John Sieger
Sieger on Songs

“Tears Dry On Their Own”

Amy Winehouse’s death was a huge loss to music, as this song proves.

By - Jul 24th, 2015 12:27 pm
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Amy Winehouse. Photo from Facebook.

Amy Winehouse. Photo from Facebook.

If you haven’t seen the documentary, Amy, do yourself a favor and go out and catch it for a night of absolute heartbreak. In my mind, there’s no argument about who was the most talented artist of the last decade or so — it’s Amy Winehouse by a country mile. This has nothing to do with her brilliant hit, Rehab, although that does not detract. It’s the “everything” factor, a score so high in every department, she could have skipped the tragic back story, so well told in this feature, and still been at the top of the pile.

I have a problem with back stories anyway. Sometimes they seem so much bigger than the actual music. Part of the sadness you’ll feel as you watch Winehouse go from bright eyed and precocious young lady to the tabloid haunt of her last days, is realizing how good her story was for business and how so few, including her clueless father, put her welfare ahead of career.

That’s how professional disasters like her incoherent ramble around the stage in Belgrade happen. Bad as that was, the personal disaster that followed eclipses it and leaves you feeling an ever expanding anger as you contemplate the total vacuum of responsibility that led to her death. The one caring soul portrayed in the film, her first manager, Nick Shymansky, was fired and had to watch from the sidelines as one of the most painful public burnouts in history played out. Let’s not even mention her incredibly useless and enabling leech of a husband. At least by name.

What did we lose? Of course we’ll never know what works of genius she might have delivered, but even if she had never written again, how about the lost performances of songs from her substantial and surprisingly deep catalog? On Back To Black alone, there were classics galore. Rehab, which you’ll learn is brutally literal, entertains as it perplexes. Are we laughing with or at her? Shymansky said he could never listen to the song and pretend to like it. Then there’s You Know I’m No Good and the title song, sung with perfect conviction by someone who could never forgive herself for being human.

Our song today, Tears Dry By Themselves, is high powered and celebratory — if you don’t listen too closely to the words. It’s the cleverest rewrite of a standard I have ever heard. That standard I’m talking about is Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, a Motown perennial penned by Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson. How Ms. Winehouse came to write a new melody and words and then hang them ever so perfectly on these wonderful changes is a mystery — how she even conceived of such a project is, too. The results speak for themselves:

“Tears Dry On Their Own”

All I can ever be to you
Is the darkness that we knew,
And this regret I’ve got accustomed to.
Once it was so right,
When we were at our high,
Waiting for you in the hotel at night.

I knew I hadn’t met my match,
But every moment we could snatch,
I don’t know why I got so attached.
It’s my responsibility,
And you don’t owe nothing to me,
But to walk away I have no capacity.

[Chorus:]

He walks away,
The sun goes down,
He takes the day
But I’m grown,
And in your way,
In this blue shade
My tears dry on their own.

I don’t understand
Why do I stress a man
When there’s so many bigger things at hand.
We coulda never had it all,
We had to hit a wall,
So this is inevitable withdrawal.
Even if I stop wanting you,
A perspective pushes through,
I’ll be some next man’s other woman soon.

I shouldn’t play myself again,
I should just be my own best friend,
Not fuck myself in the head with stupid men.

[Chorus]

So we are history,
Your shadow covers me
The sky above,
A blaze,

[Chorus]

I wish I could say no regrets,
And no emotional debts,
‘Cause as we kiss goodbye the sun sets

So we are history,
The shadow covers me,
The sky above,
A blaze that only lovers see

© Ashford Simpson Winehouse

Reading these words won’t reveal the skill with which they are phrased. She was, as Tony Bennett  insisted, every inch a jazz singer. He insisted she was a “once in a generation” artist, comparing her to Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. That’s high praise. We’ll never have a late, or even mid-career comparison, but she was off to a running start with maybe a thing or two to learn yet.

Amy dropped an ample supply of F-bombs into her songs (see above) and the movie, many she could have saved. In Me And Mr. Jones she uses the word ‘fuckery.” That’s a keeper whether she coined it or stole it… I’d never heard it before and laughed out loud the first time she sang it. Her bluntness, mostly funny and effective coming from her 85 pound bee-hived self, seems heroic or crazy, take your pick. One can only wish it had been a more effective defense.

Amy’s destruction was accomplished by an out-of-control tabloid press that sent jackals with cameras everywhere she went. The scenes where dozens of flashes strobe as she pops in and out of clubs and cars are enough to induce seizures. With no one to defend her, it was just a matter of time.

My family and I saw Ronnie Spector sing a snatch of “Back To Black at the Lincoln Center a couple weeks after Winehouse died in the summer of 2011. It was a tribute from a tough survivor and owner of one of the great voices in rock and roll to a fallen sister. A chill came  over the crowd that almost made you forget it was summer.

One thought on “Sieger on Songs: “Tears Dry On Their Own””

  1. Christina Zawadiwsky says:

    Great lyrics! Having recently seen the film Amy, I can imagine Amy Winehouse singing them in her own inimitable way!

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