Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Culturist Amy Whinehouse

I heard Amy Winehouse heard for the first time. That is, I have seen her many times, but I never saw a performance that grabbed me more than it was just illustrative of her tragic wastiness. But her version of Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” with Paul Weller of the Jam was a stunning virtuoso performance. She could miss nothing, but remained both vicious and wild, yet controlled to the point of perfection in pitch with metered clever vocal fills. And even the fade-outs from her competent co-vocalist happened at the prescribed time. But her final intonation of the chorus, when she went quiet, it was like you’d imagine the subtle twang of Mae West in her prime.

With reason, many could conclude that Winehouse is deleterious to the success of western civilization. She is a role model of potentially disastrous impact. She makes drugs and the refusal to go to rehab sexy. That would be true were she not such a public mess and so embarrassing to herself. Yet, culturists know that youth follow those with status. That is why we need values leadership from positive and popular role models. I would much rather those who took care of their families and diligently pursued their studies in the name of western civilization getting glamorized. I would much rather see the artistic elite banish junkies for shame's sake. But that would cost us the Rolling Stones, Billie Holiday, and many other artists. It would make the West much more like communist China. And that, I would not like to see.

Winehouse brings a very interesting cultural mishmash she brings to the table. She is definitely Jewish, her music is clearly derivative of African – American soul tradition ala Motown, she has the biker chic that tattoos bring, and – most of all – she embodies that ennobling yet defiling self-destruction, Ziggy Stardust-style tragedy of the burn out and crash of the chosen one, the rising star. While she presents no role model, she represents a vamp, a type, a trope, that we can all share joy in. In her way, if teachers want to use her for edification, she even ties us back to the 19th century romantic tragedy of the romantic Goethe's Lotte who died for love. The sacrificial lamb to our deep cultural longing for bonding through her familiar formulaic romantic cultural mish mash. Unlike the more electronic pop idols, she reminds us of the jewels of western culture; the romance of the individual self. Perhaps, in a world where offending Islam may soon become a crime, her drunken iconic presence is a culturist good.