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Flowers, pictures and messages are left in tribute to late soul music and British pop star Amy Winehouse, near her home in London, on July 25, 2011. (BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)
Flowers, pictures and messages are left in tribute to late soul music and British pop star Amy Winehouse, near her home in London, on July 25, 2011. (BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)

Lynn Crosbie: Pop Rocks

All Amy Winehouse wanted was love - and she was punished for it Add to ...

"I can't believe it, it's hard to conceive it," Tony Bennett whispers in a live performance of Body and Soul, a jazz standard that he recorded with Amy Winehouse this March.

On Saturday, as the news of Winehouse's death - at 27 - spread, Bennett told the press that "she was a lovely and intelligent person" and "an artist of immense proportions."

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As the London coroner's office awaits the toxicology report, Bennett's approbation is soothing, as it speaks only to her great talent, a talent that was still vital mere months ago.

More recently, she gave a confused performance in Belgrade, which cut short her tour; three days before she died, she appeared onstage at a London club to support her goddaughter, Dionne Bromfield.

She looked good: She danced like a Shangri-La, smiled and clapped. Then again, she looked good in Belgrade too, in a tight yellow dress and cat's eyes, throwing her little shoes around in a desultory fit of pique.

The crowd booed her, yet crowds are becoming more boisterous and hideous now that everyone has a video-phone and assumes, appallingly, that he or she is part of the performance.

A long time ago, when one drunk chick screamed "Paint it Black, you devil!" and became part of the Stones' live album Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out!, this was a phenomenal event; like being the lone big mouth in Carnegie Hall mouthing off to an astonished Lenny Bruce that he paid "too much!" for his tickets.

Crowds booed a frail Judy Garland, shortly before her death, and threw garbage: The absolute zero of fanaticism is an inconceivable coldness; a loathing for the object of one's affection.

Why? Because such objects tend to be rich; to seem careless and idle. Our lives are more difficult; it is not fair.

And when the object shows her mortality - in Winehouse's case, her dreadful loneliness, love sickness and morbid addiction - one's mortal response is derision.

"What a waste" is the most common cluck-cluck towards a supernova - a star ripping itself apart.

Geniuses, however, were not put on this Earth in order to function like well-oiled machines for our pleasure.

Geniuses, like Amy Winehouse, are tormented most often by having to feel and think more deeply and differently than others. Listen to her music. The swerve in the voice, the fissures and breaks: This is pure despair, hammered into art by sheer will and strength.

Her friend Russell Brand has taken it upon himself to both praise Winehouse as a "holy" and "divine" artist, and plead with us not to consider her illness to be a "romantic affectation."

He cites also her wretched personal life, its "madness" - that "YouTube madness with the mice."

While it is more emotionally manageable to think of Winehouse as half-monstress, half-goddess (in life and art, respectively), it is not that simple. The monstrous acts are intriguing as well. Not the drug gluttony - she really does seem to have been determined to kill herself, like Cobain without the rifle (who was higher than heaven when he pulled the trigger).

But her unfailing chic, right down to her Nijinsky-like bloody feet in ballet flats (an image that appeared a few years ago after she and her then-husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, had a terrible fight), was so alluring, and evocative; as was her performative rapport with the media and stricken audiences.

And the mice video (with Pete Doherty) is fascinating: The two stoned-yet-cinematically-beautiful singers gently play with day-old mice.

"I don't know much," Winehouse has one baby squeak. "But I do know what love is."

Love was her great passion; a huge, destructive and desirable force that pulses through each of her lyrics, her dark, fetching style, and her yearning, trembling voice.

This kind of love - she's speaking through the mouse to Fielder-Civil, with whom she is rumoured to still have been in close contact with - kills.

As with heroin, it kills when it is not available.

Winehouse is always described by her friends as forlorn. Her lyrics support this: There is her just wanting a friend, in Rehab, and there is, also, the relative and miserable notion that the singer is unworthy.

One wonders if the constant stream (by the press and online lookers-on) of smug, vicious attacks on the artist's personal life and appearance were also deeply felt by her.

All of You Know I'm No Good is a testament to Winehouse's sublime artistry; her great fashion sensibility (the first jazz song with a "skull T-shirt" in it); her musical hybridity (the sound is soulful, the lyrics hip-hop meets doo-wop) and misery.

"I cheated myself," she moans. "Like I knew I would."

Her unspeakably tragic death was written by this radiant star.

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