When I heard that Amy Winehouse had died, I was strangely affected. I wasn’t even a fan of her music, yet somehow I was saddened. Maybe it was the coincidence of Jay Leno making a joke about her in his monologue the night before, or maybe just the fact that another young star was lost to us that hit a nerve. The first time I heard her music on TV, it was the self-fulfilling prophecy “Rehab” that was playing. The image of the beehive hairdo combined with the lyrics just made me roll my eyes. Crafting a song about drug addiction like it was something to be proud of bothered me. I also thought she was just another white girl trying to be a sister, from the sixties this time around. But nevertheless I totally ignored her from that point on. Now I wish I hadn’t, now I know that I missed something.
The reaction from people around me went from total indifference to those who felt she got what she deserved. The sad thing is that most of the people who feel that way will never know what it’s like to be an addict, how it can destroy your will to do what you love or be who you want to be. I have seen addiction firsthand and can tell you it’s not the barrel of fun that people make it out to be. I watched a co-worker scramble for drugs every day for over a year.While I drove him home every day, I listened to the phone calls trying to score a hit and out of the corner of my eye watched as he counted money, going through all his pockets to collate what he had hoping it would be enough. I could feel his eyes upon me when he didn’t have enough money and I lied many times that I was broke. He left the company and I was relieved, the strain of watching him feed his addiction was starting to take its toll on me emotionally.
There are some who are blaming Amy’s close friend Kelly Osbourne and Amy’s parents, saying they should have done more to help her, but I think this is unfair to Kelly and also her parents who are most likely experiencing a lot of guilt. This is an old story unfortunately, for Amy and a handful of other stars. When a group of friends gathered to try an intervention with CSN legend David Crosby back in the day, his response was to do a line of coke and walk out the door. You can’t sit on top of someone 24-7, sooner or later they have to be alone and no one can possibly be there every minute. The fact is that Amy had been rumored to have been in rehab recently, and after treatment in hospital and as an out-patient for lung problems associated with smoking tobacco and crack cocaine, she had received a clean bill of health from her doctor. She like other stars who died young was embarking on a comeback, with a new album in the works and a tour to follow-she was in good spirits according to those close to her. There was no reason to suspect that she would wind up like she did, in fact it will be several weeks before the toxicology reports are done. So far foul play has been ruled out and the autopsy was inconclusive as to the cause of death.
In interviews her former band mates concluded that the sudden overnight success took a toll on the sensitive young singer and she responded in the typical manner of the gritty Camden neighborhood she grew up in, it’s a place where fast times and the rock-n-roll club life are part of the nightly music scene, where the young singer was easily drawn into the drugs and heavy drinking while she was paying her dues and learning her craft. The pressure of stardom took its toll on Amy, after her sudden explosive success followed emergency room visits and arrests and rehab. But it was the relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil that was the turning point for Amy, at least one band mate Neal Sugarman remarked that the change in her was visible. The first tour was a lot of fun compared to the second tour supporting “Back To Black” which wasn’t fun at all. Sugarmen felt that the return of Blake was when Amy started taking drugs again, he remarked that the last time he saw her in London “it was not a pretty sight”. She was unable to sing on some of the songs they were working on and said “it was really depressing”. In their hit song “Truckin” Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead sings “What in the world ever became of sweet Jane, she’s lost her sparkle you know she isn’t the same. Living on Reds, Vitamin C and Cocaine…all her friends can say is ain’t it a shame.” This seems to be a direct reference to Janis Joplin, a friend of the band and one of the members of the unfortunate 27 Club; rock stars who died at 27. This includes Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain and Jim Morrison among others.
But the warning signs were there and some people in the industry said that Amy was on what they call a “death watch”, an interesting term considering that people on a death watch are usually behind bars and kept from using any devices that could cause themselves harm. Why then don’t we have the same precautions in place for family and friends. In her short life Amy suffered and struggled with addiction to drugs and alcohol, depression, eating disorders and self-harm issues. The real tragedy is that brilliant career that could have been hers is now lost forever, we’ll never know what might have been had she lived and kept recording the kind of music she loved. What we do know is that she opened the door for new female artists to walk through, Lily Allen rode in after Amy’s release of Back To Black, and Adele credits Winehouse with making the US market easier for herself and Duffy to achieve success. This also ushered in a third wave of female artists including VV Brown, Florence and the Machine, La Roux and Little Boots. But the most acclaim came from Lady Gaga who said Amy Winehouse “paved the way” for her rise to the top of the charts. Winehouse could be said to have jump started a revival of soul music that started in 2000. Amy’s work made it possible in 2009 for five female artists to be nominated for the Mercury Prize in the UK and that year to be called the “year of the woman” in music circles. That is more than can be said for many artists who had hit records who were clean and sober, that she was able to do all this and stand up for causes and start her own record label speaks well of her ambition and energy. Not quite the picture of the irresponsible addict painted by so many. One can easily imagine a new young singer somewhere in the UK or US, unknown at the moment. She has been watching Amy on TV and dreaming of stardom. The thrill of it all, a new sound that harkens back to the age of soul, who many will compare to Amy Winehouse, but a new face, and hopefully a career that will stand the test of time and the roller coaster ride of fame without breaking under the enormous pressure. That is the legacy of a singer like Amy Winehouse.
My unexpected reaction to her death was to sit and watch You Tube videos of Amy in concert, that is where I first realized the power of her vocals and the emotional element she added to them, a conviction about the lyrics and the honesty with which she sings her songs. I have tried to analyze my feelings of loss, were they driven by a latent sexual desire?…no, she’s not my type so I don’t think that played a role. Was there a deeper issue involved? Such as my lifelong struggle with food and weight loss issues? Yes, that was at least part of it, I could understand the desire for something that was off-limits, and potentially dangerous. But it had to be something more, buried deep in my subconscious. I still haven’t found what it is that moved me so much as I sat at my kitchen table stunned from the news. I can totally understand now why Elton John was moved to write “Candle In The Wind about Marilyn Monroe. I will be sure to buy all available recordings of Amy on CD or DVD, and like so many bands that are no more, I will cherish what we have of them to enjoy. Perhaps the greatest gift Amy unknowingly gave me is the gift of being more open in my mind to new ideas. To listen to new sounds and really see new images before passing judgement and moving on. So goodbye Amy, maybe you didn’t realize how much love was coming your way. While you were searching for the perfect love that doesn’t exist in life,perhaps you finally found it in death. I hope so for your sake…rest in peace.