Amy will crush you — so be aware of what’s in store. Don’t look for answers or redemption. This is a tragedy that leaves many saying; “we saw this coming – it was just a matter of how and when.”
When a talent of this magnitude works their way to death’s door it makes the body tremble. I always hearken back to Eva Cassidy and the cancer that robbed her of the best moments of life and the fight she put up to stay among the living – those last sessions at Blues Alley – the severe trauma the body put her through for the privilege of singing another glorious note – another verse of song, the way she heard it. I also thought about my last encounter with Janis Joplin backstage at Festival Express in June 27, 1970.
We parted company December 1968 – me to the army and Janis to the long grinding road. We all knew she was hitting the smack and boozing too much but what do you say as an outsider – slow down – please do this for me? Janis and I spot each other and that instant she throws her arms around me – hugs and then begins to excitedly tell me how she kicked heroin and was now just drinking red wine – she also had a boyfriend. My wife Kristine and I console her and celebrate her new found liberation from addictive toxins.
She then perishes October 4, 1970. WTF?
I witnessed so much of this my early years in the music business, it still confuses. I’m catching Amy a day after viewing a Miley Cyrus appearance at Adult Swim's upfront presentation in New York (May 14) of Khia's "My Neck, My Back"; on Facebook. This has been out there a couple months and viewed by nearly 15 million curious eyes. Unlike Winehouse, Cyrus is a marginal pop creation looking for attention and can’t seem to locate the brake pedal. The exhibition is upsetting on so many levels.
Winehouse was a true artist who was intent on dodging paparazzi, even expressing disdain for the overblown journey saying she only got into this to sing in small jazz clubs, never wanting or expecting to be a hounded celebrity. I left the theater feeling as if I spent 12 years — every maturing day — with young Amy. Birthday parties, the binges, her festering apartment, the brilliant penning of lyrics, and a voice that grew from affectation to legend.
Tony Bennett would say after the two collected a 2011 Grammy for their duet on ‘Body & Soul,’ — “She’s up there with Ella Fitzgerald and the greats.” I’d heard Bennett express this before but never bought in assuming he was being congenial Tony — but, damnit — he’s right! Big sound, big theatre and that voice are made for one another. Listening to Winehouse is pure pleasure. She pumps Dinah Washington, Billie Holiday, and Sarah Vaughan through her veins.
She also comes off as very sweet and fragile, prone to long bouts of bulimia and depression. Young Winehouse is the precocious kid down the street, the one laughing through the hallways at school or lounging on a neighbors back porch – she’s just plain Amy – bones covered in teenage flesh – pimples dotting the chin and big piercing eyes. I worked a decade back with a young Jewish girl who would grow into a lovely person and singer who had this thing for Winehouse. She got her edge on — got the songs and look – the words that connected – she even had the outlaw boyfriend – coal black hair and big beautiful eyes. Oh my, this was one for the family. Every other day there were calls for intervention. Winehouse scared the hell out of parents.
I’m watching Amy and asking, "Why doesn’t someone step in?” It becomes evident as the story unfolds there is big money to be made, a mother – Janis, suffering a good twenty years from the debilitating effects of Multiple Sclerosis, an ambitious dad – Mitch Winehouse, more in tune with his self-serving needs than his daughter.
This is the keeper. Winehouse worshipped her dad, even after the horrible divorce that sent her into a decade long tailspin. Even though there’s no mention of this in the film, rest assured, MS is devastating and destroys marriages and divides families. The documentary starts with the voice, grainy film and a young free spirit in her own element. It follows with interviews, music and an abundance of home spun videos of most everyone associated with the climb to the top. The drugs lie in plain sight; the reckless adventures just a cell phone tap away from “forever.” From there it rolls like an alternate world — a rock soap opera. There are few laughs, many tears and much sadness. Missing for me are the years before — the passion for her dad’s record collection – imitation – the joy of discovery.
Interviewed for this: Yasin Bey, Mark Ronson, Pete Doherty, Blake Fielder-Civil, Mitch Winehouse, Tyler James, Salaam Remi, Janis Winehouse, Monte Lipman, Blake Wood, Lucian Grange, Nick Shymansky, Juliette Ashby, Nick Gatfield, Lauren Gilbert, Darcus Beese, Chip Somers etc.
Amy is produced by James Gay-Rees and directed by Asif Kapadia – known for their brilliant and award winning work on Senna; a documentary on Brazilian Formula One racing driver Ayrton Senna, who won the F1 world championship. Amy is well worth the wait and clocks in at 127 minutes.