The documentary “Amy” is a sobering look at how the trappings of fame and celebrity can affect a young woman and exacerbate the issues she was already wrestling with until they can grow into the demons that ultimately aid in her untimely demise. I’m an Amy Winehouse fan going back to her debut album “Frank” which was released in Europe almost 12 years ago. I remember than Amy was overshadowed stateside by Joss Stone who was actually pushed in America, ironically enough the same crew of people who co-signed Joss Stone back in 2003 ultimately would advocate for Amy in 2006 when her breakout single “Rehab” dropped. Amy Winehouse didn’t benefit from social media like MySpace or Facebook to help push her music. There was no Twitter or YouTube available to spread her project to the masses. At the time “Frank” dropped in Fall 2003, online music journalism was in its infancy. The blog hierarchy as we know it today didn’t exist. Shit, people barely even understood how to buy full albums from other countries off of the iTunes Store as it was still relatively new.
Amy Winehouse’s celebrity and popularity didn’t really extend much past the bubble of Europe. It was due to that fact the only place I’d encounter anyone else into her music between 2003 and 2005 was on music message boards like RWD (UK), Dissensus (UK) or Okayplayer. I had “Frank” playing in my iPod Nano for years and I began to peruse YouTube for clips of her TV appearances, performances and videos that I missed but read about being a fan across the pond. I saw her festival shows, read the stories about her raising hell in Camden pubs, her noticeable subsequent weight loss and her relationship with her boyfriend Blake. I also saw what she looked like in those early performances and music videos versus the later ones.
I also saw things that let me know something was very wrong online, like the footage of a clearly impaired Amy Winehouse performing with Charlotte Church back in late 2006 for example. It was a far cry from the funny, clever super happy Amy Winehouse who played to audiences in intimate settings while playing her guitar Cherry. I saw how people egged her on, some would actually pay money in hopes of seeing a car wreck occur. If they didn’t? They actually got a good show from one of the most unique voices of her generation as a consolation prize. I was hoping and praying Amy would get away from Blake’s enabling ass (who later became her husband) and get help. I had no clue just how powerful her inner demons were or the extent of the damage they had already wreaked on her psyche nor the toll her abuse of alcohol, controlled substances or self inflicted harm had on her petite frame. She was an old soul and her body could only handle but so much pain, trauma and abuse before it finally gave out on July 23rd, 2011.
The documentary set out to give the fan some insight to the issues that plagued Amy while hopefully giving those of us who were fans of her some semblance of closure regarding her passing. We see archival footage we’ve never seen shot by her closest friends, find out details about her early years and relationship with her immediate family. We also discover several key bits of information that shed light on patterns that would plague her throughout her adult life. The saddest part being that her adult life only lasted about 9 years…which is approximately the same amount of time she spent in the music industry. Amy’s songwriting was very sophisticated, advanced, introspective & her ability to observe life and put it into her lyrics was incredible given her age and limited life experiences. It was not only Amy’s voice that resonated with fans, it was her personality, humor, honestly and the fact she was genuine. There were few acts with Simon Fuller or Simon Cowell’s stable who seemed like they weren’t polished Pop stars. Amy was, at her core, a Jazz singer after all. I’d say after that she was a Soul/R&B singer that would normally have a dedicated cult fanbase but though some odd bit of luck managed to crossover to international superstardom they were not prepared for in any way, shape or form imaginable.
We hear from Amy’s closest friends, co-workers, managers, musicians, collaborators, leeches, parasites and enablers alike. Sometimes the people interviewed filled multiple roles throughout their time with her but it’s too easy to blame them as most of the time they were part of a much bigger machine which was also at fault. You can spend hours pointing fingers at all the different contributors to Amy Winehouse’s death and it will always bring you back to the issues she had at the time she first signed her contract in the first place which were only exacerbated by her success and the popularity/infamy that came along with it. You can blame Blake Fielder-Civil. You can blame Mitch Winehouse. You can even try to blame Amy herself but there simply isn’t one thing, event or person at fault. It was a combination of factors that contributed to her death at 27.
The British press certainly didn’t help matters but neither did the hangers on, handlers, record labels, show promoters, business partners nor entourage members that all had so much to lose when their gravy train came to a halt. Of all the people we heard from in this documentary, the most glaring omission is hands down Nas. Without Nas to speak on his friendship with Amy Winehouse through her main producer and his collaborator Salaam Remi there was a huge opportunity missed there given Amy’s unabashed love for his music and the fact they were kindred spirits who shared a birthday in common and were both teenagers who made classic albums who were both hailed as the “second coming” in their respective musical genres. Not really a spoiler since his name doesn’t appear on any of the copy nor is it on the IMDb page.
In conclusion, I saw this documentary days ago and I have been in my feelings ever since. Any Amy Winehouse fans that is hesitant to see this film I implore you to go see it. Is it heartbreaking? Yes. Is it sad? Yes. Will you become angry during it? YES. However, that’s what great art does. It makes you feel things and invest in it emotionally. Losing Amy was painful the first time but seeing her leave us again is doubly hard. I can’t tell you it’s a celebration of her life and a fun time for the entire family but it is well worth watching. You will feel sad. You will be angry. YOU WILL DEAL. Go see it.