Monday, 25 July 2011

AN ASIDE ON A LESSER NEWS STORY OF THE MOMENT



Of course all the usual disclaimers apply (they're bland but they need to be stated): any death is an unspeakable tragedy; this must be a living nightmare for her family; it's shocking that this could happen to someone so young. For myself it feels like this is the first person of my generation to die in an end-of-the-line kind of way; other people of exactly my age have died in accidents, but this was more than an accident, the endpoint of her "natural" trajectory, an accelerated aging process, a wasting away, and as such not really different in essence from the one we're all going to have to face eventually. This was the first "mature death" of a contemporary I've experienced, and it's very sad.

Outside of this human context though, this is another one of those "how did this madness ever take hold?" moments to set beside the reaction to the Murdoch defrocking. Amid all the ill-judged appraisals from online hacks desperately scratching around for something positive to say about the actual music, there's a sense of collective embarrassment that we ever allowed what was essentially a pop-cabaret one-hit-wonder to become an international superstar and sometime figurehead for an entire culture.

Amy Winehouse released one good single in 2006, a song whose extreme formal conservatism was redeemed by a campy yet catchy and ingenious lyrical conceit. This is, quite literally, all she ever did of any worth, as far as I can make out.

The rest of what happened was essentially a meta-narrative that perfectly encapsulates the cultural nadir that was the mid-to-late noughties: consumer hedonism, etiolated post-feminism, unapologetic retrophilia of a scarcely believable magnitude, celebrity culture, an alternately tragic/fairytale myth of individualism, vast shallowness on an epic scale. It's some source of comfort to me that these things don't seem quite as hegemonic now as they did back then. Wait a minute, did someone say "Adele"? 

7 comments:

W. Kasper said...

Excellent. I seem to have offended some friends by dismissing her as an overexposed green-skinned junkie flogging mid-period Wham! records. (I don't post 'RIPs' if I wasn't a fan BTW. Never dug Broadcast, despite her very sad death).

The whole 'blue-eyed 60s trad Brit soul' schtick is very early/mid-80s, isn't it? Does this reflect political mores, I wonder? Adele and Duffy seemed to herald a Tory resurgence in a way. Amy's devoted fans don't seem to have heard of Mari Wilson, Carmel or Alison Moyet - or indeed Hue and Cry. It was once dismissed as the height of Thatcherite cheesiness. Although maybe its biggest fans are 30/40 somethings getting nostalgic for their teens, along with the cult of post-rave self-destruction.

Alex Niven said...

Yes Robin Carmody was very good on precisely this link back in the day, circa 2007-8 (might even be on his previous blog, was the first stuff I read of his actually).

I think we lack still lack the basic reflex to dismiss this sort of thing out of hand for what it is (ie. in the eighties it would have been "yuppy music", "tacky", "cheesy", "corporate pop" etc). It's the semblance of seriousness surrounding this corner of the pop market is so pernicious, like every music journalist automatically felt they had to write an "artistic appraisal" of Winehouse. And it was kind of farcical to see people running into the quagmire of realising there was actually nothing there to appraise.

Having said that I must admit that I've never heard of any of the above, other than Alison Moyet ...

W. Kasper said...

Carmel was practically identical, if not better. Of course, none of them had as much personal drama - but pop wasn't as 'front page' then either.

Greyhoos said...

Wowwwww.

I've been waiting for someone to pop up with something like this. Dunno what's it's like in the UK, but over here she had something of a love/hate legacy (aside from the eclipsing celeb-culture trainwreck aspect of it all). I never cared about her music one way or the other. But recent days have been weird, as I've seen scores of people who had previously shrugged her off with a derisive snort, only to see many of them post "RIP" messages of one sort or another. Which has me confused: which of the two was the real or feigned/auto-pilot sentiment? But no matter really, since I don't much care. Just something I've noticed.

But goddamn Alex if that last paragraph doesn't nail it all so perfectly.

W. Kasper said...

We get that a lot here - I remember being shocked at all the converted Queen fans as soon as Freddie Mercury died. Surely there's a word for this phenomenon?

Bill said...

necrophilia?

Alex Niven said...

mediaphobia