Q. Amy Winehouse…
a) makes pretty great music.
b) is a crack-smoking trainwreck.
c) is Jewish.
The answer, as you probably know, is all three, and the media is obsessed with each of these factoids. After the release of a video of Winehouse doing various drugs was greeted with requisite shock and a reprise of “is she or isn’t she in rehab?”, I started thinking a little more about (c). In the face of the singer’s unraveling (about which there’s hardly need for yet another commentary), it’s become impossible to ignore just how psyched everyone seems to be that Amy Winehouse is Jewish.
There are different motivations behind this, of course. Both the ravenous press and Winehouse herself have joyfully portrayed her Jewish identity as a bizarre contrast with her bad girl image. The Jewish community, ever-eager to claim a celeb for the team, has managed to boast and sneer about her at the same time. Winehouse is the proud – and in many ways, welcome — antithesis of the “nice Jewish girl,” but since she does tend to identify with two out of the three elements of that little saying, both she and the media like to keep her options open.
Here are the oft-repeated basics. Back in 2004, The Guardian was one of many publications to pin her as “a slight 20-year-old Jewish girl from north London” and The Telegraph wrote, “Done up to the nines (lustrous lipstick, dark mascara, long black eyelashes, thick black hair), Winehouse looks every inch the Jewish princess.” In March of 2007, Rolling Stone‘s blog noted that “Ms. Rehab might in fact be the highest-debuting-female-solo-British-tall-Jewish-black-haired-tattoed-with-a-birthmark-on-her-left-arm artist ever to make the U.S. Billboard charts.” In May, the Toronto Star chimed in: “The beehived, heavily tattooed Winehouse might be a wee Jewish girl from North London, but she can snarl and wail like Etta James or Eartha Kitt.” From a Rolling Stonecover story that same month: “Those who have only heard her voice express shock upon seeing the body that produces it: The sultry, crackly, world-weary howl that sounds like the ghost of Sarah Vaughn comes from a pint-size Jewish girl from North London.” And from the Washington Post: “Winehouse has an exceptional voice that’s even more striking when you catch a glimpse of its source: a wispy, heavily tattooed young Jewish woman with a mile-high beehive for a hairdo and a Gothic level of mascara caked onto her face. It almost doesn’t compute.”
What a study in contrasts!
When she’s prodded to comment on her bad girl ways, Winehouse tends to bring up her Jewishness herself, offering it as a reassuring counterpoint to the rest of her image. “She says what she really wants to do in 10 years’ time is to settle down and be a good Jewish mum,” Australia’s Sunday Times reported last summer. The paper went on to quote the singer as saying, “I would like to uphold certain things, but not the religious side of things, just the nice family things to do. At the end of the day, I’m a Jewish girl.”
The news that Winehouse planned to have a traditional Jewish wedding ceremony and (bonus!) convinced her husband to convert, had the press slobbering.
After music producer Mark Ronson laughed off rumors that he and Winehouse were having an affair, he shared this highly pertinent information: “Amy makes a really nice meatball dinner. She’s good at making Jewish mother food.” More recently, he announced that he and Winehouse may team up to do a holiday album that will include ditties with names like “Kosher Kisses.”
Because all of this is not enough, the Jewish Chronicle recently posted a short write-up entitled “How Jewish is Amy Winehouse?”**
In what I can only assume is a very (very, very) lame attempt to be funny, the piece manages to embrace stupid stereotypes in the name of policing Jewish identity. In the “pro” column, “Amy is on record as saying she loves her grandma, she likes to make roast chicken on a Friday night and looks forward to a matzah and edam sandwich after an evening out.” On the con side, she has all those tattoos “(of naked ladies, no less)” and, you know, drinks a lot. The verdict? “Once she comes out of rehab, we’ll have her back,” the Chronicle reassures. “So we say she is 78% Jewish.”
What a relief! Now we know.
**”How Jewish is…” looks to be a recurring feature at the Chronicle, which also put French President Nicolas Sarkozy* on the hot seat. The results? His grandfather was Jewish (before he converted to Catholicism – but “we have made a halachic decision not to recognise it,” says the Chronicle)! He can boast of family members who died in the Holocaust! And woah, his girlfriend Carla Bruni once recorded a song written by Serge Gainsbourg, a bonafide Jewish person!!!