In an era of manufactured bimbos, reality TV stars and prepubescent Canadians with lesbian hairdos, Amy Winehouse was the real deal. While the plastics paraded around in their sequence and stilettos, Winehouse flicked her cigarette at a bottle of gin and said, “Fuck it.”

Undeniably talented, she had more musicality than Britney’s muffin top, more bravado than Christina’s fake eyelashes and more artistry than Justin’s bangs.

I remember when she first burst onto the scene. As a lover of jazz, I was happy to see a young performer breathe some new life into those classic tunes, especially some of the more obscure ones.

Back then, I saw some of her earlier performances on youtube. She just stood there on stage, smiled and then effortlessly belted out a tune like it was no big deal, as if she were doing some silly card trick she learned as a child. Made me wonder if she realized the enormity of her talent. “Who IS that girl?” I thought.

Later, when she dipped into booze, bad boys and drugs, I quietly rooted her on. I was happy that there was someone real out there, someone unwilling to settle for the mundane. Winehouse was willing to embrace her demons, nurture them. I envied her fearlessness, her ability to explore that self-destructive side we mostly choose to deny.

On the day she died, I held up my glass of wine at dinner and said, “To Amy Winehouse.”

My partner thought it was an odd way to celebrate her, but I told him I thought it was perfect. I tried to explain why but failed miserably. I said that I know we’ll marry one day but that part of me (a small part) hates the idea of marriage because it’s so traditional. Ever since I was a kid, I questioned everything. I saw the hypocrisy in my Episcopalian elementary school, the discord in my parents’ marriage, the phoniness of my neighbors, and I thought, “Why? Why is this normal and acceptable?”

I wanted something real, something on the edge, something different from the norm. And after a spectacular start, somewhere along the way, I retreated. Now, scared of cable cars, clowns and the dark, I shop for produce, arrange the flowers, cook dinner and wait for my man to get home. I live life safely, securely, far away from deep water and my own balcony. But not Amy. Fearless in her disregard of societal norms, she straightened her beehive, took a swig from her flask and flicked her cigarette.

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