The Arty Semite

Mourning Amy Winehouse's Lost Jewish Future

By Mordechai Shinefield

  • Print
  • Share Share
Getty Images

On July 23, London police were called to Amy Winehouse’s Camden apartment where they found the bluesy singer-songwriter dead. In addition to the sadness of losing such a talented musician early in her career, there’s a more prosaic tragedy as well. Talking to a Perth newspaper in 2007, the troubled Winehouse said that she dreamed of being a Jewish mother. “In 10 years’ time I’m gonna be looking after my husband and our seven kids. I’d really like to get everyone in one place and sit down and eat a meal together. I would like to uphold certain things, but not the religious side of things, just the nice family things to do. At the end of the day, I’m a Jewish girl.”

For her fans, of which there were many following the release of her sophomore, Grammy-winning album, “Back to Black,” there was a contradiction buried in Winehouse’s persona. She was an attractive icon in part because of her addictions. On tracks like “Rehab” she sang that “they tried to make me go to rehab but I said no, no, no.” In her sultry voice she delivered desultory lyrics punctuated by the couplet, “I don’t ever want to drink again / I just — oooh — I just need a friend.”

The other piece was the hope that Winehouse would clean up before it was too late.

She was so talented, and held so much promise, that one could easily imagine a career that wasn’t defined by drugs, disorder and disease. She could have taken her pain-inflected, oft-described “whiskey stained” voice with her into old age. She could have had a nice Jewish family, a husband and seven kids, and released albums long into the future. Though moments like these remind us of how deeply engrained the tortured artist figure is in Western culture, they are tragic because an alternative is so feasible.

On her debut album, “Frank,” Winehouse sings to a male paramour, “You should be stronger than me.” Listening to the album today, I can only imagine Winehouse singing those verses to herself. I think the real allure of her music wasn’t the drugs, or her face splashed on tabloid pages. It was this promise she kept making that things could get better.

Two years ago, Winehouse’s producer Mark Ronson told Rolling Stone magazine that they were working on a series of Hanukkah songs. “She’s got songs called, like, Kosher Kisses and Alone Under the Mistletoe,” Ronson said. Winehouse had just entered a rehabilitation facility and anything seemed possible for her, even an album of Jewish holiday songs.

“So we are history, your shadow covers me / The sky above, a blaze,” she sang on “Tears Dry on Their Own.” Her voice, when she sings “a blaze” is furious, elongated, explosive. If only she had figured out how to be as triumphant over her own life as she sounds on the track. Instead we are left with a promise for the future (a promise of a future), and an artist too troubled too make good on that promise. I mourn Amy Winehouse — not just who she was, but who she had hoped to become.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Obituaries, Music, Mordechai Shinefield, Mark Ronson, Amy Winehouse

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.