Amy Winehouse said, “I wouldn’t write anything unless it was directly personal to me just cause I wouldn’t be able to tell the story right.”
I still remember when one of my high school boyfriends broke things off with me. I think I was in grade 11. I spent all weekend watching her concert DVD and watching the 30-minute doc they made about recording Back to Black with Mark Ronson. She talked about falling in love with Blake and admitted to fucking it all up. She talked about lies and things being less than ideal by her own doing. It made me feel less alone every time I was in pain or did something stupid while drunk. It wasn’t the first or last weekend I shut myself in my house and did nothing but listen to her voice and words.
She was my role model. I looked up to her in ways I probably shouldn’t have. Some people might believe that’s sort of fucked because of all her issues, but I truly know I wouldn’t be who I am today without her.
To say I was a fan would be an understatement. I think I wanted to be her.
I owned Back to Black on vinyl and I never even had a record player. I watched every interview she had ever done well before she died about a million times each. I owned the only concert DVD she ever released. I bought a black Adidas sweater because I saw her wearing the same sweater in an interview (this was before athleisure came back in fashion). I read her biography a dozen times.
I can point to pieces of my past and personality and see her reflected right back at me.
The way I’ve ALWAYS done my eyeliner since the moment I started wearing makeup.
The way I say “yeah.”
The way I love playing pool like she did (I’m half decent actually).
The way I dealt with breakups with a bottle of Jack Daniels.
The cheeky way of talking.
The way I can’t help but be inappropriate sometimes.
The way I love jazz.
The way I used to dress (till I stopped wearing push up bras).
The way I never brushed my hair and wore it big. I still don’t brush it if I’m being totally honest.
The way I talked about myself.
The way I wished my eyes were just a little darker so they’d match perfectly.
The way I wear my heart on my sleeve.
The brutal blunt honesty in my writing.
She taught me authenticity because it just oozed out of her. Despite being someone who acted like she didn’t think very highly of herself, she couldn’t help but be anyone but herself. Before I ever opened a Brené Brown book, I listened to her music and learned what vulnerability looked like. I saw her using art to tell the stories of her life and make peace with them in her own way.
She’s also goddam ruthless, which you’ll know if you watch enough of her interviews.
Even then, there was something about what she created and how she embraced her messy, aggressive nature. She was never quoted saying anything good about herself, but she was always honest even when it maybe made other people uncomfortable.
She just…wasn’t guarded. You can tell she literally didn’t know how to be. If you watch any interview with her you can see her emotions all over her face, in her expression and through her eye contact and body language. If she didn’t want to be there you could tell. If she was upset you could tell. If she didn’t like the questions she was being asked you could tell.
There were a total lack of walls, which you could argue hurt her in some ways, but made her utterly unforgettable in others.
She’s a beautiful singer and songwriter, yes. She was volatile, yes. But what she really taught me was about putting it all out there. Ugly stuff and all. Unfortunately, she wasn’t a great role model for kindness or dealing with your problems and pain the healthy way, but that’s ok. Nobody is perfect, and she never tried to pretend she was.
I remember where I was when I found out she died. I was sitting in class and my friend texted me and asked me if I had heard. I didn’t think it was true. I had been following her in the news because I had heard she was going to put out a new album soon. When I saw my friend later that day and she confirmed it I started crying right then and there. I don’t even think I could fully appreciate the impact she had on my life until I became an adult.
I grew up believing struggle was part of being a creative. Believing alcohol was part of being a strong saucy woman. Believing being raw, direct, uncensored and borderline offensive or difficult was charming. Believing relationships had to be difficult, rocky and messy. Believing destroying your own life was part of living your life.
Then she died. Way too young. And I realized then, and even more now, that she taught me so many amazing things, but also so many destructive things. You never get the sense that she’s overly happy about being famous.
Like I’ve said before, when you don’t like yourself very much it’s easy to spot in others. I could never shake the feeling that she was incredibly insecure, despite being so bright and amazing. I used to read it as being humble, but I don’t believe that’s what it was. I believe it was self-loathing.
She may have had a shaky personal life, but you could always tell writing and performing was the one thing she truly loved. We all need a thing, but sometimes it’s not enough.
It’s not a coincidence that I believe the most powerful, deep, soul touching writing comes from a very personal place. Just like the way she felt about music. She didn’t give a shit about being famous, or being well-liked, she just wanted to tell her stories and make her vision come to life.
You can judge her. You can pity her. You can love her the way I do. You can listen to her music. And you can learn from her. But truthfully, the world will never forget her and her music because she’s unforgettable.
She made me feel seen. She made me feel less alone. She made art and music that made me realize that you can put your everything out there, but you have to be strong enough to handle the criticism that goes with it. Resilient enough to handle the hatred for being different. Love yourself enough to know that you have to live with your fear and love it to death instead of trying to silence it because that’s courage.
I related to her. Her aura. Her dark nature. Her sadness. Her regret. Her flirty self-concious energy. Her way of brightening up other people’s lives but seemingly not being able to turn the light on for herself because she couldn’t locate it.
The way she so obviously went against the grain, almost sometimes seemingly just to piss people off but really because pain speaks volumes. She’s why I feel compelled to write about my own fuckups. But there’s one thing I really think she missed in some of her art, which was the gratitude and light parts of life. I would have loved to hear more from her about the good. That’s one thing we didn’t have in common, but I do believe if she had stuck around a little longer she would have found a way eventually to make art that didn’t come from a place of low self-worth.
She wasn’t the hero I was ever supposed to have, but we can’t help who we fall in love with. Being proud that her art and life (from afar) was part of my journey, and writing about that journey, is something that only Amy could have taught me how to do.
Please do me a favour today, and everyday, and remember that addiction doesn’t discriminate and sometimes there are factors in people’s lives that add kerosene to the fire. Not everyone has the tools and what it takes to extinguish that flame.