A Documentary on Amy Winehouse

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I got to see a recent documentary on Amy Winehouse, and was very impressed–to such an extent that I started crying halfway through. I knew what the ending had been, and had begun to see it coming.
Hers was a sad, but not unusual story these days. She was just more visible than most people going down the road of excess. Prior to the film I had heard her name, and had someone explain to me that she was a singer with a bad drug problem. I don’t remember how soon it was after that she died. But until the movie, I had never seen her picture or heard any of her music.
The movie starts in exhilarating fashion: a teenage girl playing guitar and singing songs she’s written herself. The guitar playing isn’t distinguished, but the music is solid enough, the lyrics outstanding, and her singing even better. At one point she sounded like Billie Holiday to me, but I’d have to listen a lot more to tell if the resemblance is consistent.
Her musical career takes off pretty fast. We see snippets of interviews and her fronting bigger and bigger bands. She looks happy and alive.
But as her career progresses the picture turns darker. Her father, who had left her mother and her when she was nine, returns, and it seems clear that it’s because of the money she makes. Part of an interview with her mother tells us that she was strong-willed and determined to have her own way from the time her father left. Her mother also tells us she was bulimic.
Her mother apparently didn’t realize, as many parents probably don’t, what a serious problem an eating disorder can be. It was both the psychic and physical manifestation of the unsoundness of her foundation.
In her early twenties she remains relatively healthy physically. But there are psychological signs that all is not well. Her relationship with her father is one. Another is her relationship with her husband.
Before him she had been rather promiscuous, as if sex was a sort of pastry. With him, other things were happening. He goes back to his girl friend, then returns to Amy, and they get married. The movie states flatly he turned her on to cocaine, and that may not be all. A blood specimen is mentioned in which cocaine, heroin, and PCP were found. She also liked to drink.
Around 2005-6 going to rehab was suggested, but not followed up on. Her rising trajectory continued–for awhile. Her bands got bigger and better. When she was healthy she could still write and perform good songs.
Her husband was busted for obstruction of justice (I don’t recall the details) and went to prison for awhile. That might have been a good thing for her. It equally might have been a trauma. But later in the move is part of an interview with him that I think sums up how much he was worth: he says that he’s good-looking and dresses well, so he doesn’t need to waste time with Amy.
Amy, meanwhile, has begun to get erratic, but hadn’t entirely lost control. She’s been told she has to get straight before a US tour, and does so. One of the touching scenes (possibly from during that tour) was with Tony Bennett singing a duet (he was doing duets with various artists for an album). She starts out very nervous, trying to work with one of her idols, and he tries to get her to relax, almost like the father she never had. He also says to an interviewer that she’s a real jazz singer. A moment in her life I wish could have lasted longer. They made beautiful music together literally, not figuratively.
Later on she spent about six months on an island without access to drugs. She still had access to alcohol, though. As bad as illegal drugs can be, it seems the combination of bulimia and alcohol is worse.
From the island she was supposed to come back, and begin a tour in Belgrade. Maybe she had wanted the tour, maybe it was arranged with minimal input from her, but when the time came, she didn’t want to do it.
She went onstage to a real sea of faces, and refused to sing. I think music had been her healer, and now no longer was. With all the expectations from those around her (her father seemed fatter every time he appeared) music had become a burden instead.
Was it before Belgrade or after that pictures were taken of her at her house? I think before. There’s little light in the photos, and she looks almost dead, her eyes barely alive, her lips turning blue.
After Belgrade she wanted to return to her friends, and told them so. But by then she must have been both fearful and in great pain psychically, and maybe physically too. That was when she died. I think I remember that no drugs were found in her system, only alcohol. The movie explains that alcohol can cause the bulimic heart to stop. No doubt she felt she needed something to ease the pain. She had wanted to come back, but had gone too far.
This isn’t such an unusual story, but I found it poignant. One reason was her talent, which was enormous. A shame to see it snuffed out so soon. It may be unfair of me to find her case more affecting than that of someone less talented and less physically beautiful. She was gorgeous, and we (males especially) tend to be drawn more to the beautiful than the plain.
That leads to another possible reason: she closely resembles one of my friends, He (“She looked like they could have been sisters,” according to a mutual friend), and this friend encouraged me to write, for which I am grateful.
Her name is Heather Maria Ramirez, and she’s published several novels without making much money from them. Is she less talented than Amy was, or just not as fortunate to be in the right place at the right time? I can’t say.
But Heather’s road diverged sharply from Amy’s, as did my wife, Michelle Scala’s. All three had disordered childhoods, and both Heather and Michelle could have turned to drugs and alcohol to ease the pain they must have felt, just as Amy did. They were stronger, though, experienced the pain, took responsibility, and grew from it. If either were to become famous, they might be more capable of dealing with it than Amy was. Fame, unfortunately, destroyed the wonder Amy found in her music, becoming a burden more than a means to an end. Ultimately, she was, even with all her beauty, talent, and generosity, pathetic, and that’s a real shame. I feel sorry that she couldn’t have made better choices and learned to be happy. Her story is dramatic, but I wish it could have been less so, and that she could have survived.
There are many people who destroy themselves in similar ways, but aren’t as visible as she was. There are also many who undramatically make better choices, survive, and become a blessing to people around them. Heather and Michelle are two such people. There are many more whom we know nothing about unless we know them personally. Heroes need not be dramatic. But what a shame about Amy and so many other self-destructive people. She gave the world beauty. I wish she could have given us more of it.

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