“I write songs because I’m fucked up in the head and I need to put it on paper and write a song to it and feel better about it. Have something good out of something bad.”
On 23 July 2011 the music world was rocked by the news that English singer/songwriter, Amy Jade Winehouse, had passed away.
Winehouse would join Simon Fuller’s 19 Management in 2002 and would eventually get signed to Island Records shortly after. She would release her debut LP, Frank, in October 2003.
Immediately it was clear that Amy Winehouse was doing something different. She had frequently bemoaned that the mainstream music of the time was watered down and vacuous, and it caused her to constantly challenge herself to create something with substance. Her raw contralto vocal range would instantly become recognisable as Winehouse sang about love and relationships in a way that was truly unique. The lead single off the album, Stronger Than Me, and would showcase the direct lyrics and sensational vocals that would come signify the music of Winehouse.
Nothing about Amy Winehouse was consistent with what was expected in pop music at the time. In interviews, nothing seemed rehearsed, she maintained her accent and she refused to be respectful or complimentary towards contemporaries who she felt were undeserving of it.
Away from music, Winehouse’s upbringing was anything but normal. Her father was absent for much of her childhood, and her mother has since confessed to not providing strong boundaries for her daughter as she was growing up. Winehouse would be prescribed anti-depressants at the age of 13, and in the following years music would become her outlet and would act as a catharsis for her. This need to unload her emotions into her music is obvious in the songs that she would write, What Is It About Men would address her feelings towards her absent father and Stronger Than You would address the frustration she felt at having to be the grown up in her relationship with her boyfriend at the time who was seven years her senior.
Amy Winehouse would move into an apartment in Camden shortly after the release of Frank in 2004 and this would prove a significant event in the life of the star. A break up with Blake Civil-Fielder (who would become her husband some years later) in 2005 would lead to Winehouse spiralling into depression and alcoholism before an intervention by her father Mitch Winehouse helped to settle her again. It was around this time that the idea of Amy going to rehab were first mooted, and those close to her bemoan the fact that she did not as a chance was lost to properly intervene in her addiction habits.
A series of personal problems would lead to her label debating dropping her, but thanks to the work of long time friend and producer, Salaam Remi she would return and begin working on new songs. Three years after gracing music with Frank, Back to Black would be released into the world in 2006. The eleven track album would result in five singles for the artist; including the hits Rehab (which would catapult Winehouse to stardom – a stardom that Amy was unprepared for), Back to Black, and Tears Dry On Their Own. The album would make it onto the Rolling Stone list of the 500 Greatest Albums of all Time in 2012, and would win Best Pop Album at the 50th Annual Grammy Awards in 2008.
The following year would see Winehouse feature on the track Valerie on the 2007 Mark Ronson album, Version. This song would go on to be one of the commercial successes of that year.
2007 would be one of the defining years in the life of the singer. She would marry former boyfriend, Blake Fielder-Civil, a relationship which would introduce Winehouse to more serious drugs. In August 2007, Winehouse would be admitted to hospital with doctors saying that it was a miracle that she had not slipped into a coma as a result of the cocktail of drugs and alcohol that were present in her bloodstream at the time. Her relationship with Fielder-Civil would continue to place Winehouse in a situation where substance abuse was unavoidable. His arrest in November 2007 on the charge of perverting the course of justice and his subsequent spell in jail would cause Winehouse to spiral downwards at an alarming rate. This unravelling was played out in public as the mainstream media refused to give her the privacy that she needed at the time. Winehouse would eventually go on holiday to St. Lucia and stop her use of harmful drugs in 2009, but she would continue her battle with alcohol.
In June 2011 a disastrous European tour would begin to suggest that Winehouse’s career was beyond repair. She had grown sick of performing songs of Back to Black, feeling they no longer represented who she was. During the shows she was often booed off stage, and would have to be forced to perform by her management. On 23 July 2011, Amy Winehouse was found dead in her apartment by her bodyguard.
Amy Winehouse was one of the most talented and charismatic singer/songwriters in modern music history. Her voice belied her young years, and the lyrics that she wrote demonstrated an understanding of relationship and life that immediately resonated with listeners. However, her successes brought with them a level of media attention that she found deeply uncomfortable and caused her personal troubles to be placed under public scrutiny in a way that would be disastrous for the young jazz musician. The fact that she is not still around to create music will remain one of the greatest tragedies in modern mainstream music.