I mean, I'd certainly heard her name, but it was always associated with scandal. I knew she was a singer. That was the extent of it.
Now, I could tell you the name of at least one song: Rehab. And that's the song that prompts this post, because in the wake of Winehouse's death at the age of 27, there were a lot of people commenting on her death, the reasons she died so young, and what, if anything, could have been done to save her from her path to self-destruction.
One commentator went so far as to state that it was not only a mistake to give Winehouse a Grammy for Rehab, but that she might still be alive if she hadn't won the coveted prize.
Her most famous song may have been about substance abuse, but it mocked urges and demands to enter a rehab facility for her addiction problems. Then, in 2008, 24 years old and in the midst of story after story about her drug abuse, Amy Winehouse won Grammy Awards for best record of the year, best song of the year and best new artist of the year
With those awards, a message was sent: Mock addiction, create a rallying cry for those in its grip, blow your life up in every aspect other than financial success and name recognition, and you will be rewarded with the industry's gold medals. Today, at age 27, she is dead. The cause of death is unknown, but drugs took a toll on her life even if they did not they cause her death.
We, of course, do not know what will become of Winehouse's artistic legacy: Her singing talent was compared to Billie Holiday's, and there was a lot of talent in her. But her industry should take a lesson from her short life and early death and create a legacy of it -- or at least learn something from it.
A good place to start learning the lesson is the Grammy Awards nominating committee. Did they have any problem or pause whatsoever in emptying their cabinet of awards for such a song or such a character?
Did one judge say: "Wait, I think we might be sending the wrong message here"? Or, rather, did they do everything they could to get her to the Grammy Awards even after she was barred from entering the United States? The answer is the latter -- and she appeared for her awards by video feed from Great Britain.
It now looks like Amy Winehouse joins the sad list of other talented entertainers whose lives were cut down by drug abuse. Citing the drug-fueled deaths of other troubled musicians at the same age, some are speculating there is something special, or ominous, about the age of 27. But change the age by just a few years, and you still have too much evidence of too much talent cut too short by substance abuse. From Heath Ledger to Brittany Murphy to River Phoenix to Andy Gibb to Elvis Presley, the list just goes on and on. Age is not the problem; drug abuse is.
In light of Winehouse's death, it is my hope that there is a lot of introspection in the entertainment industry and that the producers and Grammy heads are asking themselves how they might take the problems and plights of the falling star in front of them more seriously, seeing the performer more as a person and less as a royalty check.
Now, I have to admit, my reaction to this piece surprised me. I mean, I've been known to claim the moral high ground a time or two. And the idea of Winehouse's song is appalling to me. Mocking rehabilitation, mocking the efforts of those who try to get people help so that they can live free from addiction? Yeah, there's probably a reason I don't know Winehouse's music - it's of no interest to me.
But when it comes to giving awards, is that the consideration?
As authors, we're entertainers. Some of us may write more obvious entertainment, and some of us may write things we hope inspire people to think about serious matters at times. But in determining the best book of the year, or best song, or album or short story or movie, our primary focus can't be on the message.
It's when we get sidetracked on secondary issues that we lose focus on the real issue; great writing. I don't know that I would have agreed if I'd watched the Grammy Awards the year Winehouse won, but that doesn't matter either. What matters is that the committee should use the criteria for evaluating the music, and determine the best contender in each category. The awards weren't set up with the stated objective of making a moral statement or setting a certain type of example.
I have a cousin (third) who's an award-winning songwriter, and some might think this song he co-wrote and won awards for isn't the best example, either. I think it's a great song, and deserving of the awards it won. The writing's superb, and it does its job; it entertains.
Whatever moral responsibility we have, I think is for us to determine. And I don't think it's write to put that burden on organizations. What's next - reviewers? Amy Winehouse expressed a sentiment in her song. It may not be one I can relate to or agree with, but she gave people a chance to see where she was coming from, and she made it clear where she was at. And at the very least, her family should in time be able to live with the knowledge that you can't help someone who doesn't want to be saved. Winehouse's fate was of her own choosing, and if she hadn't won those awards, it probably wouldn't have made a difference.