I went out to see Amy last night. It was amazing; one of the best music documentaries I’ve seen. But afterwards, I felt so sad for everything that happened to her. I knew a lot of it, but when one of humanity’s brightest souls is taken, hollow is all you can feel.
Amy Winehouse was just 27 when she died. She was, by her own admission, messed up. But watching Asif Kapadia wonderful documentary, I wondered how different her remarkable life could have been. She was fiercely talented, vocally we know.. But her song-writing ability was so spectacular. She was a jazz singer at heart, but that heart was lost, diseased and ultimately stopped as a result of some terrible choices on her part. While many might sit back and say “she could have stopped, she could have cleaned up”, believe me, it’s not that easy. When you’re in certain frames of mind, the most logical course of action is often the scariest. Amy clearly felt that, and whether she’d been famous or not, one imagines she would always have had a difficult existence. Fame and fortune, and all the shit that comes with it, just magnified everything and ultimately expedited her downfall.
What we learn from Amy is that the world is a cruel place. It can stand you atop its highest peaks to be admired and beholden, and in the blink of an eye, it violently tugs you down and bury you deep in the pit of its core, burning you to within an inch of your life. In Amy’s case, it ate away at her will to live. Eventually, she gave in, and therein lies the tragedy. She should never have been taken that close to the edge.
Anybody that has suffered depression will empathise with Amy upon watching this film. She was like many of us as a youngster – full of humour, excitement, passion and a lust for life. She was affected by the extra-marital affairs of her father, which led to a broken home, and she was lured by alcohol and substance abuse’s power to dull the negativity that swirled around her mind.
The film is superbly put together, taking us from a home video of a 14th birthday party that depicts Amy just like any other kid in London, mucking about with her mates and having fun, to the sickening sight of her tiny, covered, dead body being carried into an ambulance on July 23, 2011. Kapadia details her passion for music, and helps to explain the difference between an artist and a celebrity. Amy was an artist. But forces she could not control meant she lived the life of a celebrity, one she neither wanted nor enjoyed.
Kapadia speaks to all the key players in Amy’s life – husband Blake Fielder, father Mitch, manager Raye Cosbert, first manager and good friend Nick Shymansky, childhood friends Juliette Ashby and Lauren Gilbert, Yasiin Bey, aka Mos Def, and many others that tried to help Amy either for her own good or their own.
The most tragic part of this tale for me is the devil in the detail of the choices Amy made throughout her brief life. Her love for Fielder was bizarrely beautiful in its purity, but cruelly twisted by substance abuse to the point where it was completely self-destructive. They were almost too perfect for each other, both with problems they couldn’t solve alone, but so tight nobody could get between them. Her father seems almost too stupid to be real at times, denying she had problems with drugs, denying she had bulimia, despite all signs pointing to the contrary. He managed her money when it started to roll in, but never gave her a second thought as a child. Undoubtedly he played a key part in her state of mind, good or bad. If she were a roll of tape to be unravelled, he tore the first strips from her, assisted others to take more until she was too frail to survive. How guilty he must feel today I can only imagine. I feel sorry for him in a way, but he’s not somebody I would ever hope to meet. I might kill him for his ultimately fatal stupidity.
Sadder still is that Amy had some lovely people around her, all willing to help her get back to the girl she once was. Shymansky in particular is clearly an amazing individual. He launched Amy’s career, stuck by her through thick and thin, steered her in the right directions despite having limited experience in the music industry, but ultimately couldn’t control her when the record companies took hold. Likewise Ashby and Gilbert, both of whom Amy called regularly in the days before her death to apologise for straying so far off the road they once happily all shared.
There is no doubt in my mind Amy wanted to die. She may have said otherwise to therapists and doctors. But she was over it, sick of the inability to walk down the street without being blinded by paparazzi flashbulbs, sick of the musical inflexibility that her fame brought. That infamous incident in Serbia was the culmination of all that. She was forced to be there when she wanted to be doing something different, something creative that might have kept her sane.
Many laughed at Amy in the wake of this incident, among others. The comedians highlighted in the film are most certainly the villains of the piece. Graham Norton, Jay Leno and others can hang their heads in shame, Leno in particular, who boosted his own ratings by having Amy on his show at the peak of her powers, only to rip her to pieces years later for her reckless lifestyle, one which was completely out of her control, and one he could never hope to understand. What a complete arsehole.
I think those of us that understood Amy all wish we could have saved her. But that was a hopeless dream. Her life was a hopeless dream.
No matter your view of Amy Winehouse, I urge you to see this film. It might change your view of her, it might reinforce it. It might help you understand some demons of your own, or make you think about how you’ve dealt with the demons of others in your life. It can teach you a lot about life. It can help you understand a lot about depression, and what’s required to beat it down. Only the most cold-hearted among you will not feel sadness as the closing credits roll up to the wonderful music of Antonio Pinto.
I miss Amy. I miss her a lot. I empathise enormously with her. I know some of the dark places she visited. I’m just luckier than her for having amazing family and friends that can pull me through.
Amy had many luxuries, but the one she needed most was support. Without that, she was destined to fall from the great height she reached.
God bless you, Amy. Wherever you are … I hope you’re happier than you ever imagined you could be.
If you or someone your know shows signs of or suffers from depression, please seek help. Beyond Blue is an excellent organisation in Australia. In the UK, Mind is an excellent starting point. Other nations around the world also have great support networks. Chat to your local doctor or hospital for more details. Don’t ever be afraid to seek help. It will be the best thing you ever do.