The hyper-talented, mega-selling, spectacularly self-destructive English Jewish singer Amy Winehouse was found dead this morning at her home in London. While nobody could claim genuine surprise at the news, given her well-documented struggles with addiction (indeed, self-documented: the chorus of her biggest-ever hit begins, “They tried to make me go to rehab, I said no, no, no”), the news cannot help but shock and make one sorrowful. Several have already noted that Winehouse has joined the 27 Club of beautiful young talents who die at that insanely too-young age, including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and the Grateful Dead’s Pigpen.
In April, in Tablet Magazine, Dvora Meyers painted Winehouse as a unique figure in the annals of Jewish culture, at once indelibly Jewish and hyper-aware of her roots (her music and even style owed much to Phil Spector’s 1960s girl-group masterpiece) while swerving away from the good-girl stereotype.
Winehouse’s ancestors are the biblical vixens: Dina, who slept with Shechem; Deborah, the biblical heroine; or, more recently, Monica Lewinsky, the “portly pepperpot” (as the New York Post dubbed her) who nearly ended Bill Clinton’s presidency. These women possessed sexuality so powerful and intoxicating that it influenced national and political outcomes. Still, on “You Know I’m No Good,” Winehouse is most emphatic about another characteristic: her guilt, her seeming regret for all of the things she’s done wrong. It’s as though she’s pounding her chest in synagogue on Yom Kippur, except instead of using the shofar, she confesses her sins above the horns, beats, and drums of Mark Ronson’s production … In the last verse she asks, after her boyfriend discovers “little carpet burns” on her arms, “Who really stuck the knife in first?”