Mobi’s take on Amy Winehouse and the ‘27 Club’

 


6 Months, 24 days, still sober.

Amy and the ‘27 Club’

I always recall Bill O’Reilly from Fox News being outraged when he learned that Amy Winehouse had won 5 Grammys in 2008, as he seemed to think that it was completely disgusting that a British drug addict should be honoured in such a way by the American music industry.

I have watched O’Reilly very carefully though the years, and while I often agree with many of his political sentiments, and do have a grudging admiration for his combative style, there is no question that is quietly anti British – probably as a result of his Irish ancestry. Any time a piece of British news comes up on his programme he can’t resist a bit of a sneer. He had a field day recently when the world’s news media was dominated by the Royal Wedding, and while, as my readers are aware, I am very anti- monarchist, Bill O’Reilly’s rants against the so-called ‘raping and pillaging’ of the poor, downtrodden Brits over the centuries by the British monarchy, almost converted me back to being a Royalist. 

He never loses an opportunity to have a ‘pop’ or sneer at the likes of Elton John, so it came as no surprise when he expressed his total opposition to Winehouse being given such prestigious awards.

So what did O’Reilly think the should industry do? I wondered. Maybe they should give the music awards to artists who had left the most blameless, altruistic and clean living lives? A bit like the ‘fair play’ awards in Football? On that basis, Cliff Richard would have clocked up about 1,000 Grammies by now, and maybe if O’Reilly had anything to do with it – he might have received some extra special awards for being a ‘Born again Christian.’

The point is, that the American Music academy judges the music industry on the quality of their creative and performing talents, and not on the quality of their private lives. If clean, drug free living was a criteria for the awards , I doubt we would have too many of our top artists lining up for awards. I didn’t hear O’Reilly complaining too much about some of the black American hip hop artists, many of whom have criminal records and connections with organised crime who  rap about raping, killing  and so on, and use highly abusive language in their lyrics.

I had heard about Winehouse long before O’Reilly’s rant about her as she had already been in the news for the wrong reasons many times and I had also heard her massive hit ‘Rehab’, but I confess that she hadn’t registered very highly in my personal musical appreciation list.

However, once she had been honoured by such an august body and had been trashed by the great Bill O’Reilly, I took a further look at this young, maverick singing sensation. I liked what I found, when I started to listen seriously to her music, particularly the tracks from her smash hit album, ‘Back to Black’.

I find it difficult to categorise Winehouse’s style – sort of bluesy – soul with a bit of sultry cockney ‘white- trash’ thrown in. Whatever it may be, it is completely original, and she has a unique, raw, dusky voice that simply oozes evocations of smoke filled, sleazy jazz clubs.

It actually surprised me that so many people throughout the world loved her music as she has clearly never been a commercial pop singer. It just shows us that great music can transcend all music boundaries and personal preferences. A great song, regardless of genre, sung by a great singer, will be always be appreciated by a knowledgeable public who loves good music..

As a recovering alcoholic, I can see so clearly how young, fragile, highly creative people with predilections for substance abuse, can be so vulnerable to the dangers of over-indulgence and become trapped in a downward spiral that so often ends in an early demise. Deep emotions, both high and low, are part and parcel of the creative process and it is often only by baring their tortured souls, that artists such as Winehouse can produce some of their best stuff.

 Unfortunately, they are ‘innocents’ in a hard, cynical world and they have no real experience of life, particularly if they have found fame and fortune at a young age. The money makes them independent and in a position to make all their own decisions. Nobody, not their friends, family or management are able to gainsay them. The more they try to advise them, the worse the artists will tend to go off the rails. 

Their only hope is for someone to really take them in hand at the point when the artist is so low – at rock bottom – and they realise that this cannot go on any longer and they are prepared to listen and to try and change.

I was watching the comedian Russell Brand being interviewed the other day and it was clear that only a few years ago, he was in pretty much the same position as Amy. Brand was taken very strongly in hand by his friend/manager, made to understand that he would soon be dead if he didn’t ‘change  his ways’ and was more or less frog marched into rehab.

Having had the good luck to have a very strong, dedicated friend, he ‘saw the light’, and was effectively ‘saved’. He could just as easily have been long dead – he admits it himself. It is a lottery. Some manage to survive their own destructive tendencies – there are countless examples of this , not least of who are artists such as Eric Clapton and Elton John. Others have not been so lucky and have tragically succumbed to their own excesses.

Much has written about the so-called ‘27 club’, of which poor Amy is now a member, along with Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, and arguably Robert Johnson.  There are those who try to claim that there is some divine or mysterious significance to the fact that so many famous musicians all died at the age of 27.

I give these theories no credence. The fact remains that a huge number of creative folk, from all manner of artistic fields, die young, as a result of substance abuse, suicide or other self-inflicted causes, either directly or indirectly. The world is full of coincidences that people like to try and put  some meaning into; but the simple fact is, that the age of these ‘27 club’ victims could just have easily been 26 or 28. They could have all died at slightly different ages. It is just coincidence – pure and simple.

The fact that so many die in their late 20’s probably is significant. It is a period of their lives when many have already  generated creative output for several years and many of them have already had fame and fortune thrust upon them. They are vulnerable people, who are addicted to drugs alcohol or both, have been abusing their bodies for up to ten years, and have reached the stage where even heavier abuse is called for to achieve the required buzz.

So one could extrapolate from this that the late 20’s  would be a time of their lives when they start to slide out of control and, due to their elevated and financially independent existence, no one  is willing or capable of steering  them back onto the right course.

Amy Winehouse has left a legacy of music that will surely last at least as long as that left by her fellow ‘27 club’ member, Janis Joplin. She has already had a strong influence on British singers who have followed in her footsteps, such as the brilliant Adele, and she has shown the Brits and indeed the whole world, that good, original music will always be appreciated and loved and that it isn’t necessary to slavishly follow American contemporary music styles in order to find international fame and fortune.

For those who are unfamiliar with Amy’s music, I have selected two songs, ‘Back to Back‘ & ‘You Know I’m No Good‘, which to me, excluding her monster hit, ‘Rehab’, succinctly  illustrate the woman and her music.

Back to Black

(Written by Mark Ronson and Amy Winehouse)

 

He left no time to regret

Kept his dick wet

With his same old safe bet

Me and my head high

And my tears dry

Get on without my guy

You went back to what you knew

So far removed from all that we went through

And I tread a troubled track

My odds are stacked

I’ll go back to black

 

We only said good-bye with words

I died a hundred times

You go back to her

And I go back to…..

I go back to us

I love you much

It’s not enough

You love blow and I love puff

And life is like a pipe

And I’m a tiny penny rolling up the walls inside

We only said goodbye with words

I died a hundred times

You go back to her

And I go back to

Black, black, black, black, black, black, black,

I go back to

I go back to

We only said good-bye with words

I died a hundred times

You go back to her

And I go back to

We only said good-bye with words

I died a hundred times

You go back to her

And I go back to black

Listen and watch: Back to Black

You Know I’m No Good

(Written by Amy Winehouse)

 

Meet you downstairs in the bar and hurt

Your rolled up sleeves in your skull t-shirt

You say, “Why did you do with him today?”

And sniffed me out like I was Tanqueray

 

Cause you’re my fella, my guy

Hand me your Stella and fly

By the time I’m out the door

You tear men down like Roger Moore

 

I cheated myself

Like I knew I would

I told ya, I was trouble

You know that I’m no good

 

Upstairs in bed, with my ex boy,

He’s in the place, but I can’t get joy,

Thinking on you in the final throes

This is when my buzzer goes

 

Run out to meet you, chips and pitta,

You say “When we’re married” ’cause you’re not bitter

There’ll be none of him no more

I cried for you on the kitchen floor

 

I cheated myself

Like I knew I would

I told ya, I was trouble

You know that I’m no good

 

Sweet reunion, Jamaica and Spain

We’re like how we were again

I’m in the tub you on the seat

Lick your lips as I soak my feet

 

Then you notice little carpet burn

My stomach drop and my guts churn

You shrug and it’s the worst

Who truly stuck the knife in first

 

I cheated myself like I knew I would

I told ya I was trouble, you know that I’m no good

I cheated myself, like I knew I would

I told ya I was trouble, yeah ya know that I’m no good

 

Listen and watch: You know I’m No Good.

How about that closing shot on the You Tube video?

Amy curled up on the floor with a glass of whisky!

RIP Amy.

Corruption – to be or not to be? That is the question.

Back in the 1990’s I used to visit Thailand frequently with my Thai wife, (‘Noi‘, wife number 3), and we stayed at the house we had bought in Bang Sean. During my visits there, I got to know a number of middle class Thais who were all part of a ‘drinking gang’ that used to meet regularly at the home of a venerable, elderly, retired dentist in a nearby Bang Saen suburb.

The large, sprawling Thai-style home was ‘open house’, seven days a week, and come dusk, on just about any evening, you would find the host entertaining his fellow drinking pals. On a typical weekday there would probably only be 2 – 3 visitors, but weekends and holidays the huge, circular table, strategically situated in the old man’s lounge, would be packed to capacity.

All the gang, with the single exception of Mobi, were local Bang Saen folk. The retired dentist himself had three children, the oldest son being a landscape designer and the younger son and daughter were both  lawyers practising in Chonburi town. All the guests were reasonably well to do, and most of them were well educated Thais , from middle class backgrounds.

There were bankers, architects, doctors and so forth, with a few in business for themselves in a variety of trades. They would often turn up with their wives and sometimes their children who would all ‘muck in’ and enjoy their host’s spacious house and gardens. Sometimes we all got pretty drunk, but for the most part, our drinking was reasonably controlled. We drank in the Thai style; small tots of whisky mixed with copious amounts of soda and ice, interspersed with a never ending supply of tasty snacks.

In this manner we would become ‘mellow’, but rarely did any one become incapable. None of the gang spoke much English, so this was yet another opportunity for me to practise my Thai which was pretty abysmal back in those days. Fortunately, my then wife spoke excellent English and was able to translate for me when the occasion demanded.

A wide variety of subjects was discussed at length and occasionally disagreements would break out amongst us that would threaten the pleasant and friendly equilibrium of the gatherings; but our wise old host would always step in, chastise the culprits and ensure that any feelings of hostility were quietly and effectively nipped in the bud.

It reminded me of a similar drinking gang that I used to be a member of, back in the 70’s in the slums of Bangkok, as although there was much  disparity  in the class of the participants, we also had the benefit of a similar host, Pee Prasert, who, like his Dentist counterpart in Bang Saen decades later , used to ensure that any disagreements that broke out during a drinking session, never got too far out of hand.

(You can read all about my 70’s ‘Thai drinking gang’ in my ‘Mobi-Vignette’ entitled ‘Metta’ by clicking on the relevant tab above. I also wrote a short story, which had my Bang Saen drinking gang as it’s backdrop, entitled ‘Karuna’. It was published in my long obsolete collection of short stories entitled ‘Tales from Thailand’. Although the story was based on my real Bang Saen drinking gang, the actual story was my one and only attempt at a ghost story. I’m not sure that it worked very well, but at least I gave it a go.)

I am telling you all this because a news item the other day reminded me of this long forgotten collection of Bang  Saen drinking friends, and in particular, a  discussion we once had, all those years ago on the  subject of  of corruption in Thailand.

I had naively imagined that my ‘well-to-do’, well educated, professional Thais, would come down very strongly in the ‘anti-corruption’ camp and that they would tell me how much they deplored the corrupt system that dominated their daily lives. Not a bit of it. To a man, they were all pretty much in favour of corruption. The reasons were not that easy to discern, but with much prompting I eventually concluded that they felt that the system worked pretty well and that everyone knew where they stood. They understood what was required to get things done. Corruption worked to their benefit and advantage and they saw no need for change.

Not content with these replies I persevered, challenging them to admit that surely it was wrong for high ranking government officials, the Police, the Military, their families and cronies to benefit to the tune of millions if not billions of Baht in corruption, while the poor folk up-county barely had enough food to eat. What did they think about that?

They were typically Thai in their responses. Sure, they obviously deplored the huge corruption at the very top, but at the same time, they were loath to condemn it outright. In the end, it finally entered my thick, farang brain that the reason they were so reluctant to denounce corruption was because one day, they too, may become the beneficiaries of untold riches from this very same system. 

So it came as no surprise to me the other day when I read the following story in The Nation:

More than half of all Thais (64.5 per cent) believe corruption is acceptable if the new government makes the country prosper, promotes people’s well-being and benefits the respondents themselves, while 35.5 per cent said otherwise, an Abac poll reported Wednesday.

The percentage of those agreeing to corrupt government – if it benefits them – was particularly large (at about 70 per cent) among respondents aged under 20 and between 20 -29.

The July poll – involved 2,559 people over 18 from 17 provinces including Bangkok…….

Of course my debates with the good folk of Bang Saen occurred many years ago when I was younger and less worldly-wise in such matters. These days, I can fully appreciate where Thais are coming from on this issue, indeed I recall a television programme in which Thai kids, as young as five or six, were asked how they would they solve certain problems that may arise in their daily lives; offering them various alternative courses of action, ranging from doing it the right (moral) way, to doing it the corrupt way., Guess what? Almost every kid opted for the corrupt way or even invented new methods of corruption not even mentioned by the programme’s presenters.

This does not mean that the Thais are a morally bankrupt nation; it simply demonstrates the fact that for the most part, Asian cultures accept a degree of dishonesty and corruption which would be unacceptable in the west. Maybe one day this will all change, but I doubt I will live to see it. You just have to look at the endemic corruption in countries such as China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Cambodia to know that.

As for those well-meaning, crusading farangs who tell you to fight against corruption and refuse to become involved in it – that if a cop stops you on some trumped up offence, that you should refuse to pay him his 200 baht ‘tea money’ and so on.

Well they are welcome to do what turns them on, and I wish them luck; just as long as they realise that whatever they do, or refuse to do, it will not make one iota of difference to anyone in this country and they will just be regarded as ‘stupid farangs’ .

But as far as Mobi is concerned, this farang will do whatever he needs to do to fit in and have a nice easy life.

BUTT… BUTT… BUTT…I don’t give a hoot –  about corruption or anything else for that matter….