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.