Amy Winehouse was buried in north London today. Her death has left me both sad and furious. She was indeed a troubled soul but the music industry chewed her up and spat her out from a tender age. She was barely 19 when Island Records signed her. I was at her showcase for Frank at the Leopard Lounge in 2003. I was working for a now defunct indie label. We were utterly blown away by her jazzy, soulful, graceful, sultry and humble performance. We offered her a deal on the spot. She sweetly declined, explaining that she’d just been offered a deal from Island Records and was going to take it. At that time she came across as kind, humble and perhaps a little withdrawn in person.
The pressures, demands and obligations of the major label mandate exacted their toll with minimal regard for her emotional well being. Amy never got the mental health support that she needed. She withdrew. It was a path reminiscent of that which led Jimi Hendrix to his death. Neither of them had a chance.
In Amy’s case rehab was clearly not addressing the real issues. Time off from touring and recording to invest herself in real support might have been helpful but after a certain point Amy refused to help herself. She seemed to take the view that if she couldn’t fix it herself then nobody else could. She was under immense pressure from the majors who wanted a followup to Back to Black. They didn’t want a reggae album with harrowing lyrics (referring to the material she’d put forward in March 2009) but more of the same: a safe bet. She became confined within her own life. Unable to grow and branch out as a person or as an artist she began a downward spiral of self-abuse.
Lily Allen once found herself in a similar situation but managed to bail out in a nick of time. Lily had the wisdom to see that she was being exploited for a financial reward that was increasingly meaningless to her while others profited from her misery. Unlike Lily Allen, Amy paid the ultimate price for her so-called success in order to swell the pockets of major label executives and shareholders.
Frank was a good record and Back to Black was a great record but she may have had even greater records in her. With the right care and guidance she could have easily churned out a career’s worth of material just like Aretha Franklin or Billie Holiday; such was her talent.
I believe that laying all of the responsibility at Amy’s door for her own death would be an incomplete assessment. In my opinion the music industry and tabloid media share in that responsibility. It pains me to watch their tributes to her.
Amy, you carried that weight a long time but you don’t have to carry it anymore. Farewell. We will miss you.