(I originally posted this on Facebook on Tuesday, July 26, 2011. Only a couple of small edits were made.)
So I go on vacation for one day and on the morning of Sunday, July 24, maybe around 7:00 am (I woke up at 5:30 and went to sit on the porch of our cottage), my mother asks, “So you heard about the singer who died?” “Who, Wilson?” I replied, referring to Joe Lee Wilson, the jazz singer who died recently. “No,” Mom said. “Amy Winehouse.” I can’t say I was particularly shocked or in a state of disbelief; it was more like a shell of numbness. It was a surreal moment, reading her obituary in the Times, seeing her life described in the past tense. One day she was alive, the next she was not.
I was – and, of course, still am – a fan of Amy Winehouse. I liked her soulful sound, especially the background instrumentation of “Rehab” and “Back to Black.” I liked that she wrote her own material and that she played guitar. I recall one time some years ago when I eagerly searched YouTube for videos of her acoustic performances. I also liked that she was Jewish, just because I am a Jewish girl myself. I remember the 2008 Grammys, when she seemed genuinely surprised and grateful to win her awards and her acceptance speeches were sort of shy and sweet. I remember one time in the 10th grade when a classmate mentioned being of a fan of Amy Winehouse, almost embarrassed to admit it for some reason.
When I think of the terrible losses that have befallen some of the most talented artists of my generation, the first memory is always of Heath Ledger. (Naturally, I thought of these next reminiscences on Sunday morning – it was inevitable.) I remember when I found out, when Rosie told me via AIM and I had to frantically check Wikipedia just to be certain. The saddest part was that I wasn’t very familiar with Ledger’s work. The only encounter I’d had with his work was when I was in 7th grade and we watched The Patriot in social studies class. At the time I was more interested in the story and gore involved, and recognized Ledger only dimly as “that heartthrob.” I also remembered being at my friend Allison’s fourteenth birthday party in January 2006, and on the TV in her house her parents were watching the SAG Awards. Allison and I (along with other friends) were near the TV when the Best Actor category was being announced and for some reason I felt myself rooting – in my head, not out loud – for Ledger. I hadn’t seen Brokeback Mountain, but felt he seemed like a nice young man who might actually be more than a heartthrob.
In the weeks after he died, I found myself watching 10 Things I Hate About You on YouTube. I loved it but couldn’t help wondering if I ever would have wanted to watch it before his death. That’s always the worst part about any celebrity dying young; I feel horrible at only learning to appreciate their work after they’re gone. That’s why I’m glad, in my small, humble, fan-like way, that I appreciated Amy Winehouse’s music when she was alive. I didn’t even know the majority of her catalogue, but the songs I did know were really very good. Listen to “Wake Up Alone,” which is my favorite. Rather than watching a video and getting distracted by images, just listen to the song. Pay attention to the vocals and the lyrics and see if you feel anything. I know I did – I know I still do.