Singer Amy Winehouse is many things: gifted, destructive, depressive, dickmatized...but one thing she's not is inauthentic. In today's Salon, Winehouse is accused of blatant fakery by novelist James Hannaham. "She may be a tragic talent," writes Hannaham, "but she's also playing the part of the tragic talent." Hannaham reasons that Amy is attempting to become a legend by not only singing the blues, but living them — and that her entire persona has been self-constructed with "legend" status in mind. "Winehouse might really be Sarah Silverman in water-soluble tattoos, wacky eyeliner and a ratty hair-don't having another tasteless joke at our expense," he adds. (Hey, he's not the only one to notice the Winehouse/Silverman resemblance?)
However, one glance at Amy hysterically crying while half naked, wandering the streets of London in the wee hours, and I think it's clear that her image is no construct. Her pain, while of course, projected to the masses, is entirely real, and probably drug-induced.
Every day, in any major city, you can find a haphazardly clothed junkie wandering around drug-addled in public. If someone photographed it, would that mar its authenticity? The only difference between the faceless junkies and Winehouse is that her demise is being chronicled. Hannaham also claims that Winehouse's Jewishness is a "liability" and that she's deliberately hiding it to further her R&B diva image. But as far as I can tell, Winehouse's Judaism is purely secular. If she's not proclaiming her religion to the heavens, is that the same as muffling it? The fact of her heritage is as plain as the nose on her face. How is it at all relevant to her art if she's not religious?
The Philadelphia Inquirer has also weighed in on Winehouse, and, although it doesn't doubt Amy's authenticity, it does decry her tabloid treatment. Writer Karen Heller calls Amy "Britain's Britney," (you know, except talented), and blames the London tabs along with Amy's attention-whoring mother and Karl Lagerfeld for enabling Amy's drug-addled antics. Heller has a point: until Winehouse sees any sort of tangible consequences to her actions, she's not going to stop her cycle of destruction. Like any addict, she needs to hit rock bottom, and rock bottom doesn't include being Lagerfeld's muse or getting six Grammy nods.
"There is no need for fiction" in Winehouse's case, Heller says, and that's why Hannaham's allegations of inauthenticity — "To turn your failures into pop songs is to make commodities of them — which trivializes them a bit, no matter how sincerely you intended your audience to take them when you started out" — ring so hollow. He wants to make the thesis that all pop music trivializes emotions, and really, that's just something he cribbed from Walter Benjamin. If pop music's accessibility by the masses makes it inauthentic, then all forms of mass produced art are inauthentic projections of emotion. One look at Amy Winehouse's desiccated body and bloody, wretched visage makes it clear, at least to me, that her pain is all too real.
Earlier: Amy Winehouse Vs. Sarah Silverman