I’m in my room, listening to Amy Winehouse, having watched the documentary about her, Amy, last night. The main tragedy highlighted, aside from her obvious addiction, was the way she was treated by both her father and on-off partner, Blake. That said, relationships are not perfect, Blake was clearly vulnerable and damaged like Amy, and they cannot claim responsibility for her death. What was sickeningly apparent was that the media did have an enormous part to play in this tragedy. Amy never wanted the fame she got, even said she would give it back if she could, and before she reached such heights said that she would go mad and wouldn’t be able to handle it. Such is the fate of those who die at the hand of the paparazzi, and those who buy into sensationalist tabloid journalism, as covered in the poetry of Amber Tamblyn in Dark Sparkler.
Other than her tragic story, what stood out was her music and talent. Seeing her at her best performing at various stages in her career, lyrics picked out on the screen, provoked a feeling that hit you straight in the gut. Although sometimes not always agreeing with some of the content, for the most part I loved her blend of sarcastic wit, sorrowful heart-wrenching pain, and empowering sentiments such as “in this blue shade, my tears dry on their own”. The songs have always had a slick rhythm to them as well, such as in favourite In My Bed. At the heart of Amy’s music was a desire for connection, and that desire to use music to heal the self and heal others was what kept her writing and recording new material despite the chaos of her personal life. That temptation to self-destruct is also relatable to those of us who have traits of hyper-achievement, for they are two sides of the same coin.
In 2008 I was 19 years old and I wrote a poem called Blanket; as I watched the documentary, I remembered it writing it in response to Amy’s rising success since she moved from Frank to Back to Black, and the pitfalls that were well documented in the media. The poem went as follows:
I want to build myself up to the highest height, just to look down at the fall and be filled with fright. I want to be, the best I can be, prove them wrong about my poetry. Yeah, I want that pretty face, with the tear stains on show, mascara up my eyes, just so that they all know. I want to be perfect, to be a success, I want to be one of the best. I want them all to read my lips, read my mind, then drink myself to destruction at the end of the night.
I want to fall in love again with a good boy, just so he can break my heart, because if I’m in a mess, feel my life is destroyed then it at least provides more material for my art.
And I can just pick up my needle and thread, scrub with soap, the sheets on my bed, try stitching my life up to resemble what was, continue the search for the Wizard of Oz, pray for a change to a non-existent God, click my heels together, come home.
It was about how I could relate to the apparent dichotomy between success and failure, construction and destruction. The only thing I can do is to keep following the path to better myself, and that includes trying not to obsess about what success is and striving for it at the expense of my health. Because it’s a combination of both working and playing hard that can lead to exhaustion. I’ve come a long way since being a teenager and going to university, where getting off-your-face is standard, even on Sundays.
Nowadays, I rarely miss a roast dinner, I make sure to exercise regularly, and although work is always at the front of my mind, I make an effort to carve our significant space for maintaining relationships. I may joke about this being to do with me “getting old”, but actually it’s just finding out more about who I am and what’s important to me. And the fact that I feel it the next day when I’ve only had two pints, probably shows that I can’t take much more. But I often relate to the idea of the “death-wish” as at times there is a flicker of desire, a kind of magnetic pull, to be destructive.
Tony Bennett says in the film that “life teaches you how to live it—if you live long enough.” It is and always will be a tragedy that we don’t get to see Amy prosper, that her bulimia meant she was too weak this last time to fight against the alcohol poisoning she inflicted on herself accidentally. What urged me to write about this was the relatability for young women, and so as this has become self-reflective, I’m sure many others will feel that it could have been anyone, had they not had the time to recover from such a series of events.
The best I can do to take on board Amy’s story is to take inspiration from her creative drive, and keep focused on this. And to not let anyone stop me from doing what I want to do, whether a parent or romantic partner. I’ll never be able to listen to Rehab in a club, but I will listen in my room, or sing along with my mum in the kitchen.