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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Amy Winehouse's Cuts, Tracks, Bruises, and Blemishes: A Digital Narrative

In Memoriam: Amy Winehouse
I'm feeling really devastated by the news of Amy Winehouse's death. The last three years have been a rollercoaster with more drops than rises. I loved her performances in the early years -- 2004 - 2007 (even 2008-ish). I could not bear to stand to watch the decline. It is tragic in many senses -- for Amy Winehouse personally, and in the way she is / was all of us, no matter how we like to mask our emotional pain and struggles with the best digital camouflage we can find.


A few thoughts:

1. I loved the extreme girl group costuming combined with retro tattoos and huge implants. She could have easily stepped from the pages of a graphic novel or a 50s / 60s comic book.

2. Amy's stylings / expression / performances were stunning. I love the fact that she was always improvisatory and never tried to approximate the recording. Reinvention. Intense connection with the audience. Spellbinding.

3. The lyrics perfectly expressed the contradictions of human desire, life, and what it means to have and then to lose amazingly transcendent moments ... they are also wry and ironic.
I love the lyrics to "Tears Dry On Their Own"

The Following Blog Entry Posted ... July 8, 2008

Any new cut, scrape, track, blemish, or bruise on Amy Winehouse is news in the tabloids and celebrity blogs. The cuts tell a story, but not in the way that one might expect. The narrative emerges because of the convergence of digital media (video, photos, audio), and the openness of Web 2.0, where bloggers, readers, paparazzi, and the culture at large synthesize and create a reality that resonates with the undercurrent of a deeper story just beginning to emerge.


Amy Winehouse, whose Grammy-winning records are largely autobiographical, and often disturbingly so, has made thousands of tabloid headlines for her problems ranging from her self-inflicted cuts and self-harming, to drug abuse, resulting in burns, needle marks, and facial blemishes. Further, her turbulent relationship with her boyfriend, now husband, Blake, has been physically abusive, resulting in bruises, scratches, scrapes. Each mark on Amy's body tells a story, but the story is largely indeterminate, except in the space of Web 2.0 applications, where text messages, blogs, feeds, and shared communication create a shared consciousness -- not only of the details of her life, but also of what the readers want to see, and what they project, and thus reveal about themselves.

Where and how do digital narratives unfold? Again, the tools and technologies of Web 2.0 (which encompasses cell phone and pdas, as well as laptops), makes it an "any time, any place" participatory unfolding.

Nothing is foretold, and the interactions create the "conversation" which become the foundation of a collaborative narrative with many interpretative possibilities. What did the latest cuts mean? Why did she have bloody toes? Was it from injecting heroin? The tabloids encourage sharing the stories, posting comments, and then weaving one's own story:

Body Art of the Biker Girl: Tattoos reinforce her music, which is an eclectic blend of 60s girl group, blues, ska, and more. Her music has a retro feel of 50 years ago and her productions (music, outfits, presentation) harken back not just to girl groups, but to a pre-feminist time, where women's identities were informed by their relationship to their "man" - dark undercurrents of control, domination, and mental/physical abuse.

The tattoo of an exotic dancer and of Blake, the "bad boy" boyfriend, makes a commitment in the way a t-shirt line styled after old biker tats could never do. Inked in her skin, she is both the controlled and controlling canvas of the stereotype of the objectified woman.

The fact that Amy makes sport of the objectification of women by showing self-objectification forces a re-examination of the old assumptions about power relationships between men and women, especially in the gritty night where exotic dancers and addicted customers lay bare the realities of an uncivilizable savage core -- a core that all sentient beings recognize, and which may or may not contain a revelation about the mystery of the nature of the divine and the profane.

Tragic Camp of the Reinvented Bad Girl: Amy Winehouse's exaggerated bouffant, Cleopatra eyes, and her own songs, "I'm No Good," and her remake of "He Hit Me and It Felt Like a Kiss," remind one of all echoes of earlier times. The perception is of women gutted by the male gaze, controlled by Svengali managers and boyfriends. Amy Winehouse's costuming and public persona evoke the tragedy of Anna Nicole Smith and even Dorothy Stratten, the Playboy centerfold murdered by her manager husband.

However, the key difference is that instead of being physically dominated and controlled by an ever-present manager/boyfriend/husband, Amy's husband, Blake, languishes away in prison, where he is being held for obstruction of justice. While she claims he is always in her mind, he, by all accounts, is utterly powerless in his role. If he is in reality controlling her, it is only through the idea that she herself holds in her own mind about suffering and subjugation.

In the meantime, each mark on Amy's body offers the communicating public an opportunity to participate in an ongoing and ever-morphing story. The story is about love, about loss, and about heartache. It is also about the way a cut, bruise, needle mark, or blemish can symbolize the chthonic; a subterranean repository of meaning that is not ever quite visible, except in manifestations that bubble to the surface in the form of cuts, bruises, scratches, tracks, and more.

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