She put out the best soul record in decades, got screwed up on more drugs than most humans have even heard of, and became a tabloid lightening rod. Join the circus that has swept up Britain and is running wild across the United States: The Amy Winehouse Show.
Her first album Frank was released in 2003 to the usual round of British hype and American indifference. It was nominated for a Mercury Prize but fell on deaf ears in the colonies and was written off as another bland Joss Stone rip-off. Sure, the mounting stories of its creator’s drug and alcohol problems garnered the occasional mention in Rolling Stone and Winehouse’s unusual fashion sense that leans so heavily on the beehive and pedal pusher look piqued our interest and made us lusty for Mary Tyler Moore reruns. But for a couple years she was nothing more than an interesting picture in gossip mags. So why does anyone care now?
It was last year’s Back to Black that got everyone wound up. Its sexy buzz and grinding rhythms made us all a bit randy and proved that yes, it is possible to produce a real soul record. The fact that it came from a skinny white girl in England just made for a great story. It was like seeing this totally hot little number in a club and then discovering she has a cool accent and knows the words to more than one Nina Simone song. Maybe not love, but definitely lust at first sight.
Like so many great soul artists, Winehouse comes by her tortured moan honestly. The Independent has quoted her as claiming to be manic-depressive, and the evidence of her personal life seem to back it up. Her tumultuous relationship with the fantastically aristocratically-named husband Blake Fielder-Civil is ready fodder for Brit tabloids and has run the gamut of control freak enablement to physical abuse.
The idea that many of the songs on Back to Black were inspired by Winehouse’s relationship with her erstwhile hubby may be supported by the fact that the two agreed to enter rehab together in August of this year, after Winehouse was admitted to University College Hospital in London after slipping into a coma. The reported cause of the coma was overdosing on several drugs, including heroin, cocaine, ecstasy and the Ketamine. All of this was supposedly washed down with whiskey and vodka during a bar crawl in London. She was widely quoted on the incident saying, “It was just crazy—one of the most terrifying moments of my life… I just don’t know what got into me.”
While her family has gone public with their pleas for rehab and counseling, the jury seems to be out on Fielder-Civil, and Winehouse remains his greatest defender. Just this week, photos appeared of the couple bloody and bruised, but Winehouse denied her injuries were at her husband’s hands. No, hers were self-inflicted. And his? Well, let’s just say he knew better than a certain Von Bondie not to admit getting his ass handed to him by a girl.
But the wheels of the family wagon may be finally coming off. Winehouse’s father Mitch, discussing her recent dramatic weight loss, has compared his daughter to a concentration camp victim.
He said: “She is skinny as anything and dehydrated and looks like she has just come from a concentration camp.
“I know that if she doesn’t eat she is going to die,” said Winehouse. “There is no reason for her to want to self-destruct like this.”
He father-in-law, Giles Fielder-Civil, just this week asked fans to boycott her records in an attempt to shock Winehouse and his son into rehab.
“I think they believe they are recreational users of drugs and they are in control,” Fielder-Civil told BBC radio Tuesday. “Clearly they are addicts.”
These days, self-admitted drug and alcohol problems are worn as freely as a Fendi bag on the limp wrist of a SoHo fashion kill, but matched with undeniable talent and an air of legitimate SOUL, well… it’s hard not to be taken in by Winehouse.
And that’s why we care. There are plenty of talentless hacks with severe drug problems and personality disorders, but I try to stay as far away from them on the El as possible. It’s the infectious allure of her music that draws me to Winehouse. But who better than an addict to infuse their art with addictive additives? With a cocktail of 60s soul, rock and roll, and a smidge of dancehall beats, how can you NOT dance to her music? And if it makes me dance, it’s either good or I am drunk. With Back to Black, it’s a lot of both.
Sadly, popular music is strewn with tragic stories of burning talent consumed by insurmountable addiction. For some, it’s a cliché that has run its course and is tired as Paris Hilton. For others—for those who live with addiction as a hindrance and not a career resuscitation—it’s one cross of many to bear under the strength of creativity. Let’s hope Amy Winehouse can eventually tip the balance.
MP3: Amy Winehouse – “You Know I’m No Good” (featuring Ghostface Killah)
Amy Winehouse – “Rehab”
38 thoughts on “The Brutal Story of Amy Winehouse”
I see why her latest album is a commercial success. It’s better than most pop out there right now.
But like countless English acts immitating the sounds of 20th centry African Americans, I don’t fucking buy what she’s selling. All I hear when I listen to it is another 20 something white european who’s immitating R&B.
There are already too many white Americans doing that already.
You got something against Dusty Springfield and/or Eric Burdon?
And Mick Jagger, and John Lennon, and Steve Marriott…?
No, nothing against the stones, Dusty or Eric Clapton either.
I’m just saying that she’s not the end all and be all. I think she’s overrated. On top of that, there can never be another Dusty or Eric. That ship sailed. That era is over.
She makes good pop music, sure. But I don’t hear “icon” when I hear her tunes. I hear maticulously engineered tunes for mass transatlantic consumption. Nothing wrong with that, but I’ll pass nonetheless.
There’s a problem with way too much “genre” music being pumped out these days. Whether it’s Bright Eyes or Whinehouse, just having a good voice and motherfucking hipster outfits ain’t no substitute for living the shit. It all sounds like immiation.
Scott, did you read my article?
Hmm, her recent career trajectory seems to have a few Johnny Thunders-esque elements to it. While he put out substantial amounts of both genius and shit, his story lives purely in the zip code of tragedy. Here’s hoping that the goodship Winehouse finds some stabler currents and cleaner waters, and soon.
Derek, no I didn’t it. I saw a picture of Skelator and cut loose. Where is the article? I thought this was a thread about how old men don’t like today’s pop stars, can’t relate and don’t read “US Weekly.”
Well I have to wonder when the whole point was that I think she is the real deal, by judging this album. What matters to me is that it sounds good and this shit does. It sounds like a classic soul record with the kick drum and bass turned up a bit. What’s not to love about that?
i agree with scotty. really, don’t get how supposed serious media are all over her, seeing as she seems to have so little talent or innovativeness. at the same time, i feel quite sorry for her. it’s completely beyond me how people obsess about seeing people like her collapse. it sickens me
The best soul record in decades? …really??
Name a better soul record since 1977.
R. Kelly “Trapped in the Closet”
Michael Jackson – Off the Wall (1979)?
I haven’t listened to whole albums, but I’m guessing there have been good ones by D’Angelo, Mary J. Blige, Missy Elliott, Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, et al.
I really like the Amy Winehouse stuff I’ve heard.
Maybe I got a bit carried away with “the best soul record in decades” but is indeed one of the best. It’s not better than Off the Wall.
I dig what Ms. Winehouse is doing but I don’t see anything past this album. You can only play dress up for so long. I’d like to know how much is her and how much is producers/stylists.
I can’t believe there are so many pessimists here. A good producer amplifies the best elements of an musician’s vision and helps to refine it and deliver it. What would Off the Wall or Thriller be without Quincy? What would the Sgt. Pepper be without George Martin? What would Tonight’s the Night be without David Briggs? Did that mean the musicians who performed on those albums were fakes? Hardly.
But I am not saying Amy Winehouse is the Mother Mary of soul. I am just saying she put out a really good album and there’s plenty of reason to believe she can do it again. Of course, she has said herself that she’s love to just quit music and be a mom, so who knows…
BEZ SLAMS ‘LIGHTWEIGHT’ WINEHOUSE AND DOHERTY
“Pete Doherty is talked about all the time but he’s a fucking lightweight. He spends more time in rehab than he does taking drugs for fuck’s sake. Winehouse is the same, she’s got a lot to prove. There are too many part-time rock n’ rollers these days. They should get out and have a good time. I’ve not spent a minute in rehab in 25 years and I’m alright.”
Good old Bez! You’re twisting my melon, man.
From that same Web site:
Snoop is a massive fan of the star – and credits Winehouse’s sophomore album Back To Black with inspiring him to make a complete solo LP of his own. He says, “I want her to know that if she needs a place to chill for a bit, my hood is her hood. “When I’m listening to it (Back To Black), I’m learning who she is. It’s like when you listen to James Brown, he did it by himself, and Curtis Mayfield, all by himself. So I’m going to do the whole record by myself.”
That’s what I’m talkin’ about!
i don’t get the love for amy either. nothing original sounding at all to me. and her voice is just really annoying. sometimes when i hear her i think that it might, just might, be better listening to william hung sing.
Name a better soul record since 1977.
How bout Nathaniel Mayers brilliant record that came out on Fat Possom a few years back? Christ, pick any Cobras record for cryin’ out loud…and that’s only a few Detroiters off the top of my head. Amy Winehouse…jesus. Macy Grays debut album was more authentic and interesting.
Cobras? No. And please don’t cry to me about Detroit. For heaven’s sake, Detroit!?!?!?
Derek, I’ve long thought that your taste was weak…but calling Amy fucking Winehouse the best soul record in decades is really showing your ass. I don’t even know what your Detroit rant is about.
Thank you, Bob. Thank you.
Bob, you’re clearly an idiot.
Or a mutant
I’m really not trying to be a dick. I don’t care if you resort to calling me names, but at least add some damn substance to ANYTHING that you write. Explain WHY I’m clearly an idiot or why you would dismiss the Cobras or why Amy Winehouses’ stupid, media saturated-turd of a record is the best ANYTHING. You pass yourself off as a music critic without a shred of intelligent analysis or criticism of any kind. If you want to attack me any further, please email me privately. I’ll be glad to argue with in a personal forum.
Actually, nowhere do I claim to be a critic of any sort. In fact, GLONO is written from a fan’s perspective, not a critic’s. You’ll be hard pressed to find any objectivity here. Sure, some of our writers have gone on to be professional journalists and critics, but that’s not the point of this site.
Just the same, I’ll gladly argue (again) why I think Amy Winehouse’s album is much more than the media hype and tabloid nonsense that seems to obscure the jusdgement normally astute music fans. 1) Amy Winehouse seems to have a real understanding and appreciation for the history of soul music. Her musical references run from early-60s pop (The Crystal and The Shirelles),to rocksteady, to dancehall. Unlike some other recent soul singers, her record collection seems to stretch back further than Babyface.
2) The production is fantatsic. I first heard the album in a bar and was convinced it was an old soul record I’d not heard before. The instrumentation (horns, hand claps, REAL drums…) sounded as good and solid and dirty as anything on a Nina Simone or Ruth Brown single. When I found out it was in fact a new album, I was sure it was rife with samples of old records. That, to me, is great production.
3) Her vocals are strange and unique. No, they’re not entirely unique in that they don’t harken back to Etta James or Irma Thomas, but her voice is unique in today’s musical landscape. There’s real soul there and it’s been verified by some of the live cuts I’ve heard.
4) She lives it. Yes, a good portion of rock and roll is image and I love her image. Drugs aside, I love her attitude and dedication to what she thinks is authentic. When most rock fans bemoan the overly managed images of today’s rock bands, I find the backlash on Amy Winehouse (and Pete Doherty, et al.) all a bit phoney. GASP! Rock musicians drink and do drugs and sometimes hang out with losers! You know who else is a phoney? Charlie Parker and Keith Richard and Chuck Berry and Billy Holiday…yawn.
And Bob, I don’t think you’re really a mutant. That’s a reference to an old post about our own Johnny Anus. So don’t get huffy.
Check this out, both a y’all, but I think it’ll prolly confirm both of your POVs respectively. Link is to an interview, but on the right side are links to vids of AW(wwww!) live with just an acoustic guitar.
For the record, I like her, and I’ll try to go see her in October here in Parigi if she can stand up, but I did make the mistake of buying “Black” for a friend with Alcozeimer’s and getting “Frank” for myself. Maybe I can get her to trade with me.
Andrew WK Sucks! Not just his lame crap excuse for “rock,” but his annoying Amway-ish motivational speaking seminars too!
What a knob….
See Ms. Winehouse at the 2007 Mercury Awards a couple days ago performing “Love is A Losing Game.”
Okay, I’ve listened to this album all the way through now, and I think it’s really good. What amazes is me is that if you just turned the levels down on the bass and drums, it would sound like it was recorded in 1967. The tone of the horns, her vocals, everything. Exactly.
And since that’s my favorite era of soul music, it’s not surprising that I like this. A lot.
i always thought the reason that album sounded so soulful was the dap kings being the back up band and had nothing to do with amy whinehouse. sharon jones is far better/
Now THAT is at least a debatable point.
I agree that the band is the crux of the sound on this album. Talk about legit…as Jake says, it really does sound as if it were recorded in 1967.
But I think people (mostly who have heard maybe one song from the album) are too easy to dismiss Winehouse. I don’t know if it’s becuase of the tabloid shenaningans or because she’s being marketed to the Joss Stone crowd or what, but some people who should dig this album aren’t even willing to listen to it. Too bad for them.
And I will check out Sharon Jones.
i’ve listened to it & i understand why there is hype for it, i just don’t like it very much.
definitely check out sharon jones & the dap kings. new album is coming out or out now. release dates mean nothing these days
I will. Thanks for the tip.
So, i just grabbed Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings album Naturally. Still on first listen, but holy shit.
Thanks a million for the tip. Not sure how this slipped by before.