amy winehouse and bill morrissey

there appears to be something of a new, intangible cottage industry springing up around the notion of being cynical about death.

when the news of amy winehouse’s passing hit yesterday, twitter lit up with any number of arrogant, snarky missives about her, and i was scrolling through all this on my phone and wondering to myself, what’s the point of all this?  what did she do to bring this down upon her in the hours after shuffling off?

i’ll certainly admit that there have been people whose deaths have not exactly triggered a sense of loss for me, and there will most certainly be more.  i highly doubt that i’ll shed a tear when dick cheney finally, for the last time,  clutches the spot in his chest where a heart would normally be found and drops to the floor.   but dick bought and paid for that lack of empathy with no visible outward sign of regret for the life he’s lived, and i doubt i’m the only one who will feel that way.

but all amy winehouse did was to publicly live the life that many people live in total obscurity – addiction, i don’t think, can ever be fully understood by those of us with largely non-addictive character.  saddest about amy’s passing, as with so many others in her situation, is the spectre of what she would’ve accomplished had she not fallen victim to her vices – and fame, notoriety, celebrity…and the trappings that accompany all that…only fan the flames for someone who’s an addict and doesn’t have to worry about where their next fix is coming from.

i’m not necessarily interested in defending her actions, and i wasn’t a huge fan of her music – i didn’t have any contempt for her, and her talent was undeniable…but i’m at a loss as to why marking her death with public derision benefits anyone.

i think there’s an underlying belief that it’s somehow easier for prosperous addicts than it is for the guy who stands in front of the dunkin’ donuts on walnut street, talking to himself all day – and certainly, someone with a bank balance and a support system might stand a better chance of getting certain kinds of help, but their addictions are no less severe than the addictions of someone who isn’t affluent…and their chances of relapse might actually be worse, when you consider the surroundings and temptations that accompany celebrity – and the fact that addicts tend to surround themselves with enablers, who would never think of denying them the things they want.

another ridiculously talented soul left us yesterday, although he’ll get much less ink over having done so.

bill morrissey (1951-2011)

bill morrissey first came to my attention as the guy on the cover of the now-legendary (in some circles) legacy compilation…the guy holding the sign that said, “i wrote all of gorka’s songs”.  some of the other folks who appeared on the album (gorka, cliff eberhart, sara hickman) all went on to have successful careers, and bill’s trajectory never quite reached as high as it should’ve…the song that represented him on the album, handsome molly (featuring harmonies from suzanne vega) wasn’t his best work, and i’m sure that there were folks who found his weary, weathered voice a little hard to digest.  but on his best work, his voice is the perfect companion for his lyrics…and he used that voice and his insightful writing style to forge a career that spanned three decades over the course of a dozen albums, novels and short stories.   and – when you heard him sing, if you were at all familiar with his work, you knew instantly that it was him…for a musician, there’s really no higher compliment than that.

the two songs that best represent his talent as a songwriter, to me, are inside and birches.

inside paints a picture of quiet desperation that, to my ears, has no equal elsewhere:

this ain’t hollywood
it never really gets that good
call it love if you think you should
no need to explain…

…and you won’t leave soon, because i know
you’re just like me, with no place to go
there’s a love still here, nothings’ died
it just got buried somewhere deep inside…

…you’re home later each night, i see
i fix dinner while you talk to me
then we’ll wait for the late movie
to take us away again…

and you won’t leave soon, because i know
you’re just like me with no place to go
no place to go, it’s just a matter of time
you’ll find someone, it’s just a matter of time…

i totally and completely understand the notion that reading lyrics without hearing the song is something akin to listening to sports play-by-play without watching the game…you get the general idea, but there’s no comparison to the total picture.  this is as true with these two pieces of music as any other you could pose as an example.  but since i can’t play them for you, the only means by which to convey a snippet of morrissey’s genius is to cite his lyrics.

the song birches is acknowledged by most as his masterpiece…and probably rightfully so.  i still vividly remember the first time i heard it – when the last line came about, i was just speechless.  and it’s a hard song to stop thinking about after you’ve heard it.

i’m going to strongly recommend that you go find it and (legally) download it, but if you need to be convinced…




They sat at each end of the couch, watched as the fire burned down,
So quiet on this winter’s night, not a house light on for miles around.
Then he said, “I think I’ll fill the stove. it’s getting time for bed.”
She looked up, “I think I’ll have some wine. how ’bout you?” She asked, and he declined…

“Warren,” she said, “maybe just for tonight,
Let’s fill the stove with birches and watch as the fire burns bright.
How long has it been? I know it’s quite a while.
Pour yourself half a glass. Stay with me a little while.”

And Warren, he shook his head, as if she’d made some kind of joke.
“Birches on a winter night? no – we’ll fill the stove with oak.
Oak will burn as long and hot as a July afternoon,
And birch will burn itself out by the rising of the moon.

“And you hate a cold house, same as me. Am I right or not?”
“All right, all right, that’s true,” she said. “It was just a thought,
then she said, “Warren, you do look tired. Maybe you should go up to bed.
I’ll take care of the wood tonight.” “Oak,” he told her. “Oak,” she said.

She listened to his footsteps as he climbed up the stairs,
And she pulled a sweater on her, set her wineglass on a chair.
She walked down cellar to the wood box — it was as cold as an ice chest —
And climbed back up with four logs, each as white as a wedding dress.

And she filled the stove and poured the wine and then she sat down on the floor.
She curled her legs beneath her as the fire sprang to life once more.
And it filled the room with its hungry light and it cracked as it drew air,
And the shadows danced a jittery waltz like no one else was there.

And she stood up in the heat. She twirled around the room.
And the shadows they saw nothing but a young girl on her honeymoon.
And she knew the time it would be short; soon the fire would start to fade.
She thought of heat.
She thought of time.
She called it an even trade.

goodbye, bill…and goodbye, amy. i think that the best thing that can be said about someone in light of their passing is that they left something behind that made the world a better place – and they both can lay claim to having done so.

17 thoughts on “amy winehouse and bill morrissey

  1. Did not know Bill Morrissey passed yesterday, that is said such as nice song writer, as for the people who hide behind their keyboards and act very stupid with smartphones, they think that is the way to behave to be cool, when it is such an high school mentality, it is bullying, just wish they would shut the fuck up.

  2. This would have been a really great post without your gratuitous whack at the former vice president, which, is no different than the snarky twitterers you bemoan in the case of Amy Winehouse.

  3. When I tuned in to “Folkways” (KUT, Austin) while I was running yesterday Morrissey was mid-song. I’ve seen him live and own his records, but hadn’t listened for awhile. I still had a dumb grin on my face when the radio host came back on and told us why he was playing a string of Bill’s songs. I had just been wondering when he might pass through Austin again. Bill was an amazing live performer, really a funny guy. So sad. Thanks for putting together this tribute.

  4. @Eric…”… but dick bought and paid for that lack of empathy with no visible outward sign of regret for the life he’s lived…”

    every day when we wake up, we can choose whether or not to be an asshole. a person in the throes of addiction doesn’t see their lot in life as a choice. those of us who don’t struggle with those demons can make our own assumptions as to whether or not hitting a crack pipe is a choice or not, and i don’t pretend to have any idea, personally.

    as far as cheney goes – a guy who, by watergate standards, should be in prison right now – i make no apologies for my distaste for him. sorry if you were offended.

  5. I participated in the NE acoustic scene thru the ’90s. As a fugitive from the indy rock scene, I was unfamiliar w/”Folk Stars” such as Mr. Morrissey. I picked up a cassette (old story here) of his ’93 album “Inside”. I liked Bill’s writing and his unique voice, tho I felt the album suffered from an attempt at “commercial ” production.
    I actually think Bill was a better writer than Raymond Carver, who I find overrated.
    As for his alcoholism, or Amy’s or anyone’s habits, I was there for 13 yrs… becomes your normal state. Getting straight feels absolutely alien, terrifying. Bill got this feeling across in certain songs.
    Bill’s gift to me was that “Inside” was one of a few ’90s folk albums I could relate to and prompted me to get more involved. He was real, “The Man FRom Out of Town”.

  6. I saw Bill play more often I saw than anyone else. Once, at a concert in New London, I asked him to play ‘Man From Out of Town”. He said he wasn’t sure he’d remember the words (he did). And I wondered how anyone could write anything so brilliant and perhaps forget it….

    I don’t live on that plane but wish I did.

    So, Bill is gone; probably a small list of concerts cancelled. Bill processed a lot of life for those of us who listened and he paid the freight in a hard currency. I suspect that Bill lived on a scale that came closest to working for him and even that ran him through the mill.

    Selfishly, I will miss hearing what he might have to say. I would like to read ‘Imaginary Runner’ but don’t expect that I will. Nothing is perfect and life does not often end with a punctuation mark.

    Thank you, Bill,

    Jeff Kite

    1. Yo, Jeffrey,
      I don’t know who you are but loved your line about Bill, about how he “…precessed a lot of life for those of us who listened and …paid the freight in hard currency…” I sing his songs in my car and think almost think I’m him. But you’re right. He paid the freight.

  7. Thank You for this post and for teaching me more about Bill Morriessy and his poetry & music that accompanied it. I hope more people can experience what he had and still has to offer.

  8. I first met Bill at a mountain stage concert at Charleston,West Virginia.After the concert was over Bill signed all of my albums that I bought along.He said” you are the only one I have ever met that has all of my album’s”.I tried to get him to go fly fishing on the New river the next day but he had other commitments.I did get to drive him to the airport and totally enjoyed his sense of humor on the way.this was in the early 80’s.After moving to St.Augustine Beach,Florida around 2000,Bill played at a small cafe here at the beach(cafe 11).It was a great show!!Got to hang with him after.I miss him so much!

  9. A teacher depressed and anxious about the upcoming school year, feeling like “…I can’t believe I pissed my (summer) away…” I got out my “North” CD to savor Bill’s amazing lyrics. Then got on U-Tube and found the guy died last year?! Saw him in person 4 or 5 years ago with a guy who took himself out about 2 years ago, he had some of the same problems Bill had so he appreciated Bill’s songs. Anyway, I’ve been listening to his songs over and over on U-Tube, forwarding them as attachments to anybody I think would appreciate him. I try to sing along with “These Cold Fingers” but choke up before the last verse. His line “he needed one more drink to take the chill out of his soul,” pretty much sums it up. Wish I could thank this guy for his songs, but I guess he got a lot of thank you’s along the way. Any one who could leave behind such great songs as “Birches,” “These Cold Fingers,” and so many more made his mark. Thank you Bill Morrissey!

  10. I guess it’s late to write this but I love Bill very much. He got me out of more jams than I could ever count in the cold Chicago nights. I’ve always loved a glass of bourbon with the smell of cavendish and black cherry from the pipe and I would sing Bill’s songs. Sorry to ramble.

  11. Bill played in Bristol NH at the Village Tap. He sang our songs (Small Town on the River) and he spoke our language. Through all the years I knew him ,I knew one day he would be missed, never thought it would have been by an untimely death. I will post some old pictures on Facebook.

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