I've never been an alcoholic or addicted to drugs. I've never been to the bottom, although sometimes I think I might have glimpsed it. I've woken up lovesick and with the pain behind my eyes and in my chest and wondered what the fuck I was doing and where I was going. And at those times I've glimpsed the bottle, maybe even felt that momentary pang of sickness, and then considered opening it again. I never have; but I think if I had been listening to Amy Winehouse at that time in my life, I might well have done.
Although it might displease the musical fascists, I like almost any genre of music. A developed individual ought to be able to appreciate many different kinds of music because the various genres speak to our various emotions and experiences; to limit yourself to one or two is to have a soul that is somehow crippled. The bands that spring to my mind when I try to write about Amy are the ones that are her opposite - The Fratellis, The Strokes and some of the output of The White Stripes. Their music is what we might call traditionally masculine - it's about simple arrogance and the inflated self-confidence you get from six pints of lager; it's about conquering the world. Amy's music is about the world conquering you.
Winehouse's music encapsulates her life - it is crystallized pain. Pain that she has largely brought upon herself. Amy's well-documented spiral into drug and alcohol addiction is a difficult fact to confront because one cannot imagine her music being written without it, and when confronted just with her artistic output there is a temptation to glamourize her self-destruction. The haunting, melancholy beauty of Amy's music almost seem to tell you that her short-cut to the afterlife can be justified if it can be expressed in such a way. That's when art and music can be dangerous - when they encourage us to forget reality and imagine that these expressions of refined emotion actually correspond to it.
The truth is that Amy Winehouse is a very sick, unhappy girl, and she might be dead before she's 30. There's nothing glamorous about pulling your teeth out from a nervous habit, or appearing in public in blood-soaked ballet shoes because you just shot heroin into your foot. Don't forget this.
A big part of Winehouse's appeal is the way she looks, at least when she's sober. She used to be beautiful before addiction made her deathly thin and she daubed horrific tattoos all over her body. She had a bearing and a hairstyle that came straight out of Greek myth and eyes that could penetrate you from a photograph. Her proud features only heighten the sense of tragedy around her decline, especially when you hear the rumour that she apparently grew the beehive because she worried she was unattractive. If such worries contribute to her general psychological state and encourage her addictions, then I'm afraid they have become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I'm not going to describe technical details of her songs, because you can just go and listen to them. Like a good piece of poetry, Winehouse's music is something you experience rather than try to understand. It is music that speaks to that part of your soul that yearns to always act on impulse, to suck in life's experiences whatever the cost to your emotional health; a part of you envies her because her extreme experiences with pure passion for the sake of passion marks her as special, out of the ordinary. "I am who I am," her music says, "and I can be no other."
It is music which is completely devoid of rationality and the concerns for self-advancement and even self-preservation that most of us carry through life. It is the music of someone who never realized that to survive you have to establish boundaries around yourself and structure your passions to prevent them from consuming you. Hopeless love, broken dreams, addiction, infidelity - Winehouse knows about them all and sings about her experience of them without any mitigating values apart from the implicit desire to just be herself. It stimulates the irrational part of you against all of your wishes and makes half of you foolishly, pathologically, yearn to understand from her perspective.
It's dangerous and it's beautiful and you would not be able to take it so seriously if it weren't for the trainwreck behind it which we can see being played out in the media every day. Amy's life is no longer her own and "Rehab" has become a cheap joke of the tabloids; any shmuck on the internet can write about her, pretending to understand. But this almost unique combination of a talent for art matched only by a complete lack of talent for life itself will continue to fascinate and play on my emotions until it comes to an end. This is where the real melancholia comes from when listening to her beautiful songs. I hope you get better soon, Amy.