information highway is crashing down around us all. This week was particularly difficult, but we soldier on. That is the essence of the human spirit.

With the passing of Amy Winehouse, I thought it best to find an oasis of peace. No need to contribute my thoughts. Enough would be more eloquently said across the interwebs. Then, pieces fit together throughout the day as I disengaged from my online activities. No smartphone. No computer. No internet connection. No zeros and ones. However, the music never stops at So Hip It Hurts HQ whether it's on the old victrola or deep inside the confines of my head.

Randomly but obviously, Adele came blaring out of someone's parked car on the steamy city streets. Oddly, I heard Duffy trilling outside an Indian restaurant in Greenwich Village. Some old school Ashford & Simpson turned up inside a tiny record emporium in SoHo. And images of London, my second home, started filling my headspace. Naturally, thoughts turned to the Amy Winehouse tragedy. So talented. So young. So successful. So fleeting.

At times like these, my mind doesn't turn to the burn and churn news conglomerates. I don't chatter on about how sad it is. Instead, I look inward and relive the beauty of the art. It's the optimist inside. The indelible mark of someone's talent never fades even after their physical presence has.

While people ponder her motivations, judge her movements and spin tales around someone they don't even know, it's the art that speaks most clearly to the heart and shines brightly through the media smoke.

Amy's croaky, bourbon soaked, lovelorn vocal delivery is a treasure. The modern amalgamation of Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Frank Sinatra and Dinah Washington. In these times of pristine, nondescript, sanitized, auto corrected, robotic vocal blanching, Amy's voice truly stood out among the pack.

Add to that a lyrical prowess and wit of someone twice her age, it's mind numbing to try to comprehend from where all that substance came from. There's a deeper story there. One we may never uncover now that Amy has floated into the ether.

Rewind to 2003. I recall seeing a raven haired beauty peering over the record rack at me. The sleeve seemed to beckon me. Who was this statuesque figure?

My trusty music guide's eyes lit up. He didn't have to utter a word. I knew he thought I would dig the sound captured within the grooves of the vinyl tucked inside the rose hued sleeve. Indeed, I was smitten with Amy's debut single, "Stronger Than Me". Unfortunately, the great British public, or at least the radio pluggers and programmers, were not yet entranced by her slurry, urgent, soulful delivery. As a result, the single limped in at #71 on the UK chart.

Pinned against a hip-hop track and a simple, jazzy guitar figure, Amy delivers a sultry tale detailing the disappointment in her love interest's lack of conviction. The other side of love - unrequited, lost and gone astray - seems to have been a recurring theme in Amy's work.

However, the sparkle of humor, even dark at times, could be heard glimmering deep inside her lyrical weave. In fact, it was one of the few times I've heard a female singer question her male love interest's sexuality by asking him if his weakness meant he's gay. Not politically correct by any means, but daringly insightful in the context of the song's message. Amy was not afraid to wear her thoughts and emotions on the very end of her sleeve.

And who would've had the audacity to release "Fuck Me Pumps" as a single, let alone write, record and feature it on their debut longplayer? Guts, determination, drive and vision all wrapped up in the unlikeliest of tattered bouffants.

Amy's debut album, "Frank", garnered quite a lot of attention, but it didn't bother the charts too much. Initially, it peaked at #13 and she was left to create the follow up. Greatness wasn't immediately expected. But with every passing month, her label couldn't contain their excitement over the developments. Little by little, the press and lucky insiders were made privy to the magic being constructed in the studio.

Many column inches have been dedicated to Lady Winehouse following her magnificent sophomore effort, "Back To Black", in all of its doo wop, 60s girl group, boozey, blusey glory. Grit and grime with a heartache chaser sung by a woman wiser than her years in some ways.

Rock n' roll was built on talent like Amy's. It was always the outsiders, the strangers and the challengers that pushed the limits of music. They pulled from the past, got inspired by the progenitors of their chosen genres, and blazed a trail into the future. Sadly, some of them burned out in a brilliant flash rather than simply fade away and tread on past glories. Amy Winehouse has entered that pantheon of performance like many before her. A bewitching force of nature like no other.

Without digging too deeply into the obvious touchstones, I'd like to share my fave rave from "Back To Black", "Tears Dry On Their Own". It's based around the chord sequence from "Ain't No Mountain High Enough", hence the Ashford & Simpson writing credit. The song encapsulates the elation and subsequent fall from grace that Amy, much like many great loves, experienced and endured.

Unfortunately, these days people are more interested in tragedy than talent. Titillated by someone's misfortune rather than find inspiration in them overcoming their personal struggle. So, for a moment, think about the people Amy left behind. Her family, friends, fans and musicians. People that might find consolation in her art. Art left to shine in the light of her short, sharp legacy while we reflect. Even though we are saddened to hear of her passing, tears do, indeed, dry on their own.


  1. Thanks for jumping in. I've been dealing with the same back and forth, but after having seen some of the bile directed at a woman that didn't necessarily want the attention, I feel I should stand up and say something.

  2. A very nicely written eulogy, better than anything that I read in the MSM.

  3. Thank you Vinny for showing that this young, brilliant, tragic woman's contribution to music is a foundation for so many to come.
    I've read one or two mentions of Frank, and sure it didn't light the same fire as Back to Black, but it's pure and unadulterated by record company or producer. It is who Amy Winehouse always was and always would be.