Friday, 7 August 2015

Amy's silent scream that may now deafen us

I had wanted to see it since I learnt that Asif Kapadia's documentary was in production.  The sad story of a life cut tragically short and a voice that the world was to be blessed with for only a fraction of the time it could, and possibly should have been.

And what a voice it was.  Amy Winehouse's talent was undeniable.   With just two albums to her name, the girl with a petite frame made a huge mark on British music history.

Her story was told beautifully.  Silently.  The footage spoke for itself and needed.  She needed no introduction.  And a narrator was not needed for the tragedy that unfolded before our eyes.  

The question that loomed for me as I watched as the few chapters into which her life might be divided was, did she ever really stand a chance?  She died of heart failure.  She died, I came to understand, of the broken heart she'd been writing about her whole career.

To watch a film such as this, one comes to occupy something of a voyeuristic position:  it is a dubious privilege to bear witness to the inevitable fate of someone you never actually knew but with whom the media gave you a false acquaintance.  

The film highlights that desperate tipping point.  The moment at which it all went so wrong.  For Amy, there came a point where she got so big that no one could hear the small voice screaming for help.  It really was a case of 'get me out of here', but no one paid attention.  She was earning them all too much money and the tour was going to go ahead regardless.  The awkwardness around the cinema auditorium was palpable.  I can only hazard a guess as to what it might have felt like to observe her staggering around on stage forgetting her lyrics in 2008 culminating in the disastrous Belgrade non-performance.

Ms. Winehouse was truly a genius.  She was an icon who faded before she'd glowed and shone as brightly as the older, wiser stars whose praise and respect she earned were unanimously certain she would.

Underneath the makeup and hairdo, was a sensitive little girl who was clueless as to her own talent and scared of the real world she wasn't yet ready to occupy.  

Before she knew it, she was thrust into the limelight and suddenly lacked the greatest gift any addict in need of recovery:  anonymity.  Everyone knew who she was.  Everyone fell in love with her voice.  Everyone demanded more. And more.  And more.  

She was, the film showed most clearly, desperately in need of limits.  Her mother acknowledged how few boundaries she'd managed to offer young Amy.  She did not know when to stop.  And even had she known when to stop, she didn't know how.  There was no one to say no when it mattered most.  She was unstoppable when she most needed to stop.  She found herself in a truly terrifying situation.

And one that most of us, and certainly those of us who have by some miracle managed to arrest addiction in its tracks, can appreciate she sought to escape.  During the opening scenes of the film we see her grabbing sleep in the back of a car on her way to an early gig.  Later on, Amy used food as an attempt to self soothe.  And from there, cigarettes, alcohol, sex and drugs soon followed.  Addiction is self medication that goes wrong.  She was simply trying to anaethetise what she felt she could no longer manage.

And for a while, it worked.  But the conveyor belt kept moving.  And she couldn't climb off, less still change its direction.  Her success was to have a life of its own and it swept her up and took her with it, swallowing her whole.

Reading between the lines of the intimate sharings of those who knew Amy well, it's all there:  the unhappiness, the fear, the despair and the isolation.  A full house of the classic trademarks of addiction.  Addiction makes no allowances for those with great talent.  Addiction robs the world of stars who have shone and those who never will.  Amy never found the recovery she needed and deserved.  I pray that the film inspires hope in those who need it for themselves.  

Slow down.
You're too important.
Life teaches you how to live it, if you live long enough.
Tony Bennett on what he would have liked to have said to Amy.

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