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!
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • This 007 hates guns, drives a Prius, and oh yeah — goes to shul with Scarlett Johansson's dad.
  • Meet Alvin Wong. He's the happiest man in America — and an observant Jew. The key to happiness? "Humility."
  • "My first bra was a training bra, a sports bra that gave the illusion of a flat chest."
  • "If the people of Rwanda can heal their broken hearts and accept the Other as human, so can we."
  • Aribert Heim, the "Butcher of Mauthausen," died a free man. How did he escape justice?
  • This guy skipped out on seder at his mom's and won a $1 million in a poker tournament. Worth it?
  • Sigal Samuel's family amulet isn't just rumored to have magical powers. It's also a symbol of how Jewish and Indian rituals became intertwined over the centuries. http://jd.fo/a3BvD Only three days left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • 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.