Hermione Eyre: Winehouse weaved suffering into her songs

It is painful to hear a new posthumous echo on that great voice, always so contemporary and intimate

Related Topics

Stop all the clocks: Amy Winehouse is dead at 27. Let them hang crepe bows from the bar at the Hawley Arms, let Camden's traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves. Forgive me if, against the world backdrop of death and devastation, this desire to mourn seems extravagant, but hers was an extravagant talent. It is artists like her who help make life worth living.

She knew suffering, and she used it creatively, weaving the darkness into songs of such strong stuff they became instant classics. She went to the lowest places a person can go – drink, drugs and desperation – and sent back pitch-perfect dispatches about life down there. She didn't do gloom. She did despair, huge, melodic, defiant despair with a swinging beat. She danced on the precipice in leopard-skin heels; she twirled in the vortex of her own personality. Invisible chorus lines high-kick and shimmy through every song, no matter how desolate its lyrics. Already, at 21, when she released Back to Black, she had "died a hundred times", and you believed her.

A born north Londoner, it would be fitting for her to rest in Highgate Cemetery, suitably full of the gothic and gifted from Lizzie Siddal to George Eliot. Her grave, like Jim Morrison's in Paris's Père Lachaise, would be constantly garlanded with flowers, wine and fags. How else to pay tribute to her? Donate to the rehabs she defied? Get angry about the parasitic dealers and plastic surgeons who took money in return for giving her what she didn't need and her body couldn't handle? Try to take better care of that wounded bird in your life, the friend or family member everyone is tired of worrying about? Just press play?

As Black to Black climbed to number one in the iTunes Store yesterday, I repurchased (as you do, in these days of digital reproduction) Frank, her first album. It is painful to hear a new posthumous echo on that great voice, always so contemporary and intimate, like a friend's. Filed under "Pop" not yet "R&B", Frank is light but acute, not yet solipsistic like Back to Black, but outward-looking, engaged. "October Song" is a riff on "Lullaby of Birdland" she wrote for her pet canary "and Ava flies, in paradise/She's reborn like Sarah Vaughan" – a poignant song to listen to today. The catty observational ditty "Fuck Me Pumps" pokes fun at a barfly gold-digger: "You can't sit down right, cos your jeans are too tight," she smiles, her voice curdling with amusement. "With your big empty purse, every week it gets worse...." and after a one-night stand "you don't even get no text".

She reserves most scorn for herself, of course, already developing her first-person confessional. In "I Heard Love Is Blind" she tells her boyfriend that, yes, she was unfaithful, "but he looked like you... Yes, he looked like you... You wouldn't want me to be lonely..." I saw her play this song at a small private gig in 2003. She looked healthy and she had all the world ahead of her as she stood up, strapped her guitar across her chest and belted it out, completely confident of her cast-iron talent, enjoying the way she was subverting the song's swooping lovey-dovey melody with her dark, twisted lyrics.

She was funny. That gave spice to all her work, gave it that razor edge. When she was performing at Nelson Mandela's 90th birthday concert in Hyde Park, and her husband Blake Fielder-Civil was in prison, she changed the famous "free Nelson Mandela" chorus to "Free Blakey my fella". It was a story Gordon Brown enjoyed recounting to journalists afterwards.

She was the defining British recording artist of the Noughties, and her soul-revival sound was in tune with that decade's fascination with all things "vintage". And yet she was a law unto herself, a true one-off. It has been sad to watch her disintegration over the past few years, as she became a caricature of herself, all beehive and no hope. And yet we did hope, until now.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Piper Ryan Randall leads a pro-Scottish independence rally in the suburbs of Edinburgh  

i Editor's Letter: Britain survives, but change is afoot

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Some believe that David Cameron is to blame for allowing Alex Salmond a referendum  

Scottish referendum: So how about the English now being given a chance to split from England?

Mark Steel
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam