BACK TO BLACK, INDEED by Thomas Callahan
July 26, 2011 § Leave a comment
Back to Black, Indeed
by Thomas Callahan
When Elliott Smith did what he did, I was sad but not shocked. I had been listening to Figure 8 pretty regularly at the time and it, like his previous efforts, was filled with lyrics related to the futility he seemed to see in planning to be around for a while. I mean, there’s a song (in my opinion, the album’s best) called Everything Means Nothing to Me, for heaven’s sake. How many hints does a guy have to give? Though seeing it coming didn’t alleviate the pain of losing someone so talented, it certainly demonstrated that Elliot Smith was speaking from the heart right up until the moment he targeted it.
The death of Amy Winehouse is something different all together, yet no less tragic. She wasn’t a sad bastard in a beanie. True, the lyrics to Rehab read like a written response to an intervention. But plenty of singers shed a little self-control and get called on it. Wasn’t this simply her clever, catchy way of telling her friends and family, “chill the fuck out, I got this?” Evidently it wasn’t. Or if it was, she didn’t. I’ll admit, I’m feeling a little dirty and ashamed now for watching the Youtube clips of her absolute train derailment of a concert in Belgrade from June of this year.
I went to work on Friday of last week and My Tears Dry on Their Own was playing on the bartender’s Pandora station. I began a conversation with a couple I know about how I believed Winehouse’s story was the most depressing music has seen since Elliott Smith. I decided to play Back to Black in its entirety, partially because I wanted to demonstrate just how talented she was, mostly because it is a monster of an album and works really well in the bar. I love the way Winehouse’s music was so authentic, yet her lyrics were sarcastic, modern, and rude. If you listen to Me and Mr. Jones, you’ll swear it was recorded in 1964, until you hear the words. No one was missing any Slick Rick gigs, due to some type of non-specific fuckery back then.
There’s been an awful lot of talk about the “27 Club” this week and I don’t see any cosmic forces at play. To me, it seems as though it is a reasonable average age to say, “fuck this, I’m out.” You spend your first thirteen or fourteen years on the planet as an awkward outsider. You don’t want to play sports or run with the clicks. You have this wealth of raw, untapped talent that is bubbling just beneath the surface. You realize you can sing so you start working very hard at it. No one gets it. At some point, it consumes you until you realize there is no point to trying to do anything else with your life. You then spend the next thirteen or fourteen years being shown over and over that it is all for shit. Endless tours. People pretending to care deeply about you, only to cash in on your growing stardom. Drugs. Booze. Pills. No sleep. (As a parent that works nights, I can attest to the fact that lack of sleep is a cruel experience) I was completely unstable at 27, and I was just a bartender with a cat to feed. As much as it bums me out sometimes that I never made it in music, I think I may live longer as a result.
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