I love Amy Winehouse. For the first time in years, probably since Jeff Buckley died, I’ve found a singer who can get into me in a way that science can’t explain (yet). She has, during an ardent year, moved me to the brink of tears. Aside from the overt talent, there is also the added interest of someone living a colourful life. All well and good; until unreliability kicks in that is. I saw her in concert last February, and she was marvellous; my sister saw her a few days later, and she (Amy, not my sister) was incoherent. This pendulum is being given high profile in the media, and evidenced by various clips cropping up on YouTube and the like.
Maybe, like Billie Holliday, living the car crash life is necessary in order to feel the pain; for it to come out of the music as real and not contrived. It is more genuine if you’ve been through it yourself, as opposed to merely writing and singing about it. What is it that has driven her to adorn (hide?) herself with tattoos numbering greater than that averaged by sailors? Why succumb to the trite rock-star-doing-drugs thing, even though that has long become somewhat boring, hasn’t it? What is it about talented artists with addictive personalities that their finger permanently twitches over the self-destruct button?
I recently read a fascinating book by Daniel Nettle, called Strong Imagination: Madness, Creativity, and Human Nature, which concerns the link between creativity and mental illness. Statistics show that manic depression, schizophrenia and related disorders are associated with creativity. (They are also associated with heightened religiosity, which suggests a lot… but that’s another argument.). Such seemingly disadvantageous traits have persisted through evolution, despite their debilitating affects, because cultural creativity is sexually attractive, and thus, like the peacock’s tail, the underlying genes are ripe material for natural selection. And if that creativity (perhaps I should mean inventiveness) can be sparked chemically, then we shouldn’t complain too much when it enriches our lives, should we? Were The Beatles really that good until, well, you know? So, is Amy as mad as a poet? Or is something subtle going on here?
We encourage this: we lap up tawdriness from the media, so the media supplies us with more of it, feeding the vicious circle. And celebrities know well the maxim ‘there is no such thing as bad publicity’. The truth of it can be irrelevant, because errant celebrities often don’t care about their reputation (or they’re happy to have a bad one; they’re not scientists, you see). I wonder whether Amy and her incarcerated husband are actually milking this. Mouthing ‘I love you’ across the courtroom. Oh, the melodrama! I can’t wait for the film. It’ll be like La Vie en Rose (disappointing, by the way); hardly original is it? The thing is, Amy has, like Edith Piaf, the power to reach us anyway – she only has to sing. We don’t need the extra rubbish, the washing of dirty linen in public. We’ll get tired – especially if we keep shelling out for concert tickets and she doesn’t cut it. We won’t all feel sorry for her. Most of us admirers live relatively mundane lives (some of us work in a lab, for goodness’ sake), made better by witnessing great artists perform live. So don’t be surprised if some start to boo when she doesn’t deliver the goods. She doesn’t need the extra hype that lesser acts resort to. They get found out – look at The Darkness. They’ve floundered because, ultimately, they were unoriginal and crap.
I could be wrong, of course. I’m going to see her again next week. I’m compiling evidence.