It was in the autumn of 2004 when I briefly met Amy Winehouse. She was quiet then; a humble and well presented little mouse who appeared clean and healthy as we stood outside the White Horse in Fouberts Place near Carnaby Street. Absent were the tattoos and the big hair which became her trademark look. She was a slightly curvaceous and attractive young woman stepping out on the road to what should have been a fantastic life.
The chance meeting came at a time when my own band which had enjoyed a reasonable amount of success with a major New York label was just about at an end and her career was taking flight nicely. She was stood with a mutual friend who owned a small independent hip-hop label and he was looking after her at that time.
He was a good man, a quietly spoken gentle giant and not in the least excessive, and Winehouse was certainly in safe hands with him.
What happened to that quiet and pleasant girl in the following years has been overly documented to a degree of offensiveness; myself as guilty as any other journalist who needed a story. And that was one thing Amy could always be relied upon for – to give us something to write, laugh or talk about.
But that’s a different story and I want to share aspects of my own personal experience with the music industry and the way it can inflate the ego of even the most humble people, because it’s the very same music industry which has ultimately cost Amy Winehouse her life.
From the outside it seems like one of the most glamorous lifestyles going: money, fame, popularity and seemingly the freedom to live as you please.
But when you step through the door you realise just how insidious the music industry really is. If you’re lucky enough to be that successful then yes, the fame and money comes along but it’s all the other things that creep into the picture which make it so disgusting.
As your success begins to grow you find yourself with a whole new set of ‘friends’; people who almost worship you and tell you frequently that you’re amazing and wonderful and can do no wrong. They fight to be by your side and follow you wherever you go. It can get ugly too when you don’t live up to their expectations or get sick of them being around. They can turn violent.
Then comes the excess of a fevered ego. It was my experience that booze suddenly became very easy to get for nothing as everyone wanted to buy me a drink and hear my stories. As a drinker at that time I revelled in it. I too lived in Camden Town and trawled the same pubs as Winehouse – The Monarch, The Hawley Arms, The Edinburgh Castle, Bar Tok and The Enterprise, the latter allowing all night drinking. I could go out without a penny in my pocket on any given night and come home absolutely ‘smithereened’.
Within those circles were darker elements. There was always someone offering a line of coke or something even more nefarious and so often an invite back to a den of iniquity which led to days of binges on uppers, downers and painful hangovers.
I have absolutely no doubt that Amy Winehouse was subject to the same scenarios but probably on an even bigger scale.
[adsense]Another problem with the music industry (and the word problem really isn’t strong enough) is that everyone has an opinion on everything you do. Be it your music, image, lifestyle or whatever, every minutiae of your life comes under scrutiny and often in the cruellest of ways. I remember receiving some extremely harsh criticism over my weight and my songs to the extent that I developed eating disorders and lost my desire to write anymore. I was blasé about some reviews but there are those out there who are so cruel in their writing that it’s impossible not to feel hurt.
Amy Winehouse would have been subject to this on a massive scale and to see pictures of herself and pointless conjecture banded all over the papers would certainly have had an impact on her self confidence, which in turn would have plunged her further into the sanctity of her addictions.
Addiction is a powerful disease and she suffered heavily with it. Drug use and excessive lifestyles are not glamorous and they are not something we should aspire to. Addictions ruin and often end people’s lives as has been highlighted in Amy Winehouse’s case. She seemed devoid of a good support circle who could have guided her away from the drugs and alcohol and her hangers on would have delighted in her reverie as it gave them a platform to sustain their own excess, kudos and recognition – fame by proxy. Undoubtedly the harsh treatment by an uncaring, ratings driven media will have fuelled her desire to escape reality as much as possible and speculation that she was indifferent about living in the end comes as no surprise.
There are many tragedies within the Amy Winehouse story; her death at such a young age is uppermost in people’s minds but worse still is her refusal to seek help in overcoming her addictions. So many addicts are happy with their excesses and perhaps Amy was too. It is not hard to understand her desire to remain in an altered state given the nature of the industry in which she forged a living and the vultures which routinely circle it.
The greatest tragedy though is that the media and world at large was only interested in Amy the Clown; nobody seemed to care for her when she was clean; just another singer with a talent.
In the wake of the Rupert Murdoch scandal and the way newspapers gather their information to sell their stories, it’s about time a serious change was made. Celebrities are still human beings and just because they’re in the public eye doesn’t mean they’re impervious to criticism.
Amy Winehouse had the world at her feet, but her decision to stay within the confines of Camden Town and all its ugliness gave her little chance of ever coming to terms with the addictions that she used to protect herself from the harshness of an encroaching public and media.
Maybe I’m wide of the mark; I’m a guesser making guesses as that’s all I can do. I never knew Amy Winehouse, I just met her briefly one evening is Soho where she appeared sweet, shy and a far cry from the train wreck which finally came to a crashing halt on Saturday afternoon. Like so many others I’m sifting the wreckage for signs of a clue but having had some insight into the music industry and living with addictions I know how much both can screw you up, and how they perpetuate one another.
As Russell Brand rightly said, “Whether this tragedy was preventable or not is now irrelevant. It is not preventable today. We have lost a beautiful and talented woman to this disease.”
“He who makes a beast of himself, gets rid of the pain of being a man.” ~ Samuel Johnson.
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images: manchester.diarystar.co.uk, NME.com, blogs.independent.co.uk