Amy Winehouse died on Saturday 23 July, at some point during the day. I found out via Twitter, actually through a tweet from Michael Owen saying he hoped the rumour wasn’t true. My first instinct was that it was another stupid hoax. But of course we know that it wasn’t.
I didn’t know Amy. I am a huge fan but, like most people, I am guilty of watching some of her dodgier performances on You Tube in the same way that people watch a car crash. I was lucky enough to see her play live 3 times at Glastonbury – twice in 2007 and once in 2008. In 2007 she did a professional and compelling set on the Pyramid Stage in the afternoon, compelling enough for us to go and see her in the evening on the Jazz World stage. And that is one of my most memorable Glasto experiences. Not yet a huge enough star to pack the place to a claustrophobic level, a little bit pissed, she held us all in the palm of her hand and made the sun shine on a festival that was full of rain and mud. 2008 was the year when she famously (or infamously) hit out at a fan. But there were still moments of genius.
I was so shocked on Saturday. But I had to ask myself why. Amy’s addictions and demons were well documented in the tabloids and the media in general. We all knew she was on a destructive path. But to have such a presence and talent taken away so suddenly was still a massive shock. I think we imagine our idols immune from the real world. The only comparison I can make is the death of Michael Hutchence, the most charismatic man I’ve ever met (yes, met), but he was a decadent rock and roll singer, not a little girl lost with it all ahead of her.
Amy’s death is a huge waste. We hear from her parents that she was all about love. I can see that. We hear from the Camden locals that she was their girl, part of the scene and somebody they felt massively protective towards. Not really the lonely addict then. And, of course, she was a huge talent – as a singer, a writer, a performer – I’m not easily impressed but her presence just blew me away and still does. When she mutters a little aside on a live recording, I feel she’s talking to me. We’re in it together. She was a star but she was accessible. She was in a crazy world but she was normal.
I’ve done a lot of thinking. And I’ll admit there’s a little “there but for the grace of God …” in it. I know I have an addictive personality. I don’t do anything by halves. Why drink a glass of wine when you can have 3 bottles? Why record one episode of Sex and the City when you can buy the box set? Why give up drinking when you can also cut out chocolate, crisps, takeaways, cheese, carbs and go to the gym 5 times a week? At some point I’ve been in all of those phases. If I’d made it as a singer (and yes, in my genre, I probably could have done if I’d set out on that path), would I have joined the 27 club with a messy overdose? Or would I have become a clean living gym bunny afraid to eat two sticks of celery in case I put on half a pound.
I am almost thankful for my mediocrity. There are two things in life at which I excel. I am a singer and I am a writer. Certainly not to Amy’s prolific ability as that’s a once in a generation thing. But I had the potential once upon a time to do a little more than I’m doing now, had I grabbed the opportunities (I didn’t). I find myself torn. Am I wasting my potential in a different, but equally sad way? Or is it a good thing that I’m still here, still with potential, even if it is a potential I am unlikely to realise?
Amy’s death has left me sad for her that she couldn’t find the peace to enjoy her gifts, sad for her loved ones and sad for all of her fans. But it has also maybe given me a bit of a kick to make my life count, even if it is on a small scale.
I haven’t sung for over six months. I’ve hardly written in three years. I think it’s time for me to be the best I can be as that’s what Amy did and her best was bloody amazing.
RIP and thanks for the ride.