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. She was barely 19 when Island Records signed her – more in need of psychotherapy than a major record deal. I was at her showcase at the Leopard Lounge in 2003 and the label I was working with (a now defunct independent that she was better off without) – having been utterly blown away by her jazzy, soulful, sultry yet humble and graceful performance – offered her a deal on the spot which she sweetly declined explaining that she had just been offered a deal from Island Records and was going to take it.
The pressures, demands and obligations of the major label mandate exacted their toll at a tender age with minimal regard for her emotional well being. Amy never had any idea of support and shunned it methodically. She ended up completely surrounded by people who were never going to help her. She isolated herself – unable to trust anyone or let anyone in. This is a path eerily similar to that which led Jimi Hendrix to his demise. Neither of them had a chance. By the end nobody could have helped either of them apart from a few loved ones who no longer had the power to intervene in their lives.
In Amy’s case rehab was clearly not addressing the real issues. Psychotherapy over a number of years afforded by time off from touring and recording would’ve helped but after a certain point Amy refused to help herself, taking the view that if she couldn’t fix it herself then nobody else could. That coupled with the fact that she’d become obligated to play ball with the majors who wanted a followup to Back to Black that wasn’t 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 – kept her totally confined within her own life. Unable to grow and branch out as a person or as an artist she stayed with her own safe bet, as we all know.
Unlike Lily Allen – who bailed out in a nick of time having 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 – Amy undeservedly paid the ultimate price for her hollow 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 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, Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald and even Billy Holiday – such was her talent.
To lay all of the responsibility at Amy’s door for her own death would be an incomplete assessment of the situation. In my opinion the music industry and associated tabloid media share in that responsibility and it is time that somebody acknowledges it.
Amy, you carried that weight – carried that weight a long time; but you ain’t gotta carry it no more. Farewell.