The songs that epitomises the dangers of celebrity culture
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23rd October 2006
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Bashy, The Jolly Boys, Vitamin Quartet, Paolo Nutini, Queens of the Stone Age
Anyone who thought that the ‘cliché’ of music stars dying romantically young had disappeared with Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin or even Sid Vicious was quickly disavowed of the notion when Kurt Cobain of Nirvana took his own life in 1994. Fame was obviously still as toxic a currency as it had always been. Who knows how that particular death affected a 10-year old Amy Winehouse? But like those legends before her, she grew up to channel personal tragedy into her best work while still keeping on an even keel for self-destruction.
They tried to make me go to rehab but I said 'no, no, no'Rehab
Of course, Amy Winehouse’s creative touchstones were even more hardcore than the rock names mentioned. She was influenced by the jazz greats, such as Billie Holiday: herself no great advert for healthy living. And it can be argued that ‘Rehab’ isn’t really about the price of success, but is based on the harsh effects of loving the wrong person. Desperately self-destructive over her ongoing affair with Blake Fielder-Civil she was advised to seek professional help by both her management and her father. Ironically, while she rejected offers of help (and sacked her management), the tale was the inspiration for her and Mark Ronson to concoct ‘Rehab’ while they were recording in New York.
Fuelled by a cannily post-modern grasp of soul tropes, the single combines ‘60s girl groups, Motown, jazz and a very 21st century sense of celebrity culture. Its louche repetition of her rejection of help is transmuted into purest pop. On the surface it’s fun. Underneath it’s filled with real anguish. Just like Amy’s life itself. Just as the single bounced up the charts, Winehouse was ricocheting around Camden’s drinking establishments (and worse) with unhealthy relish. And as the strange feeding frenzy of tabloid culture picked away at her public disintegration it just looked as if ‘Rehab’ was gloomily prophetic. Depressingly, it looked as if there was still big money in pop stars killing themselves for our entertainment…