Amy: the girl with demons that were just too dark to overcome

From great pain comes great genius. And let’s not muck about, Amy Winehouse, the gobby girl from North London, the unassuming jazz singer, had both in buckets.

This documentary – directed by Asif Kapadia, the man who brought us Senna a few years back – charts her life through mostly previously unseen footage in a compelling and deeply affecting way.

I’ll say from the outset I was – and still am – a big fan.

I loved her music, that unique and beguiling voice, the darkness she carried that came out in her lyrics and – this may seem callous but – I cannot think of another artist that, if they died, I’d be that cut up about. There was obviously something about her that spoke to me.

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Darkness, pain, loneliness, vulnerability – these things can mean a lot to a lot of people and Amy was our figurehead. When she died it was a shock, although the act not shocking in itself. More that maybe it hadn’t happened sooner, in a way, given the media frenzy which surrounded her later years (which we’ll come to in a bit).

With Amy we get a detailed insight into her inner circle, the people closest to her and how her eventual demise came to pass. From her friends and various managers and producers to her absent family, all seemed to play a part in trying to help her get back on track, but almost all ultimately failed her in some way.

And some more than others.

The person that got cast in the worst light was probably her father, Mitch Winehouse (who came out after the film’s release, surprisingly enough, saying he wanted the filmmakers to make changes). With her most famous song, Rehab, directly referencing the fact he told her not to go, he had dealt his own hand in terms of how he wanted to be portrayed as a father. This absenteeism as a role model for Amy continued right up until the end.

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In fact, time and again Kapadia comes back to clips that illustrate the fact that most of Amy’s darkness and self-destructive impulses stemmed from the lack of a father figure in her life. Starting with Mitch leaving the family to have an affair whilst she was growing up, she then spent the rest of her life trying to replace him, either with boyfriends/husbands (Blake Fielder-Civil being the worst of the bunch) or managers and producers or, near the end, bodyguards.

The media also comes under Kapadia’s scrutiny (and rightly so), with the rise of the paparazzi scrum hounding her every move directly contributing to her downward spiral. (In some ways the same thing happened with Princess Diana, so it’s clear we’ll never learn.) In this Kapadia makes us complicit, we’re just as much to blame as anyone within her inner circle. We buy the magazines and read the tabloids and gobble up all the sordid details of her destruction like sharks out for blood.

The sucker punch, the killer blow if you will, was that Amy almost turned a corner right before the end. She did a duet with her idol Tony Bennett (who said she was up there with greats like Ella Fitzgerald) and she planned, by the looks of it, to return to her jazz roots. But then, in a flash, it was all over.

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If you were a fan of Amy Winehouse you’ll most likely find the film engaging and insightful. If you weren’t, you’ll still get something from it, as it’s a fascinating look at the recent and tragic demise of a modern-day musical genius and the factors that contributed to her downfall.

Kapadia seems to have treated the material sensitively and portrayed Amy in a sympathetic light. Whether you choose to – as I do – feel a little responsible and quite disgusted by the way the world ended up treating her will be up to you.

For me, it made me raw again that she’s gone. But this was an important film to make and the story needed to be told.

Rest in peace Amy. We’ll miss you, always.

Vanilla backlash!

Don’t get me wrong, it has its place.
There’s a certain time for that kind of taste.
It’s sneaky too, but lacks edge and leaves you peaky and blue.
More punch was needed to fill you with glee.
To leave you knee-deep in Peaches and Cream.

Time to launch in.

Setting the bar high you opt for Rocky Road.
Your taste buds implode and explode simultaneously.
It’s heinous this taste sensation, you’d best believe.
You almost go for Raspberry Ripple.
But as flavours go it’s unforgiveable.
Not even really a taste at all, but a phony, a fake.
You can’t mask this bland offering with a chocolate flake.
Or goddamn cake.

Honestly… You can’t catch a break or escape the vanilla trap.
It’s a killer when you realise and feels like slap, this is crap.
That said, maybe Pistachio is the way to go?
Exotic enough for the danger zone.
But you quickly suffer a major blow.
You’re stuck with vanilla again, say it ain’t so!
No matter, you’re an ice cream ninja.
Although this binge has made you a thirsty guy.
Maybe it’s time you diversify?
But sorbet’s not your forte.
You just can’t embrace the lie.

Next on your hit list is Cookie Dough.
How could you sink so low?
Have you no sense of shame?
Back on the vanilla bandwagon you’ve only yourself to blame.
Time for secret, a solid gold tip.
Your one safe haven here is Mint Choc Chip.
But you need to get a grip to save yourself.
And turn your back on vanilla for the sake of your health.

How about Salted Caramel?
Choose that and you’ll go straight to hell, it’s the devil’s choice.
Yes! Yes! Yes! You’ve finally found your voice.
One scoop, two scoop, you can’t stop.
Eyes go wide you’re about to pop.
Then the hunger subsides and you stop the rot.
Turns out you’re left burning hot.
My God, you ate a lot.

Is this what happens when you give up vanilla?
It may as well be crack.
Oh great, now you’re having a panic attack and look sick and green.
Has your life come to this, ruled by mere ice cream?
The depths of your depravity know no bounds,
when the local ice cream truck does the rounds.
That tinkly music just makes you lose it.
You fight to stay still, to beat your addiction, but it’s tough.
There comes a point when enough is enough.
But you’re not there yet.
So the next time someone says give up vanilla,
for God’s sake don’t take the bet.

The addict

Obsession. It’s intense, yet the word doesn’t make sense.
I mean, c’mon, it sounds like a fragrance.
And it’s telling when, in your efforts to define, you end up with something that sounds like it’s from Calvin Klein.
It creeps up on you too. Like a warm embrace that beckons and entices we’re all fallible, we all have our vices.

Let’s start at the top.

From greed and a basic need to feed, food porn is born.
Sharing pictures of your dinner on social media does not make you a winner, but more of a sinner.
Ladies I’m looking at you, you’re mostly to blame. For God’s sake it’s just food.
Then lads you get your fair share, for ladies often look at you with despair when you obsess over sport, with no second thought for anything else.
Sacrificing your health to get on the beer and support your team the thin veneer of your obsession is really quite obscene.
And talking of beer, most of you don’t think when it comes to drink.
It’s like a chink in your armour, after a few jars your personality becomes larger, the attachment you have to your judgement becomes farther… and farther away, to the point where you hope and pray that you make it to the next day without your mates looking at you with dismay.

‘It was the drink!’ you cry.
My oh my, there’s that vice again, rising to the surface like an old friend.

And as far as old friends go there’s one you love to detest, probably because it’s simply the best, and that’s sex.
The ultimate need to feed and the strongest vice of all. Indulging this one too much will set you up for a nasty fall.
‘It’s so damn cruel’ you exclaim, for this vice often leaves you drained and deranged and in a lot of pain, it’s insane.

But without our vices what would we be?
Giving in to our dark side seems so easy and our time doesn’t come for free, as you’ll see.
In life though, as in nature, a balance must be struck. Before we give in to our desire to eat, drink and, er… make love, we must be strong and play the long game.
‘It’s hip to be square’, as the song says. You know, the one by Huey Lewis and the News.
Checking myself though you’ll have to excuse as I’ve strayed from the point and it’s clear my brain is all out of joint.
Probably those vices again.
About time I welcomed them back.
After all, they’re old friends.