It probably hasn’t escaped your attention that yesterday was the 10th anniversary of the death of Amy Winehouse at the age of just 27.
I say that it probably hasn’t escaped your attention, as it was all over the media, all falling over themselves, to praise her, her voice and her work, just as they did when she died, without ever taking a good hard look at themselves and considering how much they may have contributed to her death. At least the paps had the decency to make it obvious by physically chasing Diana to her death.
Last night’s TV here in the UK was – rightly – full of documentaries and concerts, marking the anniversary, but I haven’t watched any of them, yet. And that’s because on Thursday night, with the (failed) goal of writing this post afterwards to appear yesterday, I watched Asif Kapadia’s brilliant documentary, Amy, which is currently streaming on All4.
I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but if you’ve never watched it, then I urge you to do so. For if you’re one of those people who think of Amy as just another pop star junkie, who got what was coming to her when she died, then Amy will utterly change your mind.
Here’s the trailer:
Kapadia’s CV as a director is impressive, including the excellent Senna, which made me interested in F1 racing for the duration of the film and no longer, and the not-as-good-but-still-not-bad Diego Maradona which almost made me forgive the cocaine snorting short-arse for the Hand of God incident. Almost, but not quite.
Amy is his masterpiece so far, though. Given seemingly unprecedented access to family, friends and colleagues, they give interviews and offer up previously unseen home video footage, so we see her as a young girl singing for her friends, to her taking the first tentative steps to becoming a recording artist to…well, what happened to her next.
The early parts of Amy are just lovely for they capture Amy as an excited young woman embarking on an expedition into fame, incredulous that she might be able to make a living out of her incredible voice and talent. And her lovable gobbiness is nowhere better illustrated than an interview where the interviewer unwisely compares her to Dido, not a comparison which Amy took kindly to.
As I say, I’ve not watched the shows that aired last night (but I will), and in particular the one called Reclaiming Amy (so if I’m off the mark here, that’s why) because it seemed like a damage limitation exercise by those who did not exactly come off well in Amy, and by that I mean her mother, Janis, to some extent, but mostly her father Mitch, who appears in the trailer for Reclaiming Amy saying “People say to me: you killed your daughter”).
Her mother, because in one interview in Amy she remembers how Amy once told her about a fantastic diet she had discovered. “I can eat as much as I like,” she recalls Amy telling her, “and then just go and bring it back up again”. “
And,” Janis continues, “that’s like bulimia.”
It’s not like bulimia, it is bulimia.
“I thought it was just a phase she’d grow out of,” Janis opines at one point. “Mitch knew, and he agreed.”
It transpires that Janis and Mitch, Amy’s father, had separated, when Mitch had a very long extra-marital affair before finally leaving his wife for his new love. Amy can be heard reflecting on this: “Even when he was at home, he was never really at home.” There are then tales of how, with no father figure in her life, Amy became uncontrollable.
Mitch doesn’t seem to to reappear into Amy’s life until she is getting famous; in fact he seems to reappear just in time to decide that she didn’t need to go to rehab for her addiction issues. This, of course, proved to be the lyrical inspiration of her big breakout tune:
I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of another record as great as Rehab which I find such a tough listen. It’s the “Daddy thinks I’m fine” bit, it just makes me angry, knowing how the story ends, and how it could have been nipped in the bud right there.
And that’s the irony of her brilliant Back to Black album; all of the songs are about the sadness in her life, and in particular about the break-up from Blake Fielder.
For if ever there was a film which contained an obvious “The Bad Guy Enters” scene, it’s Amy and the appearance of Fielder. The couple were both in relationships when they met, but embarked on an affair which ended when Fielder went back to his girlfriend.
Ironically, that break-up was the inspiration behind much of the lyrics on the Back to Black album, not least the title track:
And then, predictably rather than ironically, as Amy became a superstar, Fielder is back on the scene, boasting in an interview about how he gave Amy her first hits of crack cocaine and heroin on the same night.
The two marry, and there is footage of them in a bar on the big day, where Fielder pretends not to know what had happened that day, before pronouncing himself skint and asking “Who’s paying for this?” “Amy is,” says someone, and he orders a bottle of champagne.
What a guy.
She’s caught in a perfect storm at this point, her fame spiralling out of control, chased down the streets by the paps, her only refuge time with her new husband, whose drink and drug intake she tries to keep up with.
It’s evident that she was utterly unprepared for life as a star, and it seems nobody was willing to help her.
There’s a sequence where Amy and Fielder attend an initial rehab counselling session, but the expert (in his off the camera interview) reveals that whilst he thought Amy was open to the idea of getting clean, Fielder seemed more interested in keeping her addicted so that the gravy train he was riding didn’t leave town.
It’s just so saddening that so many opportunities to save her were missed, particularly when the final devastating moment arrives. Having got herself away from Fielder and clean of drugs, to a point where she felt able to reach out to her old friends to apologise and try to make good, despite the warnings she had, one drink too many made her heart stop. For good, this time.
I’d not long moved to London when she died, and I remember Hel and I watching the news reports of her death coming in. We’d heard that she had gotten clean, and were looking forward to what might come next. That said, neither of us was really surprised, but we were saddened that nobody had been able to, or wanted to enough, help her.
No matter who you may think is culpable for her death, one thing is clear: this was a vulnerable young woman, thrust into the spotlight of fame, unable to cope with it, and with a supporting network more interested in making money than in making her well. I’d like to think times have changed and we’d do better now, but I’m not so sure, when I think about the likes of Caroline Flack, who took her own life because she couldn’t deal with the press attention anymore.
Here’s what I’m saying: I’d love to think that lessons have been learned about harassing and hassling those in the public eye, but nothing was learned by the media after the death of Diana, nothing was learned from the death of Amy, and when you see the attempt at taking down Marcus Rashford this week by certain right-wing sectors of the press, you wonder whether anything will ever be learned in the battle for sales figures.
Probably not by them. But, I’d like to think, a lot by those who have a vote.
This is the birth of a song which went on to become a favourite; invited into the BBC Radio 1 studio to record an acoustic version of one of her own songs, along with a cover version, she gave this, later transformed into an absolute smash hit:
She only gave us two incredible albums; just think how amazing the third…and fourth…might have been.