Sitting in a stuffy Brooklyn movie theatre, my boyfriend and I were ready to see “Amy.” It was our last night in New York City. I was filled with pizza topped with aged mozzarella, and exhausted from a week of not exactly sleeping. Director Asif Kapadia’s telling documentary was not my first choice. Not because I don’t adore Amy Winehouse, but because I wasn’t sure how emotionally prepared I would be to handle a raw and honest telling of her tragedy—and especially on my vacation. I wanted to end our trip on a happy note. In fact, we had intended to watch “Minions” (sorry, Sarah). Don’t even ask how these polar opposites were our choices for the night.
By the end of the 2-hour film, my face was stained with tears. In fact, I was the only person exiting the theatre in tears. I was affected, and I was upset. I also couldn’t understand why more people weren’t crying. We walked down the street to a bar. I was still crying. I really needed a drink. The irony of this fact after watching Winehouse’s life torn apart by drug and alcohol addiction was apparent; I even felt guilty about it. I ordered a glass of rosé.
I became a Winehouse fan during my sophomore year of high school. This was a time when I was unlived and dumb. I was dealing with low self-esteem and uncomfortable with my hermit crab ways. I was insecure, extremely shy and lacking all of the confidence. I wanted boys to like me, but they didn’t. I wanted friends, but I didn’t understand how basic conversation worked around new humans. I had a few people I could laugh with and talk to. I had my 10-year-old Jack Russell Terrier. I had my MySpace page. That was about it.
During this awfully awkward time, I became obsessed with Winehouse’s second release, “Back to Black.” The album, about heartbreak and negative views about one’s self, really connected with a lot of the gross, 15-year-old things I was feeling. At the time, Winehouse was in her early 20s when she wrote such a poignant, raw and deeply personal work. She had only recently escaped her teens.
By the time I was wrapped up in all thing’s Amy, the world around me was busy making her the butt of all their jokes. Her talent was disregarded, she was bullied for her addictions and stalked by paparazzi for the perfect shot of engagement in her least redeeming behaviors. When Winehouse came up in conversation, as she often did from 2007 through 2010, it was usually to call her a drug addict and a train-wreck; it was not to talk about how powerful an artist she was. I was definitely in the minority during this period. I didn’t care what people had to say about her, my young and idealistic self was sure she would be able to clean up her act, beat her addictions and release more unbelievable music.
A few years later, the morning of July 23, 2011 hit. I woke up. I read the news. I was devastated. My now 19-year-old self cried for most of the day. When I told people I was upset by Winehouse’s death, I got snarky responses like “You aren’t surprised?” and “We all saw this one coming.” Then came the awful memes. And then the posts knocking her death because “People die everyday, and she was just a crackhead!” And probably worst of all, then came the people who were suddenly sad that she was dead. These were mostly the same people who had ridiculed her at her weakest. Back at the bar, I was unable to articulate exactly how I was feeling. My fingers ran around the base of my wine glass. The mood was somber. The night’s atmosphere had changed. The next day we were getting on a plane back to southern California.
Winehouse was 23-years-old when she tried crack cocaine for the first time. I turned 23-years-old this year. She was 18-years-old when she began working on her debut “Frank,” which was released in 2003. “Back to Black” dropped 3 years later in 2006. In just a short span of time, the big haired, big voiced beauty began a downward spiral. At the peak of the album’s success, Winehouse needed help most, but she never received it. “Rehab” was written about her almost stint in rehab planned for 2006. The documentary notes that this may have been her most crucial missed opportunity. Her father Mitch Winehouse cancelled the planned rehabilitation in favor of furthering her career opportunities. “I ain’t got the time/and if my daddy thinks I’m fine.”
“Amy” highlights a sweetly sensitive and caring young woman—one the media failed to show while she was here with us. Instead, her life was treated as a circus. She had no privacy. Images of her worst behavior and rumors of her drug use ran rampant. She never completed treatment because of the negative influence of her then husband Blake Civil-Fielder. When Winehouse finally entered rehab, Civil-Fielder insisted he go to rehab with her, against the advice of medical professionals. Days after exiting, he got her high again and the binges returned. “Amy” shows us a woman in her 20s suffering from bulimia, depression and addiction who fell apart in front of our very eyes. At the time, the world loved it; they ate it up. And the two men she loved most dearly in her whole world continued to push her and exploit her for their own gains.
“Amy” so subtly hints at a tortured, female artist emotionally shattered by a reliance on broken relationships At her lowest point, at the time she needed help the most, the control these men had over her career and happiness dominated her life. They prevented her from the recovery she truly needed. I don’t care if I’m placing blame. While Winehouse was responsible for her own behaviors, she was a fragile and mentally ill woman who was in no position to take that responsibility. Screw you Mitch. Screw you Blake. Even screw you Raye, her then manager at the time who went along with anything Mitch suggested in order to keep pushing Winehouse’s career forward.
When she lost her battle to addiction, the media quickly changed their tune. People were actually, really fans of hers the whole time! We’ve seen this before countless times, and it’s nothing new. Anyone heard of Michael Jackson? The people who wore Winehouse costumes as a joke at Halloween parties, the comedians who quipped about her and the tabloids that plastered her drunken nights on their covers were suddenly Really Sad™. As with many musicians and actors who die young, Winehouse was suddenly martyred. All of her “wrongdoings” were forgiven and forgotten: they didn’t matter anymore because there was no one like her! That voice! It’s just so tragic that so many people failed to appreciate her when we still had her.
Miss Winehouse has been gone for four years. “Back to Black” will turn 10-years-old next year. In her death, Winehouse became an icon, a legend and a tragedy. Her music is timeless. It transcends many trends and styles of current pop music. Kapadia’s masterful film brings awareness to the tragedy of Winehouse’s 20s as it intimately portrays a side to her most people were unaware of. Will the public learn from it? Will our western culture continue to shred people apart in the media? Do we regret how we treated her? Was Amy on this earth only to give us the gift of music through her own pain? I guess we’ll never know the answer to the last question, but we probably already know the answer to those preceeding.
Rest in peace Amy, and thank you; I’m sorry for everything.
(all Images and GIFs from Tumblr)