Rolling news really came into its own following the premature death (in my view, at least) of Amy Winehouse yesterday. After a friend received a phone call from his brother telling him the news, we flicked on BBC News 24 and saw the infamous breaking news banner across the bottom of the screen and knew it must be true. The BBC never goes with stories unless they’re 100% confirmed. One half of a split screen showed live pictures from her house in Camden showed an ambulance, police officers and plastic cordon but not much else. The other half played on rotation clips of Amy singing, drinking, fighting, smoking – just being Amy, really. As on-the-scene reporters and stony-faced newsreaders gave way to a bizarre and completely unnecessary phone call with Paul Gambaccini, we watched and watched, until finally we could watch no more.
In all the hysteria and the oft-repeated line about Amy’s “struggle with drugs and alcohol” it’s very easy to forget what a talent Amy was.
My first introduction to her was late one night, as I was sitting up half-watching TV after my then-boyfriend had gone to bed. A music show was on and the very last video was Amy’s ‘Fuck Me Pumps’ song. I had heard of her before, but never heard her music. I watched the video and laughed at the lyrics and thought “Wow, I have got to get that album”, which I did. And the rest is history; I was smitten from that moment on.
About a year later, I met her, before the release of her second album Back To Black, which would catapult her to the levels of fame which would eventually be her downfall. I was with a friend at a dreadful showcase event at the now-closed Hippodrome in central London, and my friend said Amy was there. We were standing in the VIP area – a very loose term for what was in fact a bar area piled high with Big Brother contestants – and my friend said she’d go get Amy and bring her in. When my friend retrieved Amy and tried to bring her into the VIP bar, the security staff refused to let her in, as they had no idea who Amy was. That was all about to change. Instead, then, I went out to talk to her. I’m never really in thrall of famous people, and at that point nobody had a clue who she was, but I was tongue-tied. She asked me if I was having a good night and I said I kind of was and told her I loved her album. I don’t know whether I was starstruck by her presence or what but I just got a brilliant vibe from her, an awesome sense of her personality. She was chatty and friendly and pretty and after burbling another couple of sentences at her and asking when her new stuff was out, I left her to her friends.
I would see her again a couple of times in the following years, in pubs, of course. She was now in full-beehive ultra-famous mode, and seemed utterly normal and just like an ordinary girl having an OK time. I say an OK time because, as well know thanks to the tabloids, she was “struggling with demons” and all that. She quickly became a pity figure for all the newspapers and magazines; barely a day would go by without a picture of her looking pissed and distraught on the arm of a friend or the man who would become her husband and her ex within the space of a couple of years.
She would often get press because of her “shambolic” live appearances. I never saw her live, but watched her on video and she had gone on record saying she hated performing live and preferred to be in the studio. At one performance for the BBC, she introduced her song ‘Back To Black’ by explaining that “You write these songs when you’re fucked up, and then when you have to sing them all in a row… it’s soooo depressing” and then she mimed the drinking motion and asked her band to “Run it” with a defiant hiss, as if she really didn’t want to do it, but would, because everyone had turned up and expected her to sing. She sang the song well, altering the delivery style a little, as was her wont, probably because singing them the same way every time just wasn’t her style.
I won’t add another bleeding heart tribute and talk about how “tragic” her death is. Nor will I accept that her death at 27 was inevitable or to be expected because of her drug problems. She had an addiction, a disease, and it would have been great if she’d got better, but it was just beyond her capability to do that. And that makes me feel all the more sad for her. The irrelevant talking heads will come and go but very few of the ones I’ve seen so far catch the true essence of her. To get that, you have to head to YouTube, and watch her perform, or listen to her songs, or watch her on Popworld having a riot in a Nissan Micro with Simon Amstell and throwing stones at a poster of Dido.
No more music, no more live performances, no more appearances on TV, no more jokes, no more drinks. No more Amy.