Like Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, Amy Winehouse died at age 27. Too young, too much substance abuse, too much talent wasted.
That Winehouse, the Grammy-winning, retro-loving pop-soul singer, was found dead Saturday in her London home came as no surprise. She has battled drugs and alcohol for a long time in a very public way. Her hit song “Rehab” – in which she said “no no no” to going for treatment – was too true.
Ironically, “Rehab” from her best-selling "Back to Black" album led to five Grammys for Winehouse in 2008, including record and song of the year as well as best new artist.
Fans went to Winehouse’s concerts partly for her soul-stirring voice and partly to watch for the potential train wreck. She’d been known to stumble, vomit and curse at the audience – as well as cut her shows short.
On June 18 in Belgrade, Winehouse reportedly couldn’t remember her lyrics or her musicians’ names when introducing them. After another embarrassing night onstage, she abruptly cancelled the rest of her European tour.
Booze seemed to be as much part of her act as it was for Dean Martin or Ryan Adams, but when Winehouse came to Minneapolis in 2007, her performance at the soldout Varsity Theater was more triumph than train wreck. Her set was too brief (45 minutes) but a curiously addicting exploration of fresh-faced retro R&B.
The tiny woman with a big black beehive hairdo and sailor-like tattoos dropped a couple of f-bombs, started, stopped and restarted “Rehab,” and danced loosey-goosey but out of sync with the smooth steps of her backup singers. However, her Southern Comfort soul cut deep. You could feel the pain of the words she delivered with her lazy, often lingering, completely intoxicating voice.
Her style opened the door for other retro-loving British pop singers, including Duffy and Adele.
Since Winehouse arrived on the British pop scene in 2004, she was a piece of work. The U.K. tabloids chronicled her bad behavior, from heckling Bono at a British music awards to getting sloshed on Charlotte Church’s TV show.
I interviewed Winehouse on the telephone before her 2007 Minneapolis concert. The interview was scheduled and then canceled on four different days. On the fifth try, she was at a photo shoot for a music magazine and chatted briefly. She seemed distracted but gave thoughtful answers.
When asked about the downbeat tone of her lyrics, Winehouse said, “I’m a positive, happy person, generally. The songs I’ve written are about some bad times in my life. I needed to make something good out of something bad.”