There’s a line in a Bunnymen song where Ian McCulloch, the lanky singer with the anarcho-adroitly teased barnet drops into smoulderingly deep and meaningful mode.
What he actually sings is “Come on and hold me tight / I can’t sleep at night”– so it’s not the single most original dollop of poetic insight in the history of popular music. It is, however both memorable and in a defiantly heart-on-sleeve kindofaway affecting. (Footnote/Falsenote; I used that word to describe Amy Winehouse in a blog some time ago, suggesting I am slightly unmoved by her voice. This just isn’t the same.)
It’s ludicrous to compare the two and I don’t; I do or did however feel the infectious charge of the Bunnymen carrying me off to a place where sustenance itself is pared down – or inflated? – only to a kind of crystalline belief. McCulloch tossed that mane of his with a quietly scouse (if that’s not a contradiction in terms) luminosity, lassooing in the process some hazy profundities.
All of which sounds like a recipe for fakery and pomp that might surely have brought derision or a phlegm-soaked drowning in the late seventies. But when the guitars chimed and the coke was snorted, an electrically relevant and contemporary world was projected to the far wall – one that we recognised, one that lifted us.
I loved McCulloch for his utter sureness, his inviolable belief that it was okay, ‘natural’ – cool even – to express himself as a man in dour straits in search of poetry. I still feel his colours as a necessary and transformative energy; an antidote to cynicism, to meanness. When depressing realities threaten to intrude – hey, let’s be honest, look around! – this is how I fight them. Is it mad to confess that the more sport, the more political debate I see consumed by conservatism or bullishness, the more I revert to the defiant colours of this song?
It felt great to be an Echo and the Bunnymen fan. If I never did the hair thing, being too punky, the amorphous Oxfam overcoat plus badge – entirely workable for a Gang of Four/Joy Division Overlap Scenario – spoke volumes re the necessary anti-fashion non-statement department. Oh the joy of being so obviously outwardly joyless whilst singing with lungbursting force inside. Together we were preciously aware of our individual power.
Where’s the sense in stealing / Without the grace to be it?
I’m ill at ease with my previous blog. Apart from its cheap ego-centrism – how dare I call into question her realness when all around are saying Amy Winehouse was absolutely (and possibly uniquely) the real deal? An apology may yet be in order. But I do cling with a little confidence to the notion that I can legitimately make some argument here a) because I have to my knowledge no beef with the woman (not even for her later, unappealing habit of pooping on her fans) b) because there were years in my life when music was The Most Important Thing Bar None and c) I could, in the words of another icon of The Smoke, be wrong.
So setting aside the ripeness of the moment – which I fully understand may be difficult for the majority – I think the process of appreciation for any real artist is such a rich and rewarding and on times such an enlightening thing that I ask you to persevere right on past my gaucheness. To, ideally, a place where I can ask whether that instrument of hers was that of a truly great jazz/soul singer?
Sure it was magnificently easy; there was something of the sublime there, in the cadence of the thing. It was utterly in tune with a smoky, druggy London; out on the town with it, swigging bourbon and creasing into cleavage-wobbling laughter. And most of that appeals to the wannabe metropolitan in most of us – happy or sad. What I’m not sure about is how moving any of this carousing was.
It may be a mistake to entirely associate greatness with the ability to truly ‘move’. Pop can be great/a horn section can be great; what does that tell us about commonalities between great human noises? Naff all. The matter may then be complex but the issue at hand is this; whether or not Amy Winehouse went past music into the colours of the heart. Many would answer an emphatic YES to that one.
Me, I wouldn’t. So I’m going to have to listen to ‘Back to Black’ again, ‘properly’. Check out whether these were good songs or ordinary songs. Whether there’s anything being said as well as whether that voice was really special. I’m looking forward to that.
I’d like to write a post about Amy Winehouse that doesn’t get too trapped. Or that’s what I was thinking. Partly because although there is no question that she was a talent, and it is (always) a loss, I have to confess that I found her voice affected rather than affecting.
By that I think I mean that I felt she was kindof pitching at some role rather than truly expressing her self. Consequently I let the music drift away – or maybe even pushed it. Right now that feels a pretty shockingly harsh judgement, but my soul’s response to that salty/soaked velvet croon was to simply fail to believe in it. It was unreal. And in the face of so much contrary emotion, I find that interesting, even if it does reflect badly upon me.
Now I’m aware of the absurdity – insensitivity even – of indulging in this particular moan at this particular moment. It may be something to do with wanting to ‘balance’ the understandable hyperbole. And I am heavily aware of the relative weakness of my position in terms of critical opinion. But when the critics and many of the great unwashed are foaming, look out, right? Especially when so much cool factor is invested, right?
Acclaim is surely a fickle and politicised beast; sometimes we suspect its motives as well as any intellectual quality it may have or lack. In addition, in the Winehouse situation, the thing is loaded with edgy but marketable ‘issues’ – drugs/irresponsibility/stridency/the inevitable car crash factor – all, arguably, clouding anyone’s ability to judge. For how many of us remain neutral in the Heroin debate, the What’s Her Family Been Doin’ debate, the Rehab With Your Loyal But Heavily Disappointed Fans debate?
On the one hand, cruelly, it seems Amy had a lot of support. On the other a void, an absence – her own. She wasn’t there when she needed her and presumably neither were the real friends that might have supplanted the illness. Or likely not.
We are fortunate that the music persists; the relatively small back catalogue that so gripped the handers-out of major awards as well as millions of ‘ordinary fans’. As is always the case with an artist – judge the work.