There have been a number of comments pointing out that 27 years of age seems to be the precise age, that moment of perfect ripeness when truly gifted, truly fucked up people burn out. Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, and Jimi Hendrix died at 27, and now Amy Winehouse joins that pantheon of addled and outrageous talent.
I found her songs only after her career had peaked into decline, which is to say a couple years ago, and I remember wondering who was the cute girl in the videos, and where was the person singing, because hearing THAT voice coming out of THAT face just didn’t add up – she couldn’t possibly… But she was. And she was amazing. I still hum Rehab, which sounds a little incongruous coming out of my mouth too, but not because I sing it well. Mind you, we’re all singing Rehab a little right now. One of the best eulogies I’ve read was by Alexis Petridis in the Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2011/jul/24/amy-winehouse-a-losing-game). He wrapped it up better than I could, noting that Amy Winehouse was famous because she had talent to burn, not because she burnt it.
At 27 years old, another very talented person was a first lieutenant in the US Army, having been drafted in 1958. John Shalikashvili was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when I worked as a civilian for the Department of Defense. I never met him either, but stories about the boss trickle all the way down – and those stories always reflected a lot of respect for “General Shali.”
Even after leaving the service, he was a broad-minded strategic thinker. In 2007, he had an opinion piece in the New York Times calling for a reversal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and ran anther one in the Washington Post 2 years ago. I’m sure I’m not the only one who sees bittersweet irony in that the policy was reversed the day before he died, at age 75. I hope someone told him, and thanked him for doing his part – for freedom, for lovingkindness, and for our county. He was one of the good guys. General Shalikashvili was briefly famous because he had talent as well, and he burned it quietly, well, and with honor.
So RIP to Amy Winehouse and John Shalikashvili, whom the headlines have brought together for the oddest of reasons. Maybe she’ll sing for him beyond the veil, while they wait in line for whatever’s next. Fair play to them both.