Chasing Amy

Cambridge University had created a really interesting paper for its students this year as it was widely reported. (The combination of the sublime and the ridiculous in the same sentence I suppose was too much to resist.) One of its questions was to compare Amy Winehouse’s song “Love is a Losing Game” as a lyric in the same breath as Sir Walter Raleigh’s “As You Came from the Holy Land”. Some purists were enraged, some students were shocked, and some others delighted.

It was a brief controversy before the next day’s news rolled on the doorsteps. I thought it was a brilliant question and couldn’t understand the problem. One of the greatest things about studying literature is that it showed me that anything can be ‘read’. Structuralists believed that everything – including inanimate objects, animate actions and creative output – can be subjected to study. In this context, Cambridge’s Amy Winehouse’s question seems almost traditional. There is nothing radical or edgy about it as it is made out to be.

The only effect it had was to make me listen to Winehouse. After months of hearing about her antics thanks to Daily Mail, Times of India, and other bastions of celebritydom, I was convinced that Amy Winehouse was the closest synonym for bad news. After the Cambridge question, I had to find out if Winehouse’s song could be read as a lyric. And I was never more surprised! What a powerhouse of talent! Her rich, languid, smoky voice grabbed my attention by the throat and did not let go. I had stayed away from listening to her because of her reputation but that was totally my loss. And I know so many people who are doing the same.

I understood that for most musicians, their image compliments their music, or at least is in consonance. But for Amy Winehouse, her image and her music are at such dissonance with each other. When I listen to Winehouse, I actively shut out her – as a friend said – “white trash” image. The old school 60-ish sound drowns out the white noise of the world.

The professors at Cambridge knew what they were doing. Winehouse’s music is indeed a lyric of our times. It is – like her – chaotic, confused, wild, and messy from the outside but once you can get inside the song, once you really listen, you can hear the true artist’s voice.


2 thoughts on “Chasing Amy

  1. the effect that this post has had is that, not only have i listened to Amy Winehouse, but even read Sir Walter’s Raleigh. the effect this has had on me is that i wish i was one of the students there, who had this assignment.

    i have always believed that focus on an artists colours the art in a way that we often cannot see the art for what it is. It is one thing what the media does to artist, yet another what the artists do unto themselves. can the art ever be separated from the artist?

  2. hey Atul, I agree with you – the media does colour our perception of people, things and events. We should question whatever is given to us. The need to question is dying out and that is scary! Once we question, we will also think.

    The students at Cambridge were indeed lucky. You really said it! But guess what – I have come somewhat close. I once did an assignment on comic books. 🙂

    I tend to think of the artist as a medium to reach the art. Of course, it’s very difficult to untangle the art from the artist. And I can understand the reason why people – including me – are fascinated by the artist. But the art is not the artist. The art is what remains after the artist has left. Our times are such that we recognize and venerate both the art and the artist. But not every period in history has been kind to the artist. In the Mughal times, your hands could be cut off for building the Taj. Or down South, your name won’t be mentioned on the Temple walls after the back-breaking work you did. I think a post is due on this!

Let me know what you think.

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