Unsurprisingly, obits and other meditations on deceased singer and pop culture cynosure Amy Winehouse have focused on her addictions, her artistic genius, and her not-so-slow downward spiral. A drug user and alcoholic, for a time enmeshed with a man who fueled her self destruction, Winehouse seemed to exist in syncopation with her own songs: unsustainable manic high notes and killer lows, sung in a voice without peer or, arguably, precedent.
Famous for proclaiming she had said "No" to rehab in a top ten hit, Winehouse might be seen to have been in control of her fate and her artistic arc. She was not. We have only to compare her to Madonna and Lady Gaga, who demonstrate a kind of ruthless, disciplined determination alongside their artistic gifts and seemingly innate ability to scandalize to see Winehouse as equal parts amazing talent and hapless twenty-something girl from hard-living hell. Our Romantic ideology of artists and artistic production pivots on the presumption that the great will be tormented and will die young. Winehouse, with her Grammy wins, her confounding of categories and her affinity for spectacle, lived out this legacy to the letter, dying at 27. But while we are used to a Byron, a Keats, a Rimbaud, a River Phoenix crashing and burning, it has been a while since a young woman burned so brightly and fell so fast, so far.
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