Monday, July 25, 2011

Once in Love With Amy

The redoubtable Mario Garcia -- the collapse of American newspapers has led him to do most of his work overseas, more's the pity for us -- had, well, a THANG, as my former colleague Wendy Dowkings used to say, for Amy Winehouse. He makes no bones about it. Her death caused him to collect some front pages from Europe and South America reporting her death.

Looking at the pages -- and as a copy editor, reading the headlines to the extent I could -- may indicate why American newspapers have such a youth problem.

From Il Secolo XIX in Bologna: "Enormous talent and fragile soul: Winehouse may be the Lady Diana of Rock. Fans besieged the star's house crying." The emotion of the opera. But they're Italian. We move on.

From Bild in Germany: "We must grieve today about Amy Winehouse. The police found her dead in her London apartment. She was only 27." Perhaps German newspapers all speak in the first person plural. We move on.

From Las Ultimas Noticias in Santiago: "The sudden end to the solitary diva. Amy Winehouse died at her home at 27. Her mother: 'It was a matter of time.' She had been depressed for a month after breaking up with her last boyfriend." But this is a paper that plays soap-opera entertainment on the front every day. We move on...

From Clarin in Buenos Aires: "Amy Winehouse: An early goodbye. The renowned English singer was found dead in her London home. She was 27 and had a history of addictions." Seems pretty straightforward. But even here, a hint of sympathy.

From Correio in Santiago do Bahia, Brazil: "Amy at the end. Singer, 27, found dead in London." The same (and I'm not completely sure of that translation.)

From Correio Braziliense: "Curse of 27 silences the voice of the 21st century." Referring to the deaths of Cobain, Joplin, Hendrix, etc. -- and assuming its readers know what it means.

From El Tiempo in Bogota: "Amy Winehouse dies. She was found in her London home. The artist was famous for her excesses." Hmm, we must be getting closer to the United States.

Now, for three from the U.S. that Mario collected:

The New York Times: Amy Winehouse (1983-2011): British Retro Soul Singer With Troubled History.

Los Angeles Times: Amy Winehouse (1983-2011): Iconoclastic pop singer found dead. The five-time Grammy winner inspired a new generation of vocalists.

New York Post: They tried to make her go to rehab, she said No No No! Amy Winehouse dead at 27.

So in Europe we hear of her fragile soul, for which we must grieve. In South America we hear of the depressed solitary diva whom we bid an early goodbye, the voice of the 21st century famous for her excesses. Callas! Duncan! Nijinsky!

OK, these are just the papers Mario selected, as are those in the U.S. But the U.S. reader is calmly told of the death of an iconoclastic retro soul singer -- whatever that may mean -- who inspired a new generation -- whoever they are -- but whose troubled history including refusing rehab.

It's a random sample, but it seems to me that papers overseas -- and OK, Mario didn't include any from England -- assume their readers know who Amy was, embraced her or her music, and mourned her passing. Here in the U.S. (and, OK, somewhat in Colombia), we first must assume that our readers have no idea who she was -- which we try to remedy with somewhat vacuous terms -- and in some cases, make sure we understand she was not an avatar of traditional American values. (But hey, she won five Grammys! So she must have been somebody.)

There's an ocean of difference between "Fragile Soul" and "Troubled History," and it's not just one of Italian vs. English, and it doesn't mean we have to go there. (And until this weekend, I had never heard a note that Amy Winehouse sang.) But it does convey the attitude of detached Olympian judgment that people accuse American newspapers of having -- and that does not work in the 21st century, when emotional connection is all.

More to come on emotion.

UPDATE: Today (Tuesday) my paper had a sympathetic tribute, as did the Burlington paper. So perhaps it just had to get out of the hands of the newsside and over to the features desk. Does this mean arts writers elsewhere work on weekends?

No comments: