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


  1. Great Blog. I know what you mean, I feel way more sad about her then the 100 in Norway (not that I don't feel sad about that.) She made a truly great album, and Frank, and touched millions of people. Nothing makes life feel that it matters more then a great pop song, and she wrote some crackers, and could have written so many more we'll now never hear. That's a very good reason to feel sad, IMHO.

  2. Thanks Freddie. And yes, you're so right - nothing does make life feel like it matters more than a great pop song!