September 14th was my favorite artist’s birthday. And this post is fully dedicated to her and all the joy she had brought to this world.
I still remember how I heard There Is No Greater Love‘s tune for the first time. It was in a vintage CD store in a little alley between the crowded, hustling roads of Saigon. It was my favorite place ever in the city. It was so calm, so soothing, there was something about that store that kept bringing me back, one time after another. I remember every single detail of that store. The light brown pine wooden shelves, the 80s and 90s pop culture artworks on the walls, the mild, spring-day scent of vanilla and warm orange and the best part? The phonographs. They would play old Vietnamese, French and English songs. Just imagine standing inside that store. Outside of all those hustle and bustle, all those noises. And just really, really listen to the music, almost as if you can feel and touch it. Couldn’t have been in any other place.
I fell in love with her voice the very first time I listened to the song. I’m usually not the kind of person who falls in love with something instantly, but she and her music was an exception. It wasn’t just the tunes, it was her voice, the lyrics, the way the song is arranged and put together. It was honestly too beautiful to even put into words. I was twelve, searching all the lyrics that I could remember on the internet to find the singer, just to find out that she had passed away 3 years ago. Up until now, I still blame myself for not knowing her, her music, which was as beautiful as her soul, before she decided to end everything.
Most people, when they hear of the name Amy Winehouse, they would think of such things as “drug addict” and “trouble maker”, those headlines highlighting her death on the front page. For her fans and admirers, she is so much more than that. We love that slick iconic 60s hairstyle that she absolutely pulled off, her honesty, her unbelievable talent, her voice, how she always went with her heart, with her wild and careless attitude, only to cover such a fragile and vulnerable soul inside. I remember not being able to take my eyes off her; this loveable mess of a woman who looked like a tipsy female Dean Martin. She seems so effortless with everything she does, including music. Unlike a lot of pop, she wrote with depth, authenticity, and vulgarity that others shyed away from. Her music and lyrics are all so poetic, so cheery, so sad. Listen close and it feels like you can see her, hear her pouring out her deepest thoughts into it. She had a rare ability to captivate, and to infuse layers of emotional resonance into her performances, so that time could be made to stand still; so that all the world could cease to exist while she was at the microphone, her eyes into the distance. Her music was so down to earth, so unique, illuminated by her character. There was an authenticity to the way she was that you hoped wasn’t quite as genuinely reckless as it seemed.
Despite what many people think, Amy Winehouse did not glorify drug use and abuse. Contrary to what most assume is the message of “Rehab”, her biggest hit is about someone who refuses to go to a facility because it’s her lack of happiness that’s destroying her life and not the drugs and alcohol – if she can fix her unhappiness then she won’t be an addict. She struggled to make various efforts to fight back, I guess, not only her problems, but the monsters inside her head. Her accidental death is just proof that even the best of us can’t always overcome the worst in life.
She once said, in her last interview that singing was a passion that survived even in the face of crippling nerves. Music was the one thing that helped her through her childhood, her rebellious teenage years, amid relapses, relationship breakdowns and being hounded by the paparazzi as she grew up. And I’m so thankful I’ve heard that record, in that store, on that day three years ago. If not I wouldn’t have been here spending the rest of my afternoon with the full Frank album on repeat and writing this post.
That’s about it for this saccharine, long post. I’ll end it here with a quote from Amy herself, “You know what it’s like? I don’t mean to be sentimental or soppy but its a little bit like being in love, when you can’t eat, you’re restless, it’s like that. But then the minute you go on stage, everything’s OK. The minute you start singing.”
Do yourself a favor and listen to Amy Jade Winehouse, you won’t regret it.