I woke up early Saturday morning to a Facebook message from a friend in L.A.
Hey, your buddy Amy Winehouse OD'ed in London.
I didn’t know when Winehouse had become “my buddy,” but almost instantly I was transported back to eighth grade. A girl in my class, Nancy Tinaglia, who could beat the crap out of any boy in our school, whispered to us that Janis Joplin died. A few weeks before that it had been Jimi. Both were 27.
Somehow the information got leaked into our junior high school that October morning in 1970, most likely through a plastic earphone snaked up some kid’s shirtsleeve from a transistor radio. It was our version of texting.
We were immediately shushed by our science teacher, Mr. Richards, who put on a film of Sonny Bono wearing a tangerine jumpsuit explaining the dangers of LSD in our drug prevention class. For the rest of that day the news of Janis Joplin’s death was the worst possible kind of distraction. Any modicum of discipline or learning completely flew out the window.
Unlike Joplin and Hendrix whose deaths came out of nowhere in 1970, it didn’t take any particular gift of insight to see that Winehouse was following the same trajectory. Which is why I found Amy joining the 27 Club of musicians that died young and fast all the sadder.
I knew after listening to Back to Black for the first time in 2007 that there weren’t going to be a whole lot of other songs forthcoming, that I’d have to satisfy myself with an even slimmer volume of work than that left behind by Janis and Jimi.
Back to Black pressed every one of my buttons. Each song seemed to speak to the five or six major life changes I had experienced that year, including death, a SWAT team, politics and a job change. Looking back on it now, it was pretty damn exciting.
Reaction to Winehouse’s death has been mixed. A lot of people left smart-ass comments on Facebook and Twitter about “should have gone to rehab” and calling her a zombie. Maybe we’re angry because Winehouse’s public disintegration was a sinful squandering of talent.
I spent most of the weekend listening to a voice that up until a few days ago was warm and alive, but is now slipping into legacy. Could she have gone on to become an even greater artist without the drugs? We'll never know. But whatever Amy was looking for, I hope she found it.