When a gifted genius like Amy Winehouse dies young and horribly, you just want to find someone to blame for the terrible waste of talent and potential. Asif Kapadia’s documentary, Amy: The Girl Behind the Name, names numerous suspects:
- Was it her dad, who left the family when Amy was nine and later talked her out of rehab right before stardom made recovery nigh impossible?
- Maybe it was her mom, who refused to discipline her daughter as a child and did nothing about teenaged Amy’s bulimia, thinking she’d grow out of it.
- How about her manager, who was also her promoter – hellbent on making her perform even when she was unwell and unwilling?
- Most definitely Blake Fielder-Civil, her shitbag of a husband, had a hand in it, as he feasted on her insecurities and bank account to support his own drug habit – and expanded her repertory by introducing her to heroin and crack.
- But so did we, the fans who made her a star and then, when her addictions were getting the best of her, turned her life into a tasteless series of Amy Wino jokes and frightful photos.
- And let’s face it, Amy’s worst enemy was often Amy herself, as she couldn’t distance herself from alcohol and drugs long enough to save her voice, her career and ultimately, her life.
I knew this film was going to be painful. How could it not be when we all know how she was going to end up? The film is even more of a wrecking ball because Kapadia was given access to a trove of video footage from family and friends to ground the film in Amy’s beginnings as a sassy teenager with a one-in-a-million voice. Amy is rarely out of the picture, as audio interviews with her friends, family and associates fill in the blanks between her performances and interviews. Her songs are used as the libretto of the film, floating over the action to point up how songwriting was her way of processing her life.
And when it gets ugly, Kapadia doesn’t shy away, and your heart breaks a little more with each explosive flash of the paparazzi’s cameras.
Amy’s reaction to winning the Grammy as best new artist, as announced by her idol Tony Bennett, was a perfect example of the clash between who she had become and who she wanted to be:
If only Bennett had been able to work with her earlier in her career, perhaps she’d be alive today, wowing people in jazz clubs across the globe as the next Dinah Washington, instead of being another member of the 27 Club. We’ll never know.
On July 23, 2011, our family was on a road trip back from Boston. I was reading Steven Tyler’s memoir, Does the Noise in My Head Bother You? (great title, disappointing book) and came up on his name check of Amy Winehouse as a fellow traveler stumbling off the road to recovery. Within a few minutes of me turning that page, NPR announced she had been found dead in her apartment. It wasn’t a surprise. It was, and still is, a colossal shame, because her limited catalog only shows a small part of what she was capable of as an artist – and her beauty was like no other.
See this film – and if you want even more material, check out her album Live at the BBC to hear more music and enjoy the DVD that comes with the record to see Amy Winehouse at the top of her game.
See you on the flip side …
P.S. I’ll be signing books at the Arts, Books & Brews Pub Crawl on July 29 in beautiful downtown Howell, Michigan. See you there!