I’ve adored Amy Winehouse from the time I first heard of her, right when her album “Back to Black” hit it big. Her voice sent chills down my spine. And I am still kicking myself for not going to see her when she performed at Bowery Ballroom. At the time my reasoning was, “She’ll play there at least one more time before she hits it real big and plays Madison Square Garden.” As a music journalist, I was always good at figuring out the groove of a musician’s career.
This time I was wrong. Just a few years later, on July 23, 2011, she died at the age of 27. And I cried like a baby for her. Her death broke my heart.
Going to see the documentary “Amy” was a number one priority this weekend. I had to trek all the way back to my old hometown, Montclair, to see it in a small theater.
From the get go, this girl didn’t stand a chance. In the opening scene, you see a video of Amy as a little girl throwing a tantrum because she wasn’t getting her way. Her parents spoiled her, never disciplined her … even as a little girl, Amy picked up on it and told her mother, “You’d let me get away with murder.”
Prior to her fame, you get to see how real and down-to-earth Amy was. She was bubbly and all about having a good time with her girl friends. Though you also learn that Amy struggled with depression. And an eating disorder — bulimia. Amy told her mother, “I figured out the best diet. You eat all you want, then you make yourself throw up.”
Her mother thought it was a phase. Amy even told her father what she was doing. He never stopped her either.
Eating disorders are the result of depression and a strong need to be in control. But in her darkness, Amy felt lucky in that she could pick up the guitar, write a song and feel better. She also had no big aspirations, didn’t see herself becoming famous, and after the success of her very first album, “Frank” back in 2004, she simply moved out of her parents home, smoked pot and played pool all day. Her life was so simple and far from glamorous.
Amy had an on-again-off again relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil. After Amy’s success with the “Back to Black” album, Blake is back on the scene, mooching off her success, as by now Amy is a superstar. He also enables her addictions.
Her father Mitchell Winehouse also took advantage of Amy’s success. During a time when she was off on an island, trying to recover, while Blake was incarcerated, Mitchell shows up with a camera crew to video tape a show about what it’s like to be Amy Winehouse’s father. Yet she adored the man. Even one of her tattoos says, “Daddy’s Little Girl.”
And despite bad parenting, both parents were always at her side when she was in the limelight getting her awards.
When Amy Winehouse finally kicked her drug addiction, she turned to alcohol. During one of her last performances, she just simply didn’t want to perform and that was that — again, a case of not owning up to her responsibilities and doing what she wanted.
The real problem, similar to that of Elvis Presley, was that Amy Winehouse was surrounded by “yes” men. Everyone in her life was afraid to say “no” to her and she was surrounded by enablers who turned a blind eye to her demons. Except one bodyguard, who tried to help her by telling her she couldn’t go out.
The most heartfelt scene is when she’s recording a duet with Tony Bennett. He was so patient and kind to her. And she idolized him.
In “Amy” you learn that all her songs were tragically autobiographical. It was so well done, that lyrics appeared on the screen, as she sang, and you learned about her tragic life: clips of Amy devastated by the fact that the press followed her everywhere; clips of Amy in rehab, joking around with friends; scenes of her hairstylist creating her famous beehive style; clips of Amy looking like a deer in headlights when she received her Grammy Award; and so on.
Then before you know it, the movie is over and you see her being carried away in a body bag.
And as music fans, we are left with just a small catalog of her work for our collection.
Rest in peace, Amy Winehouse. Your soul is in a happier place, I’m sure.
Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta is the author of “On the Guest List: Adventures of a Music Journalist” available on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/162903908X