Sunday, 24 July 2011

Amy, Amy, Amy

I assumed it was a joke when I first heard it. This is usually my reaction on hearing that a celebrity has died - I'm guessing it might be yours too? Celebrities live in a world that doesn't seem real to us. They live in a cartoon land full of four week marriages and four million pound divorces, packed with heroin addictions, pairs of shoes that cost more than my house, bank balances none of us can comprehend and paparazzi none of us will ever need to deal with. When you first hear that Amy Winehouse has died, it makes about as much sense as hearing that Homer Simpson has died. How can she die when, in so many ways, she wasn't real for us anyway? Maybe I'm wrong saying us, maybe I should be saying me. She's never been as real to me as my parents, my debts, my stomach aches and my research, so it's hard to believe that she could ever die.

But she has died. When I was shown proof on it on a friend's iPhone, I had to believe that it was real. Not that I was surprised, as such, just - unbelieving. The way we all were about Michael Jackson. The way I felt about Lisa Lopes and Aaliyah.

I love Amy Winehouse. Her voice, her words, her music. I am a very big fan, let's just get that clear. Even as I write this, I'm sitting under a picture of her that's stuck on my wall. She's wearing a zebra striped coat and she is beautiful. I smile at that photo and wave to it and say hi to her all the time. Please don't think I'm insane.

My first reaction - or at least, the first reaction I could put a name to - was anger. Anger towards her for not having the strength to sort it out. I like to kid myself that if I had her staggering talents, I would be making the most of them and being happy and healthy and thankful, but that's probably nonsense... I have some talents in some areas myself, and I'm mostly way too lazy to do anything about them, and I still get miserable. However, it is of course so much easier to see how things should be for other people than it is for yourself, isn't it? And Amy had more talent in her little finger than most of us poor suckers will see in a lifetime, so it's difficult and upsetting to try to understand why that couldn't equal happiness for her.

I also felt angry towards the people who didn't help her. I have long had a pet theory about Amy Winehouse, which is that she has been surrounded by people who say yes to her too much, and didn't give her the boot up the bum she needed. People who weren't her real friends. This theory is almost entirely built around a line from Rehab - 'I don't ever want to drink again/I just... mmm, just need a friend.' And so I felt the white hot, self righteous rage of the morally indignant. "If she was MY friend," I preached to the people I was with, "this would NEVER have happened." But what bullshit that is - like I have no friends at all with issues that might get them into trouble one day. I mean, please, who do I think I am? Maybe she had good friends around her, maybe she didn't, but if there's one thing I ought to have learnt by this point in my life, it's that all the good, concerned friends in the world don't mean jack shit if people don't want to change - and have the strength to change - for their own sakes.

When I got home last night, and started to read the news stories and think about it, really think about it, I cried. I cried a lot - way more than I was expecting to, fan as I am. I haven't cried this much about a celebrity dying since Freddie Mercury, when I literally don't think I stopped for three days. And my first thoughts on waking up this morning were a deep, black sadness that she had died, and I've worn black all day in her honour.

Where does this come from, this genuine feeling of mourning for someone I didn't really know? In some ways it feels ridiculous, as though I'm putting on a show and don't really deserve to feel this sad about it. I mean, I never met her - isn't it ghoulish and grabby to try to claim some of the grief for myself?

I have several more theories about this, you'll be amazed to learn. The first is that, despite the fact that, yes, I never met her and, as I said at the beginning of this blog, she wasn't real to me in some ways, in other ways, she is desperately real to me, and has been ever since I first saw her singing You Know I'm No Good on one of Russell Brand's short lived chat shows (yes, I admit - I'm a Johnny-come-lately fan who bought Frank after Back to Black. My brother had put In My Bed, now one of my favourite of her tunes, on a compilation for me, but I somehow hadn't really noticed it, don't ask me what that was about).

I love music, as I may have mentioned once or twice in these blogs before. One of the only five bands I like that are still going today (as opposed to solo artists, of which I like a million... all the bands these days are lame, if you want my opinion. And if you don't, stop reading this blog, I'll suggest) (the good bands, if you're interested: Cake, Art Brut, Death Cab for Cutie, Muse and the Stamp Collective) is pretty much entirely instrumental. So yes, music does do it for me. But words, man... words are my thing. I love music, but it's lyrics that get me addicted, it's lyrics that do more than any dick did, to paraphrase Amy herself. And her lyrics... they are sublime. She wrote words that were touching, funny, beautiful, heart-wrenching and that felt so incredibly true. I have listened to her words for probably five or six years now, and they make me feel like I had some kind of kinship or closeness with her, even though it was somewhat one-sided. How, then, can I not be sad that this person I had a connection to has died, and so young?

This connection, unreal as it is, makes me feel like if we had known each other, we might have been friends. We could have been our own best friends, and not fucked ourselves in the head with stupid men. And if I was about seven years younger, we even actually might have been friends, as she grew up in Southgate, where I grew up, so who knows, our paths may even have crossed somewhere along the line. I think that connection, of her coming from somewhere as dorky and unknown as my home town (also home town of Luke Haines out of the Auteurs, fact fans - I saw him outside Cafe Rouge once and told him what a fan I was) makes that connection feel stronger for me. Daft, isn't it?

And plus, I guess in some ways I do have a bit of Diana syndrome going on. I could not understand the mass of grief that the nation experienced over Diana at all because, not to be harsh about the dead and all, but being a staunch anti-royalist, I didn't really care about her. So I theorised at the time that it was a safe way for people to get out the sadness they didn't otherwise feel able to express. This isn't entirely relevant to me, since I don't *think* I have a problem expressing my sadness - generally the problem is stopping it up, ha ha - but I think there probably has been an element of catharsis about this reaction I've had - pure grief, untainted by complications or self-blame or guilt - just total sadness. I think it's healthy to feel that way at times, and perhaps the death of a celebrity gives us that chance. Is that a terrible thing to say? I'm not implying in any way that her death was a good thing. I think it's a horrible, horrible tragedy and I sincerely wish she had been happier and stronger and that this hadn't happened. I hope I've made that clear.

Of course, her death came on the same day as news about a horrible massacre in Norway, and there has been some ill feeling on Facebook and my other internet sources o glee that many are getting so much more upset about the death of one singer than they are about the deaths of nearly 100 people in Norway. I can see why that's a reasonable stance to take, of course I can. And what happened in Norway was also horrible - ugly, unimaginable, sickening and horrifically saddening. Impossible to get one's head around. And perhaps that's, in part, why some people, myself included, are feeling sadder about Amy than about Norway - one death is a tragedy, 100 is a statistic. I also refer my readers to my points made above... in some small part, I feel that Amy was my friend. I'm not going to apologise for my heart being a tiny bit broken about the death of my friend.

Wake up Alone - Amy Winehouse, 1983-2011

It's okay in the day I'm staying busy
Tied up enough so I don't have to wonder where is he
Got so sick of crying
So just lately
When I catch myself I do a 180
I stay up clean the house
At least I'm not drinking
Run around just so I don't have to think about thinking
That silent sense of content
That everyone gets
Just disappears soon as the sun sets

This face in my dreams seizes my guts
He floods me with dread
Soaked in soul
He swims in my eyes by the bed
Pour myself over him
Moon spilling in
And I wake up alone

If I was my heart
I'd rather be restless
The second I stop the sleep catches up and I'm breathless
This ache in my chest
As my day is done now
The dark covers me and I cannot run now
My blood running cold
I stand before him
It's all I can do to assure him
When he comes to me
I drip for him tonight
Drowning in me we bathe under blue light

His face in my dreams seizes my guts
He floods me with dread
Soaked in soul
He swims in my eyes by the bed
Pour myself over him
Moon spilling in
And I wake up alone
And I wake up alone
And I wake up alone
And I wake up alone

Saturday, 9 July 2011


Sorry for the delay in getting blogs out to you lately, blog fans. I’ve been trying to write entries about taking photos and about ennui, but I haven’t got very far with either of them – I haven't really started the first one and, hilariously, I haven’t been able to be bothered to finish the second. I also wrote one about trying to kiss boys but decided not to put it up just yet. I might change my mind about that one now, though, as I think the topic has become a bit less sensitive than it was.

However, the idea of writing about festivals occurred to me on the way to work this morning, so I am going to try to write about that and actually finish writing this time.

So… here’s my question… has anyone ever been to a festival and, at some point in the process, not had a heart-felt wish that they simply hadn’t bothered? I’m not saying I spend the entirety of every festival I go to wishing I wasn’t there – absolutely not, I’ve had many of the best times of my sad little life at festivals – but always, at one point or another, there comes a point when I can’t think why on earth I ever decided it was a good idea to go on such a jaunt and genuinely wish with all of my bones to just be able to zap myself home, without all the back-breaking carrying and panic-attack-inducing driving that that involves first. And yet, I always go back for more. I think it must be a bit like childbirth.

There’s one aspect of festivals that is definitely like childbirth in my poor deluded mind, and that’s the packing. I always seem to think that I only need one rucksack, and that’ll be it, and, further, that that’s all anyone needs, so of course we can absolutely fit five people in the car no problem. I *might* remember that I also need a tent, but I will, with absolute certainty and beyond any doubt, forget about the mattress, the duvets, the pillows, the food, the booze, the extra shoes… if I’m DJing, I’ll have forgotten that I need to pack CDs and headphones… and it’s only when I’m standing, looking at the mountain of totally-essential-stuff-that-I-can’t-live-without-even-if-it-is-just-for-one-weekend that it all comes screaming back to me.

A recent example of this quite ridiculous memory loss comes from the most recent festival I went to. My friend and I went to the supermarket before the festival to buy the food and alcohol we needed for the weekend. I took a bag for life with me cos, well, a) it’s good for the environment, innit, and b) I know they’re quite good for lugging stuff about at festivals without breaking. So yeah. I took A bag for life. One.

I never thought I’d say this about myself, but apparently I am ever the optimist. James and I spent £135 on food and alcohol and took approximately 10 Tescos bags with us to add to the one puny bag for life I had oh so hopefully taken with me. And I was genuinely surprised, although this must have happened to me at least 65 times in my life by this point.

So of course, the many, multiple bags and food and booze one has with one – and invariably, apart from the booze – totally ignores – adds to the cargo.

Which leads to the first problem I have with festivals... I hate carrying stuff. I really, really hate it.

I'm going to guess it's probable that hefting stuff around isn't top of anyone's list of fun things to do, but I genuinely believe it I hate it more than most people do. I’m weaker than a kitten with three legs and pneumonia, which doesn’t help… I have trouble opening slightly stiff doors, never mind carrying half the contents on my life on my back. One of the most miserable memories of my life was standing in the queue for the Glade at Mattingly Bowl with a rucksack, a tent and a load of food bags strapped to me. The queue was up a really steep and rocky hill, in the blazing heat, and lasted for what seemed like at least eleven and a half hours. I actually wanted to vomit from the pressure on my back and shoulders. Of course, every time this happens to me, I swear that next time, I’ll bring less piggin’ stuff with me. But does it ever happen? Of course not.

Given my hatred of carrying, it’s only natural that I would want to reduce the amount of it I have to do. And that leads me onto the next big festival dilemma… train, or car? Car, or train? Since I can drive, and I have a car, and I hate carrying, it seems only natural and sensible to drive, right? It’s one of the major perks of having a car, really, not having get the train to festivals. And it means instant popularity in the form of being able to offer your mates a lift. Well, yes, in theory… apart from one thing… and that thing is that if there's one thing I hate more than carrying stuff, it's driving on motorways. I have a roaring, phobic fear of motorways that leads to me having the screaming ab dabs, as my mum would say, at the sight of them, and seems to be raging more and more out of control with every year that passes. And please don't be telling me about how motorways are actually safer than normal roads and how easy they are to drive on etc etc. The point of phobias is that they're not very rational. You're not going to be able to talk me out of it, I'm afraid.

I used to be fine on motorways – I used to be absolutely dandy on them. When I got my first ever car, I lived in a small village called Alsager, in Stoke-on-Trent, during term time, and home with my parents in London during the holidays, and my boyfriend, the lovely David, the Platonic ideal to which all following boyfriends have been held up and, frankly, found failing (ah, the magic of rose-tinted nostalgia-specs – don’t you just love it?), lived in Leicester. So I spent a lot of my time driving on motorways between the three places, totally on my own, listening to compilation tapes as loud as I could and having a whale of a time. I used to positively look forward to driving here and there as it was the only sustained time I had to sing as loudly to the Wu Tang Clan and Prince as I really wanted.

It’s actually only as I’m typing this that I’m really, really remembering what that used to feel like - the freedom and the confidence of it - and goddamn I’m jealous of my younger self. How the fuck did I used to do it? I didn’t have a sat nav, I didn’t have an especially hardy car, but I used to get myself about on motorways all the time with no problem at all. It merits saying it again – how the fuck did I used to do it?

I had to sell that car to a scrap yard, much to my eternal sadness, when I left uni, and for about a year I would borrow my mum’s car occasionally, but never had any call to drive on motorways. That changed the day I went to visit a friend in Stratford-Upon-Avon. I was just getting onto the M25 at Potter’s Bar when it occurred to me that I hadn’t been on a motorway in a really long time, and that I hoped I’d be alright. As I was thinking this, I glanced across to the other lane, and there’d been a really big accident. The way I remember it in my head now, there were 18 - no, 25 - no, probably 150 vehicles piled up, police choppers overhead, cars in a million pieces, bits of mangled body strewn hither and tither… of course, I’m sure it was nowhere near as dramatic in reality, but it was enough to shit me up and make me realise how really, really wrong things are capable of going on motorways.

I spent the entire drive to Amy’s hunched over the wheel, gripping it with fingers that were locked to the wheel, willing myself to get there as quickly as possible but feeling scared to go too fast… it was not a good scene. And ever since then, every time I’ve got on a motorway, it’s been worse and worse, and I now get actual panic attacks – or at least, that what I think they are – whereby I start to feel pins and needles in my fingers, traveling up to my arms, going into my shoulders and my neck, especially just behind my ears, and then to my face and, most crucially, my lungs. These pins and needles make it impossible to move or relax, and when they hit my lungs, it’s like Sauron has got his hand inside my chest and is squeezing my poor little airways into a pulp. It’s really unpleasant, and it’s really unsafe.

And so, when I’m in my right mind, I remember all this and don’t drive to festivals. Yeah, I can go on A roads, but even those have started to freak me out a bit, and sometimes they turn into motorways for a junction and there’s nothing you can do about it. And it’s just seeing the signs in blue rather than green that makes me start to panic these days. But then that means going on the train. And that means carrying everything. And that sucks arse, so I do that for a year or so and then kid myself that it’ll be ok to drive again.

What I actually need is more than one other friend who can drive and owns a car. There’s only two of us in my close group of friends, which means we always do all the driving. Come on, the rest of you! Get behind the wheel – it’s loads of fun, I promise! ;-)

Ahem – anyway… I was meant to be talking about festivals, right? The carrying stuff and the driving, those are my two main dilemmas. But let’s not, for heaven’s sake, forget about tents. Oh, how I hate tents. Wet walls. Muddy porches. Freezing cold at night. Baking, sauna hot by 5am. Never being able to find the one thing you’re looking for, whilst everything else you own (and that you were looking for the night before) is everywhere. Needing a wee in the middle of the night but not being able to face the troop to the portaloos until it’s pretty much too late and you have to run and pray there’s no queue. Slopes that make your sleep all funny. Mattresses that deflate after 15 minutes. What I really, really need is a camper van. And, natch, someone else to drive it for me.

Yes, I think it’s safe to say that camping is just about up there with being poked in the eye with an overly long finger nail for me. And that moment I was talking about at the start of this diatribe, the moment when I wish I’d never even heard of festivals as a concept, never mind this one I’m at right now – that often comes when I alone and shuddering, juddering, shivering and quivering enough to make the canvass walls shake, freezing my behind off in a loathsome tent and longing for my lovely, civilized bed.

And yet. I do keep on going to festivals, don’t I? I swore to myself not two weeks ago, alone in a tent feeling cut off from my friends, blank inside, and wishing I was home, that I wouldn’t go to ANY festivals at all next year, but I already know that that’s nonsense. Because, despite all this moaning, festivals generally are the greatest weekends of the year. And yeah, I could have chosen to focus on the positives instead of doing all this moaning, but I didn’t want to alarm you all and make you think my mortal coil been taken over by some kind of optimistic, cheerleading body snatcher.

And anyway… you all know the positive sides to festivals, right? You all know about the unbridled joy that sitting in the golden sunshine with your greatest friends, listening to your favourite music can bring. You can remember the thrill of a glass of rum and a packet of hula hoops for breakfast brings, right? I don’t need to remind you about the thrill of bumping into old friends that you haven’t seen since last time and that have a million funny stories to regale you with. I’m sure you don’t need telling about the amazing clothes and hats and bargains you can pick up on festival stalls… which you generally don’t wear until the next festival, but which seem like treasure at the time. I guess I might need to tell the non-DJs among you about how DJing in the sunshine to a whole new crowd of enthusiastic people is the best time to DJ there is. But I’m sure you all know about how even tents can become fun when you’re giggling tent to tent between friends and getting ready for the next fun-filled, unexpected, bursting over adventure of a day.

Yeah… festivals. I’ll probably go back.