When music dies

I’m not really one to blog about ‘celeb’ news and events, but something’s been bothering me for the last 48 hours and I wanted to get it off my chest.

This past weekend has been surreal and atrocious in terms of world events. I came home on Friday after a lovely evening to discover that the shocking massacre in Norway had taken place while I was happily buying new clothes. On Saturday morning the first thing I did was watch the rolling news coverage in which the full scale of the horror was revealed. Running beneath all of this (as it sadly has for most of the last week because of ‘bigger’ news stories) was the famine in Somalia.

Then, on Saturday evening, came the news that Amy Winehouse had died. Now, I am not for any moment suggesting that this is a news story on a par with Norway or famine – it categorically is not. However, it was news that moved me and I became angry when, on my way home that night, I read a tweet (which, typically, I now can’t find) that said something along the lines of “why do people claim to be so affected when a celeb dies – it’s just a celeb, they haven’t actually made a difference in the world”. [That’s my memory of it – I know the ‘just a celeb’ bit was there.]

Of course it’s never right for the death of a celebrity to overshadow serious news events – like the Norwegian massacre, or catastrophic famine – but it is ok for people to grieve the loss of someone who affected their lives, whether directly or indirectly. The reason that tweet particularly bothered me was that Winehouse wasn’t simply a ‘celeb’, she was a musician and a very, very talented one at that. People are affected by music and when the people who create that music die, there is a sense of loss. What they’ve produced doesn’t disappear, but there’s the loss of what might have been.

As Alex Petridis pointed out in the obituary in yesterday’s Observer, Amy Winehouse’s back-catalogue can be listened to in under two hours. There are just two albums and a few B sides and cover versions. It’s nothing like the legacy that Michael Jackson, Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holliday left behind. Yes, it’s more than likely that the third album she was working on will appear in some form, but it won’t be perfect and there will nothing more. Her death affects people because it’s a classic example of a life cut short well before its prime and a talent destroyed by addiction – Russell Brand sums it up fantastically in this article.

Her death is shocking, but not surprising. I remember during the time that Back to Black was continually on my iPod, commenting to a friend that I feared she would be another Janis Joplin. As I’ve listened/watched back on some earlier performances, it’s clear just what a waste it is…

Love is Losing Game is one of my favourites & this performance from the 2007 Mercury Music Awards is spellbinding. Just a voice and a guitar – simplicity:

Alongside her own material, there are the cover versions. Valerie may be fabulous and the most well known, but my personal favourite is Cupid – a Radio 1 Live Lounge cover. A component of a legendary Glastonbury set, this is a great rendition:

And finally, a triumph of stripped-back soul, an audio only version of Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow:

No matter what may come out in terms of post-mortems and a life lived in the tabloids, remember the music.

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