Amy Winehouse 14/09/83-23/07/11

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At about 5:30 on Saturday afternoon, I opened a text from one of my oldest friends which told me that Amy Winehouse had been found dead at her home.  A quick check on the BBC website confirmed the news that one of Britain’s most troubled performers was finally at peace.  The headline which, unsurprisingly, focussed on her age also confirmed that she had joined what Kurt Cobain’s  mother, Wendy, called “that stupid club” of stars who died at the age of 27.  It’s a nice convenient piece of pigeonholing, but it’s lazy because it misses the point by a long way.

The rock stars referred to by Wendy O’Connor (Brian Jones, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin) died in a short period of time in the late 60s, and Cobain died in 1994.  Amy Winehouse confronted her demons in the glare of the ubiquitous and unforgiving instant news culture of the new millennium, where any dodgy performance is only a smartphone away from worldwide exposure.  Even Cobain’s death was pre-internet; we all knew it was going to happen, but our updates only came every 7 days in the music press.  The 60s deaths came as a complete surprise, because drug habits were kept within the performer’s inner circle and only became public property when the performer died.

Amy Winehouse’s problems were probably with her from the start of her performing career at stage school, but became increasingly public as she became more successful.  Her first album “Frank” was critically and commercially acclaimed, but the problems really started with the success of “Back to Black”.  The album was hailed, quite rightly, as a modern classic and Amy Winehouse was thrust into a spotlight which she found increasingly difficult to deal with.  The pressure came not only from the music press but from every imaginable direction; television, radio, newspapers (tabloid and broadsheet) and of course the internet.  Any step out of line immediately became public property and each exposure seemed to raise the stakes.

This isn’t an attempt to sanctify to Amy Winehouse but it’s time to stop the demonization process which the British media launched after the success of “Back to Black” in 2006.  She made the same mistakes that people everywhere make every day; she listened to the wrong people, she got romantically involved with the wrong people and she thought that she could find the answers to her problems in drugs and alcohol.  Unfortunately, she made those mistakes very publicly and in the spotlight of a censorious, prurient and unforgiving media circus.

In the light of all of her long-standing problems, it wasn’t surprising to hear of Amy’s untimely death on Saturday, particularly after the ill-advised European tour which ended with the much-publicised recent appearance in Belgrade.  She should have been one of the UK’s greatest ever jazz and soul singers but she only leaves a legacy of 2 albums released so far.  Stick “Back to Black” in your CD player or find it in your media player and listen to it.  That’s how you should remember Amy Winehouse.

Comments

One Response to “Amy Winehouse 14/09/83-23/07/11”
  1. Jo says:

    Another great piece!

    Regardless of the fact of whether we could all see it coming or not, it’s still very sad news and I feel especially sorry for her family. Irrespective of what her fans, the public and journalists thought of AW, her grieving parents will now be mourning the loss of their much loved young daughter and that is tragic regardless of the circumstances that surround her demise. Drink and drugs aren’t just hell for the person who takes them; they’re hardly a barrel of laughs for family and friends either.

    So, I can’t help getting annoyed when I see comments posted on other sites crying out as to why she wasn’t given more help, wasn’t made to stick with rehab, wasn’t prevented from sinking into drug and alcohol related oblivion. For God sake, nobody can make another person do what they don’t want or don’t have the will to do (and I am speaking from experience here). You can’t watch someone 24/7; you can’t force them into rehab or AA if they don’t want to go or make them stick with it either. I am sure her family, friends and her management would have, if they could. In the end all they could do was their best, but she had to give it 100% herself.

    Whilst I can understand people saying that nobody knows what it must be like until you are catapulted into the spotlight yourself and all the pressure fame brings, we are still all facing our own demons in our own way. OK so it isn’t in the public domain, so there isn’t the same type of pressure, but we all have to cope with our own problems and find the best way forward. Most people don’t have the options these stars have to get help either, they don’t have millions in the bank for endless counselling sessions, visits to costly clinics and priories. We all have to sink or swim and in the end we have to take responsibility for our own actions and the choices we make. At the end of the day, Amy didn’t have to take drink or drugs, she chose to, after that it was always going to be a question of which was stronger. Unfortunately on Saturday the world got its answer.