‘Amy’ – A review (of sorts)
Before I tell you what I thought of the documentary ‘Amy‘ which was released worldwide in cinemas earlier this year, here are some selected excerpts from my 2011 blog article about Amy Winehouse that I wrote soon after her tragic death.
“I had heard about Amy Winehouse long before she was the recipient of no less than six Grammy awards, as she had been in the news for the wrong reasons many times and I had also heard her massive hit ‘Rehab’; but I confess that she hadn’t registered very highly in my personal musical appreciation list.
However, once she had been honoured by such an august body and had been trashed by many Americans for her drug habits, I took a further look at this young, maverick singing sensation. I liked what I found when I started to listen seriously to her music, particularly the tracks from her smash hit album, ‘Back to Black’.
I find it difficult to categorise Winehouse’s style – sort of bluesy – soul with a bit of sultry cockney ‘white- trash’ thrown in. Whatever it may be, it is completely original, and she has a unique, raw, dusky voice that simply oozes evocations of smoke filled sleazy jazz clubs.
It actually surprised me that so many people throughout the world loved her music as she has clearly never been a commercial pop singer. It just shows us that great music can transcend all music boundaries and personal preferences. A great song, regardless of genre, sung by a great singer, will be always be appreciated by a knowledgeable public who loves good music….
….As a recovering alcoholic, I can see so clearly how young, fragile, highly creative people with predilections for substance abuse, can be so vulnerable to the dangers of over-indulgence and become trapped in a downward spiral that so often ends in an early demise. Deep emotions, both high and low, are part and parcel of the creative process and it is often only by baring their tortured souls, that artists such as Winehouse can produce some of their best stuff.
Unfortunately, they are ‘innocents’ in a hard, cynical world and they have no real experience of life, particularly if they have found fame and fortune at a young age. The money makes them independent and in a position to make all their own decisions. Nobody, not their friends, family or management are able to gainsay them. The more they try to advise them, the more they will tend to go off the rails.
Their only hope is for someone to really take them in hand at the point when the artist is so low – at rock bottom – and they realise that this cannot go on any longer and they are prepared to listen and to try and change.
The comedian Russell Brand was taken very strongly in hand by his friend/manager, made to understand that he would soon be dead if he didn’t ‘change his ways’ and was more or less frog marched into rehab.
Having had the good luck to have a very strong, dedicated friend, he ‘saw the light’, and was effectively ‘saved’. He could just as easily have been long dead – he admits it himself.
It is a lottery. Some manage to survive their own destructive tendencies – there are countless examples of this, not least of whom are artists such as Eric Clapton and Elton John. Others have not been so lucky and have tragically succumbed to their own excesses.
Much has written about the so-called ‘27 club’, of which poor Amy is now a member, along with Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, and arguably Robert Johnson. There are those who try to claim that there is some divine or mystical significance to the fact that so many famous musicians all died at the age of 27.
I give these theories no credence.
The fact that so many die in their late 20’s probably is significant. It is a period of their lives when many have already generated creative output for several years and many of them have already had fame and fortune thrust upon them. They are vulnerable people, who are addicted to drugs alcohol or both, have been abusing their bodies for up to ten years, and have reached the stage where even heavier abuse is called for to achieve the required buzz.
So one could extrapolate from this that the late 20’s would be a time of their lives when they start to slide out of control and, due to their elevated and financially independent existence, no one is willing or capable of steering them back onto the right course.
Amy Winehouse left a legacy of music that will surely last at least as long as that left by her fellow ‘27 club’ member, Janis Joplin.
She has already had a strong influence on British singers who have followed in her footsteps, such as the brilliant Adele, and she has shown the Brits and indeed the whole world, that good, original music will always be appreciated and loved and that it isn’t necessary to slavishly follow American contemporary music styles in order to find international fame and fortune.”
Amy – The Documentary
Asif Kapadia’s documentary, Amy, is often difficult to watch – especially when you already know how it all ends. We, the audience, become transfixed as we watch Amy descend on a spiral of self-destruction – much to the anguish of those who love and cherish her and her prodigious talent.
More than one of her close friends tell us years before she died that they feared it would all end very badly. Her close friend and manager parted company with her as he could no longer bear to watch this gifted young lady slowly killing herself.
It is strong stuff.
The documentary is jam-packed with archive footage of Amy, her family, her friends, her husband, managers and so much more – most of which has never been previously seen. There’s some wonderful stuff, including Amy as a young girl giving one of the most soulful renditions of ‘Happy Birthday’ you will ever hear.
She was just a happy, inoffensive ‘ordinary’ teenager with a massive love for music and a talent for singing.
The clips are interspersed with Amy singing live – in her sitting room, in the recording studios, live on TV – UK and USA – in small smoky jazz /blues venues and at massive open-air auditoriums.
There is no narration – it would have been superfluous – and the film tracks Amy’s life from her teenage years – through her tempestuous life and brief career, to her final moments, lying on the floor of her home when her heart decided that enough was enough.
It doesn’t surprise me that Amy’s father, Mitch, is upset about the way the film depicts him. We all know how easy it is to misrepresent people’s motives in film and distort the truth.
But the pedigree of Asif Kapadia, the film director, who also made the multi-award winning Senna, is of such a high calibre as to convince us that he would not go for cheap manipulation of a family member, just to get a few more bums on seats.
In any case, Mitch’s role in Amy’s downfall is quite minor. Clearly he was at fault when he – along with many others who were ‘managing’ her at the time – decided not send Amy into rehab when she clearly needed it. How was he to know that this decision might have led to her eventual demise, and who can blame him for putting her commercial interests first. He was looking after her money….
It’s easy for us to be wise after the event, and Mitch shouldn’t feel so bad about it. No blame was attached to him by anyone in the documentary; we simply watched what happened and could draw our own conclusions.
Maybe he doth protest-eth too much…
Many observers, yours truly included, might well place far more of the blame at the door of her husband who was himself a serious drug addict. Arguably, he was the one who sent her on her early drug-induced binges when he dumped her. Amy’s most famous album, ‘Back to Black’ is all about this break-up.
Later, after she became famous, he goes back to her and marries her and together they go on endless booze and drug filled benders. Then he goes to jail for nearly two years for assault and perverting the course of justice. That must have helped Amy’s state of mind – she was unquestionably besotted with him.
And of course, there was also the influence of her many ‘hangers-on’, including the pop singer, Pete Docherty who is also an addict and has been in jail for drug offences.
It was a revelation to see that before she was famous Amy was adamant that she never sought fame and told her friends and family – time and time again – that she wouldn’t know how to cope with fame and attention.
Later, when she did become famous, she clearly hated all the public clamour for her. Those close should have taken note and made far greater efforts to protect her.
Poor Amy ended up in a goldfish bowl which was created by the world’s paparazzi. The more she reacted to this unbearable scrutiny by taking drugs, getting drunk and generally misbehaving, the more the paparazzi loved it!
Amy was a very special and precocious talent – a throwback to an earlier age, and she was simply not mentally equipped to be a superstar in this crazy, media-frenzied world of ours.
The footage of the nerve-wracked recording of her duet with Tony Bennett – where he had to behave like a father to get her through it – and her ultimate fall from grace, when she appeared totally intoxicated at an open-air concert in Belgrade and collapsed, unable to sing, was almost too painful to watch.
But anyone who loves Amy’s music, or even those who don’t know much about her and her music, will find something in this film to take away with them.
If you love jazz and soulful songs with deeply emotional, poetic lyrics, I guarantee you will become an Amy Winehouse fan. I am quite sure that her voice and her music will transcend her all too brief life for many generations to come.
If you want to watch and listen to the ‘real’ Amy Winehouse, you could do no better than to watch the 2006 documentary, “Amy Winehouse – The Day She Came to Dingle.”
In 2006, just as she was hitting the headlines, she travelled to this tiny venue in an Irish village in the southwest corner of Ireland – it’s actually a small church, capacity 85 – and she sings to the accompaniment of only two instruments – an electric and bass guitar.
It is pure magic and it reveals the full raw beauty of her voice, her singing prowess and her wonderfully original songs. She also gives a surprisingly frank interview in which she discusses her music and her musical influences.
You can download the full 60-minute performance and interview from YouTube at:
“She touched all of us that year… and she was just so… she was so ‘un-what’ she had been represented… as in the tabloids….it was just brilliant that she came on her spindly little legs and her mental hair and sung her heart out for us in Kerry…brilliant! Absolutely brilliant!”
Oh, Amy… why… oh why?