Guys, I miss Amy Winehouse. This may seem random and out of nowhere, I recently watched the illuminating and enlightening documentary, Amy, and I can’t get it out of my mind. It intimately (almost intrusively so) follows her life and career with home videos and voicemails, as well as interviews and performances that I had never seen before.
It painted a picture of this tortured and talented artist who had all but been dismissed by the time of her death.
I was pretty gutted by her death. Not only because I had been a huge fan, but because we were the same age. She was so young. Her music spoke to me. I wonder what kind she would me making now and if it would speak to me still? I’m guessing it would.
I remember exactly where I was when I heard “Rehab” for the first time. I was driving home from college for a long weekend. I hadn’t even gotten on the freeway yet and this voice, this explosive, interesting, amazing voice poured through the radio. I turned it up. I was mesmerized. I waited until the DJ announced who this person was and I took a detour to Target to find the CD (streaming wasn’t a thing yet, after all), not realizing it wasn’t even out yet. The album wouldn’t be released for several more weeks.
When it did, like most of the world, I listened to it constantly. I could not get enough. Many of my friends are musicians and artists of varying tastes and the one thing they could agree on, that we could all agree on, was that Amy Winehouse was incredible.
We couldn’t get enough.
And it was widespread. Everyone wanted more. More performances, more music, more Amy.
She was a Halloween costume. She embodied the throwback pinup image that informed the 2007 aesthetic. She brought jazz and soul music back in to the pop scene in a new and interesting way.
Then, the public narrative started to shift. It became less about how incredible she was and more about what a mess she was. Almost overnight, she was a punchline. No one in the media treated her obvious eating disorder, her obvious addictions, with kindness. This narrative turned the tide on her, even for her fans who loved her. We learned to be disappointed by her “weakness”. By her lack of appreciation for her fame and success. That she would squander her talent for booze and drugs. As if that’s how it works.
Ultimately, we need true visionaries so badly that we consume them until they fall apart, self-destruct or live long enough to figure out how not to. We ate her alive.
By the time of her death, the media had treated her with such contempt and disgust, they no longer remembered she was a person. A 27-year-old person. It was wrong. And a damn shame.
The nature of celebrity has shifted considerably in the past ten years. Social media has artists at the helm of their own images. They can connect with actual fans. There have been enough cautionary tales of celebrity that we, as fans, are more forgiving of their person-ness. That they need breaks and privacy. At least, that’s my perception, but that certainly can just be how I feel now that I’ve grown up a bit.
Still, I wonder, would the level of rabid need that we imposed on her in 2007 happen to her now?
That’s not to suggest she wasn’t already vulnerable and had her fair share of issues that had nothing to do with fame, but so have many artists. It’s often what informs their art and makes them these incredible vessels that we relate to. What was different about Amy Winehouse?
Was it the fact that she was a young woman? Would we have done the same to a man? Would we have had the same expectations of a man to get control over his addictions and issues for the sake of the music and the fans? Or would we have labeled him “tortured” and found him more interesting and exciting as a result? Would we see his addictions as subsequent to his talent, instead of the constant story? Pitchfork expertly explored this question in depth by comparing the media treatment of Amy Winehouse and Kurt Cobain’s substance issues and subsequent deaths.
She was poised with potential and talent to be one of the greats. A true original. Listen to Back to Black today and tell me I’m wrong.
I miss her and hope that we can collectively agree to treat artists and their demons with kindness. We need to preserve and protect them so they can live on to create. Not just for themselves, but for all of us.
We were so lucky to have her.
If you were a fan, check out the documentary. It’s emotional and intense, but it’s also a soaring reminder of who she was and what she gave us. One that I really needed.
Have you seen it? What did you think?