Missing Amy Winehouse

By Don Rollins

Every better-to-burn-out-than-it-is-too-rust, semi-misanthropic, all-purpose hellraiser the world over should be wearing a black armband and sitting extended cultural shiva right now.

Because in a musical milieu in which most pop singers have all the presence of Andy Rooney on cold meds, another envelope-pushing original is too soon gone.

When she was on her game, Amy Winehouse was enough to make even an old hippie sit up and take notice. Big contralto pipes, gritty aura, loser lyrics and enough neo-Motown arrangements to turn back the hands of time.

We didn’t care if she was young enough to be our daughter.

The woman had chops. She had hubris. We came for the throwback sound and stayed for the throwback attitude.

Winehouse was an epic archetype of the angry, unstable, exceptionally gifted front woman. She was an antihero-hero who quit school, smoked, snorted and drank her way to fame and paraded through the requisite series of train wreck relationships. And didn’t give a damn what we thought.

Perhaps no singer since the oft-invoked Billie Holiday has been so painfully and consistently transparent. You Tube has for years been a kind of Amy Winehouse bipolar reality show.

From the note-perfect Letterman version of “Rehab” to dozens of creepy on-camera tweaker meltdowns, Winehouse was an online Greek tragedy in which the hero breaks our hearts even as she spins her sublime melodies.

But we should mourn Winehouse for more than the music we’ll never hear. We should grieve over her because we’ve lost a talented, shameless apologist for deviance. In an article that appeared in the July 13 issue of Christian Century, Rodney Clapp makes the case for modern day, shadowed saviors, come not to cleanse us of our personal sins, but to rescue us from the corporate conventions of thought that are the byproduct of times like these.

Clapp’s standard bearer for the maladjusted is not Winehouse, but the more publicly palatable Lady Gaga. The way Clapp figures it, she’s “Kierkegaard in fishnet stockings”, proclaiming the necessity of the firebrand misfit – the monster among us who “deviates markedly from the normal type”.

Kind of like Jesus, the quintessential deviant who Clapp says made a name staging theatrics such as “… pulling coins out of fishes’ mouths, walking on water and driving moneychangers out of the temple.”

The takeaway on this one is that in a bizarre era in which preacher-politicians the ilk of Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry stand even a chance come 2012, writ large, over-the-top deviance is to be prized.

Nobody’s saying that Amy Winehouse was Jesus in a beehive. But she was, by her very public presence and mad skills, a headliner’s musical poke in the eye of a prevailing American zeitgeist where Democrats act like Republicans and Republicans act like Scrooge. And for that alone we should mourn.

Rev. Don Rollins is Interim Minister, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh, N.C. Email donaldlrollins@gmail.com.

From The Progressive Populist, September 15, 2011


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