May 07

I Dream of Amy

Scott Korb

For the first time in several weeks I got up this morning with a song that wasn’t Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” running through my head. Though I probably haven’t played The Kinks’s “Village Green Preservation Society” since being introduced to Winehouse’s latest album Back to Black, following a long, stop-and-go drive yesterday through Orlando, Florida, it’s no surprise that I woke up singing “God save Donald Duck.” I suspect that tonight, though, I’ll be back to dreaming of Amy – oh, oh, oh.

In 2003, I completely missed her jazzy debut album Frank. Yet, I don’t feel so bad. Though it won some awards, apparently even she can hardly stand to listen to some of it these days. With Back to Black, released in England in October 2006 and in the U.S. this March, Winehouse has surprised me. She’s all soul – often accompanied and re-mixed with rap and hip-hop by Ghostface Killah, Skeewiff, and Hot Chip; and though she’s a white girl from North London and wears her influences on her sleeve, she sounds convincing. Can she belt! And beneath her vocals are the piano, sax, and horns of fifties and sixties soul. Where they come in, the hip-hop beats are a perfect match. “Yes, I’ve been black,” she sings in “Rehab.” And though she’s not actually talking about race, the reference is there, of course, and you believe her: Yes, she’s been black. Raised a Jew, perhaps Winehouse believes in the transmigration of souls. Maybe she sang soul in another, equally musical life. After all, in the title track she claims to have “died a hundred times.”

Now, her voice may be mature – beautifully deep and, well, soulful – but lyrically Winehouse is young. Like most twenty-three-year-olds, she’s both impatient and thinks she’s invincible. She won’t to go to rehab – no, no, no, she pouts – because, like several young singers these days, she just can’t spare the seventy days. Not only that, but convinced by her “daddy” that she’s fine, she insists that treatment has nothing to teach her that she can’t learn by listening to the American soul giant Donny Hathaway, who, it happens, killed himself at thirty-three. In “Me and Mr. Jones” relationships are little more than “fuckery.” And with a nostalgia that seems to outreach her on an album that recalls the Shirelles, the Ronettes, and Marvin Gaye – and makes self-conscious and extremely cool references to “Ray” and “Mr. Hathaway” in “You Know I’m No Good” – Winehouse invokes Roger Moore, a corny 007 compared with the cooler-than-cool Sean Connery, who originated the role in the same era as her musical loves; but a slightly-too-old Moore, of course, was playing Bond the year Winehouse was born, and in this case (unless it’s all a good joke) Moore is as cool as she knows.

I don’t know soul music. Yet for weeks it’s been the soundtrack of my days. It’s been lulling me to sleep at night and waking me in the morning. But with Winehouse, I find that it’s best not to listen too closely, or that, as difficult as it may be, I give her sense of humor the benefit of the doubt. It may be, though, that for all her recent acclaim, we all dream of Amy a little better than she actually is.



Scott Korb is the co-author, with Zeek music editor Peter Bebergal, of The Faith Between Us, forthcoming from Bloomsbury this November. His writing has appeared in Harper's, Gastronomica, The Baltimore Sun, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Jerusalem Post, and elsewhere, including The Revealer and Killing the Buddha.