Women in Music 2016

Amy Winehouse 'Died at the Beginning of Her Story': Essay

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Amy Winehouse performing on May 28, 2007.

Caitlin Moran -- the longtime English journalist and best-selling author of 'How to Build a Girl' -- confronts the paradox of Winehouse's turbulent artistic drive.

Winehouse is the sound of when you decide to f-- your life up -- the day you make the decision to fall in love with the wrong person, get pissed, get high. It's the sound of someone incredibly funny and charismatic and talented setting fire to themselves. But with swagger. She came from that school that believes you put a chunk of yourself -- blood, guts, tears, mad hair -- into a record. It's so common, in the early years of creativity, to think you can only summon up the requisite heat by burning yourself up. We respond to anyone who wants to do that, even though it's awful and destructive, because that's a form of love: loving music so much, wanting to make it, be in it. We think we love the destructiveness, but we're really responding to the love.

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My 11-year-old music-geek daughter has recently become obsessed with Amy -- ran the cartridge dry printing out pictures of her, learning all her songs on the piano, analyzing the jazz sevenths on the left hand -- and I have to be very careful explaining Winehouse to her. I feel a little bit like I'm letting a child sip whiskey when I find her listening to Winehouse. She's a risky role model for a little girl who wants to cause trouble, as all little girls worth knowing do. I have to explain to her that, yes, Winehouse did amazing things, but that she died without ever leaving her dirty Industrial Era, where you burn up the fossil fuel of your own heart in order to form your empire, and that she would have moved on and found a purer, non-damaging technology to create with, if she had lived longer. She died at the beginning of her story, so you can't, really, learn anything about her. She was the start of something. She was the explosion at the beginning of a movie. But you cannot live as a bomb that is going off, over and over again. When she died, the shrapnel from her arrival still hadn't landed.

This story originally appeared in the July 4 issue of Billboard.