I have admired the writings of Ann Powers, a music critic for the Los Angeles Times and NPR, for some time. In addition to having impeccable taste in music, her writing is about much more than the words and notes a band or musician plays. It is about how those words and notes can transcend into something much deeper. Always thought-provoking, her writing is about music, but it also touches on politics, feminism and other important social issues.
So I am not surprised that Powers has written one of the more intriguing pieces I have read about Amy Winehouse, the British pop singer who passed away suddenly this weekend at the age of 27. In a piece for NPR, Powers writes about an early encounter with Winehouse in 2007, back when the singer seemed healthy and ready to embark on a long music career.
Winehouse spoke passionately about what soul music meant to her. I found this quote particularly striking: “So much pop these days is like, ‘What can you do for me? I don’t need you. You don’t know me.’ Back in the ’60s it really was like, ‘I don’t care if you love me, I’m gonna lay down and die for you, because I’m in love with you.’ “
Although I don’t necessarily have the same outlook on life and relationships as Winehouse, I find the conviction about love she expressed in these words very admirable. I am 27 now and remember listening to Back to Black with great joy, surprised that someone my age could be so soulful. She seemed to me like a retro Courtney Love, a bit troubled, but unafraid to be frank, dark and funny at the same time.
My sister and sister-in-law were also fans, and we had planned to see Winehouse perform in Chicago sometime in 2007. The show was canceled after Winehouse over-dosed. After that, I found Winehouse’s boozy demeanor a bit obnoxious and didn’t pay much attention to her since then, but after thinking once again about Back to Black, I hope that Winehouse is remembered for the beauty and boldness of the album, and not the addiction that claimed her life way too young.
As Powers notes, “we can also revel in what was most entrancing about her music: its brashness and utterly engaging power, the upfront expression of a woman who was loud without apology. Her big notes still live.”
Read Powers’ NPR piece here, and watch Winehouse perform “Back to Black,” my favorite song of hers, in the video below.