Media SF-J on Winehouse In The New Yorker: Aural Blackface!
posted by February 29 at 13:30 PMon
As with most of his writing, he does get some thing right. Like this:
I bought Winehouse’s first album, “Frank,” in 2004 at a Heathrow Airport music kiosk. I listened to it on the plane home and dropped it in a garbage can on the way to baggage claim.
and this last bit at the end (which I think is particularly funny/true):
One effective summing up of her style can be seen in a YouTube video of her performing the album’s title track, labelled “Amy Winehouse performing drunk or high. Your guess!” It may be neither—it is Winehouse’s signature, and if she can detach it from the past and keep writing songs like “Rehab” there will be nothing surprising about having her around for a long time. Other than having her around.
But he also makes some stomach turning comparisons, for example:
The singing style heard on “Frank” started years ago—Lauryn Hill, the dopey singer-songwriter Jewel, and Joni Mitchell are all glossed in this approach—and has filtered down through singers like Nelly Furtado, Winehouse, and a currently rising star, Sia.
Excuse me. I don’t want to come off all Christopher Frizzelle or nuthin’, but Joni Mitchell deserves more respect and credit than this jab. Comparing Jewel, Hill, Furtado and Sia to Mitchell. Uh-uh. Them’s is fighting words, bitch.
Further he goes on to compare Sharon Jones and Winehouse’s live performances with the same band, The Dap-Kings. I am one of those folks who think Jones is actually kinda boring and too retro. I prefer Winehouses very modern slap in the face kind of homage to Jones’ pastiche. So I suppose it’s just a matter of taste.
But I can’t help but make a connection to the fact that Jones is a black singer singing black music, and SF-J finds no offense in her “re-creations”. But Winehouse, being white, nearly becomes “minstrelsy”, and is only saved by her garbled marble-mouthed singing style.
Listen to the mid-tempo shuffle “You Know I’m No Good” and hear how she elongates and deforms the word “worst.” Is she channelling a little-known blues singer? Is she hammered?
And the caption I assume he wrote for the accompanying photograph of Winehouse on a bed with a ciggie hanging out of her mouth?
Winehouse’s voice can sound like aural blackface, but her range and variety resist definition. Photograph by Harry Benson.
I guess I’d just like to read an intelligent piece by SF-J that didn’t in some way entangle his own garbled and marble-mouthed views on race into his critiques. Is it even possible?