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Love Is a Losing Game – Amy: The Girl Behind the Name

15 Jul

Amy Winehouse documentaryWhen 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!

Soon to be featured on the Rock & Roll Bookshelf: Laura Lee

15 Dec

And now, it’s my pleasure to introduce you to Laura Lee, author and blogger at The Power of Narrative.  Her second novel, Identity Theft, is available for pre-order, and given the log line, I’m going to like this one immensely: A bored employee in a rock star’s office begins an online relationship with a fan in the guise of his boss and sets off a chain of events he cannot control.

Laura was kind to feature me in an earlier post on her blog, and I am so pleased to return the favor. Here’s her guest post:

***

Laura Lee

Laura Lee

I often begin speaking engagements by explaining to the audience that I am not a British man.

Of course they can see that by looking at me. It is less obvious, it seems, when they only have a page of writing to consider. Apparently I am linguistically androgynous. The editor who worked on one of my books referred to me throughout her notes as “he.” There was also a brief period after my novel Angel was published that the internet decided I was a gay man and started showing me ads for gay luxury travel and dating sites on every web page. So I find that it is helpful just to put it out there that I am not male, gay or otherwise.

Throughout the years a number of professional reviewers have referred to me as “British author Laura Lee.” I never claimed to be from England. The reviewers came to this conclusion on their own. I am not sure if the different reviewers read my writing and independently imagined I sounded British or if one person did and the others picked up on this mistake via internet research.

I was born and raised in metro Detroit.

I did spend a year in the UK as an exchange student my junior year in college and I returned for six months with a work visa following my graduation with a highly lucrative diploma as an independent major in theater studies. But my supposed Englishness manifested itself long before that. When I was still in high school a friend of mine said, “You have a very British sense of humor.”

I said, “What do you mean a British sense of humor?”

She said, “You know, dry and not very funny.”

This remains one of the best things that has ever been said about my writing. I love its unintentional humor so much that I have tried to use this in biographical blurbs a number of times. The marketing folks at my various publishers, as if to prove the point, always ask me to cut it out.

“You can’t say that you’re not very funny.”

Of course not. I am frightfully droll.

I cannot be sure, of course, that my high school friends should be cited as as authorities on things British. Another friend of mine around this time noticed that I had two copies of the Adam and the Ants album Prince Charming. One was the regular U.S. release, the other was the U.K. import with a gatefold sleeve. She asked me what the difference was between the two albums and I told her that one of them was British.

“It’s British?” she asked with what seemed like too much excitement.

“Yeah.”

“You man they’re singing in British?”

“Um. Yeah.”

“Can I hear it?”

I put the record on and she looked crestfallen. “They’re just singing in English,” she said. She thought I had been playing a joke on her.

To be clear, it is not only Americans who have trouble with this kind of thing. When I was in London once, I was visiting a friend’s family. The mother was watching Starsky and Hutch on TV. She asked where I was from. I said, “Michigan.” She squinted and asked if we had Starsky and Hutch in my country.

Americans pronounce Michigan as though it were spelled with an “sh” in the middle. In England, they insist upon pronouncing it as it is spelled– even though they pronounce Worchestershire as if there were basically no distinct letters in the middle of the word at all. She had no idea what this “Mishigan” place was.

Laura Lee book imageI have finally had the opportunity to put my mock-Englishness to use in my forthcoming novel Identity Theft. The novel tells the story of a British pop star who goes by the stage name Blast and a young man who works in his office. The office worker, Ethan, poses as his boss online and starts flirting with a fan in e-mail and chats. I had to create two voices, one a young American who pretends to be English and is comically inept and the other a real Englishman who has been living in Los Angeles for a decade and whose dialect, with any luck, does not elicit laughs. For this I enlisted the help of a couple of real live British-speaking English type people to help me edit my Americanisms out of Blast’s speech. A few slip in– you see– I’m American.

But this time around I will be especially pleased– chuffed– if a review of the novel begins,”British author Laura Lee has chosen “identity” as the theme for his second novel…”

See you on the flip side, Laura!

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