Earlier today, authorities found British singer Amy Winehouse, 27, dead in her London apartment, due to what they’re calling “unexplained circumstances.” An all-to-common tragic end to an all-to-common story of “tortured-genius-dies-too-young.”
And with Winehouse goes the way of the other “legends” whose music we’ve come to know, love, and revere. Jimi Hendrix, 27: he of baritone voice and mind-blowingly brilliant guitar. Jim Morrison, 27: captivator of the stage and our minds. Kurt Cobain, 27: the disturbed genius who put Seattle – and grunge – on the 90’s musical map. And, finally, perhaps Amy Winehouse’s closest talent and life(style) kindred spirit, Janis Joplin, 27: she of bluesy voice, aggressive lifestyle, and tortured soul.
Of course, in the next few days, the press will opine upon the similarities in age (27-a cursed age? – or natural progression for artists who come to fortune and fame in their early 20s and never quite come to terms with their success. – if not for outside stewardship, I’d argue Britney Spears may have met her end at 27, as well), career arc, and overall style and impact on culture (though through similarly-criminal small annals of work) the above-listed artists share with Winehouse. Her life – and death – will of course be lamented multiple times over, and used a warning to those who, in our opinions, live too fast and use too much.
But while her life was a tragic one, Winehouse’s early death also signals the near-end of music-industry’s “tolerance” of and appetite for the “tortured genius.” The industry, which has obviously changed significantly since Hendrix wowed us his rock-infused Star-Spangled-Banner, is now a faster and more efficient one, far less willing to indulge those who “won’t-do-the-work.” No longer can an artist be simply brilliant, churning out albums every few years and doing the occasional drugged-out concert tour and disoriented “meet-and-greet.” The advent of the digital age means we demand our artists and icons be constantly “on” – constantly recording, touring, interviewing, and posing. No longer can an Amy Winehouse wash-out before our eyes, still filling out stadiums because she might “be on tonight.” Cancelled tours will soon mean cancelled contracts.
And in a way, that’s for the better and for the worse. Of course, the music industry’s recent attempts to “re-profitize” itself, post-iPod and now Spotify, have left executives wondering how best to sell albums, seats, and merchandize to a public now able to immediate access artists via Twitter, Facebook, and Google+; demanding better behaviour, discipline, and productivity from an artist (Lady Gaga famously recorded the album Born this Way at night while on tour for The Fame) creates a better “connect” with the fan, who feels “in” on the artist’s goings-ons. Of course, it also creates a semi-disconnect between talent and output, pushing aside the Winehouses (who put out one of last decade’s greatest albums in Back to Black) in favour of the Ke$has.
Amy Winehouse may have died before our eyes. But so has the music industry of the “past.” Look forward to more bleaching, boringness, and blandness.
RIP, Amy Winehouse. Your brilliance and talent will be sorely, sorely missed. More than you will have ever known.
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