Friday, July 31, 2015

Eva Wiseman / What if Amy Winehouse had been left alone?

Amy Winehouse

With her addictions and self-destructive marriage, Amy Winehouse’s life was a car crash we couldn’t stop watching. Now a new documentary puts us in the frame

What if Amy Winehouse had been left alone?

Sunday 17 May 2015 06.00 BST
Every now and then in Camden in the early 2000s you’d see a mob of photographers moving like a single ball of flashing fire, and you’d know Amy Winehouse was in there somewhere. At the time she appeared to have been roughly drawn in hair and Rimmel, but strong in the way a cartoon is strong, like anvils could fall on her and she’d be fine, once the birds had stopped circling.
There’s a bit towards the beginning of the new Amy Winehouse documentary (it premiered yesterday in Cannes) when her father, Mitch, remembers the time her friends were urging him to send her to rehab. Though he elaborated on it later, he told them, famously, that he thought she was fine. Her old manager discusses that period with the regret of a man who has lain awake for many nights. He believes now that this was the moment they could have saved her. Because, of course, from there we know the story, with all its music and awe, all its moments of horror. It was the album she wrote next that sent her life bananas, and brought her too much fame, it turned out, for a tiny body to handle.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Never underestimate the appetite for seeing women like Amy Winehouse self-destruct

Amy Winehouse
Poster by T.A.
Never underestimate the appetite 
for seeing women like Amy Winehouse self-destruct


Wednesday 24 June 2015 19.50 BST
A new film about the singer’s desperately short life shows how her tragic story became a spectator sport – and death has done nothing to end the voyeurism 

ow many times do you want to watch Amy Winehouse die? Five? Twenty? Is there a point at which you will feel sated by the sensation of watching a talented woman waste away in front of the world?
During her brief time in the hottest of spotlights – and it was so brief, a mere five years between the release of Back to Black and her death – Winehouse became a spectator sport. There was never any mystery to Winehouse: part of her appeal to her fans was that she told her life through her music; a major part of her appeal to the media was that she wore her pain on her person, from her scrawny body to her bloodied ballet pumps. Such is the voyeuristic and visual nature of the press, this has made her the ideal subject to be exhumed. Since her death her well-known story has been told and retold, with a pleasure verging on the necrophiliac.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

How Amy Winehouse made 'To Know Him is to Love Him' her own

Amy Winehouse
Poster by T.A.

How Amy Winehouse made 

'To Know Him is to Love Him' her own'


It took the words from his father's grave and became a No 1 US song for the Teddy Bears, but Phil Spector's 'To Know Him is to Love Him' would belong to Amy Winehouse. So how did this high-school hit find its soul?

Greil Marcus
Friday 29 August 2014 15.00 BST

To Know Him is to Love Him
Amy Winehouse
In 1958, the Teddy Bears released "To Know Him is to Love Him", a No 1 hit, written by Teddy Bear Phil Spector, a song that took 48 years to find its voice. When Amy Winehouse sang it in 2006, her music curled around Spector's, his curled around her, until she found her way back to the beginning of his career, and redeemed it. Whether he has ever heard what she did with his music, or whether she ever heard what he thought of what she did, are unanswered questions. He isn't talking; she can't.
Since 2009, when he was convicted of second-degree murder in the 2003 shooting of the nightclub hostess, unsuccessful actor, and sometime blackface Little Richard impersonator Lana Clarkson at his mansion in Alhambra, California, Spector has been serving 19 years to life at a division of Corcoran state prison. Winehouse has been dead since 2011. If you listen to the Teddy Bears' record now, and ignore what Spector did with the rest of his life, or even what he did in the few years after he made "To Know Him Is to Love Him", his fate may not seem like such a tragedy. If you listen to Winehouse sing the song, you can hate her for what, as over a few July days she drank herself to death, she withheld from the world.
Spector was born in the Bronx in 1939; his father, the son of a Russian Jewish immigrant and a failing businessman, killed himself 10 years later. In 1953, Spector's mother moved herself and her son to Los Angeles. At Fairfax High School – where, only a few years before, the would-be song-writer Jerry Leiber was sketching out his first rhythm and blues lyrics – Spector fell in with other students in love with the doo-wop sound in the air of the town: with the Penguins' rough, inspiring "Earth Angel", Arthur Lee Maye and the Crowns' complex and surging "Gloria", the Robins' comic operas "Framed" and "Riot in cell Block #9", written and produced by Leiber and his partner Mike Stoller, a hundred more. Among Spector's classmates were Marshall Leib, a singer; Steve Douglas, who would go on to play saxophone on dozens of Los Angeles hits, most unforgettably Spector's 1963 production of Darlene Love's "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)", a record so spectacular that, for years, Love has appeared every Christmas season on the David Letterman show to recreate it; and Sandy Nelson, a drummer, who in 1959 would make the top 10 with "Teen Beat". Spector met Lou Adler, a would-be songwriter at Roosevelt High (with Sam Cooke and Herb Alpert, he would write "Wonderful World", which Cooke made into as perfect a record as rock'n'roll ever wished for), and Bruce Johnston, who turned up a few years later in the Beach Boys.
All of them were listening to the records coming out of other high schools, on Dootsie Williams's DooTone label or Art Rupe's Specialty. Out of Jefferson High and the half-black, half-white Fremont High, where every other person seemed to be in a group, came the Penguins, and Richard Berry, who passed through many groups before making "Louie Louie" with the Pharaohs. "There used to be hundreds and hundreds of black groups singin' harmony and with a great lead singer," Spector said years later. "You used to go down to Jefferson High on 49th and Broadway and could get 16 groups." All over town, Spector and the rest sang the songs together until they got them right. They wrote their own songs.

Spector wrote "To Know Him Is to Love Him." Along with Leib and Annette Kleinbard, another Fairfax classmate, he formed the Teddy Bears. They made a demo, got a contract with the local label Era. With Kleinbard singing lead, Spector playing guitar and along with Leib singing the backing "And I do and I do and I do"s behind the verses and the "Oom-da-da Oom da-da"s on the bridge, Sandy Nelson playing all but inaudible drums, and Spector, the 18-year-old producer, layering the voices over each other, they made a record. Within months the tune was at the top of the charts all over the country. The Teddy Bears lip-synched it on Dick Clark's American Bandstand, the national afternoon show from Philadelphia that served as a living juke-box for rock'n'roll, the ultimate showcase. No, it wasn't as prestigious as The Ed Sullivan Show, and Elvis Presley never appeared on American Bandstand, but even with singers and musicians just miming their records, the show carried a greater sense of risk. Will they – the kids dancing on the show, the kids glued to their TV sets, the kids talking about it the next day at school – like it? Will they laugh? Kleinbard was in the middle, in a white prom dress and short dark hair. Leib and Spector flanked her in pale prom tuxes, Leib tall, dark, handsome, broad-shouldered, Spector short, his chin weak, his shoulders tense and cramped: an undisguisable high-school nerd, under his pompadour obviously already losing his hair, his thin tenor pulling away from his own song as if he were afraid of his own voice. All his life, he never stopped telling people where the song came from: "I took it from the words on my father's grave." "'I took it from the words on my grave,'" he said in the early 70s to Nik Cohn, who was in Los Angeles to write a book with him about his life. "He was standing at the window, looking down at the Strip," Cohn wrote later. "For a few seconds he noticed nothing. Just stood there, this tiny, ancient child, with his hair all wisps and his shades refracting silver. Then he heard what he'd said and he turned to face me. He did not look distressed; just puzzled, lost. 'Not my grave. I meant my father's,' he said. 'The words on my father's grave.'"
Despite a nice, swaying rhythm, and a comforting melody not that far from Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah", the closest a mere song has ever come to sainthood, the record was weak – it all but worshipped weakness, advertised it as a way of life. It made all too much sense that, in another story Spector could never stop telling, one night in Philadelphia, in 1958, in the backstage men's room after he'd performed with the Teddy Bears on a bill with a dozen other acts, four guys pulled knives, pushed him into a stall, told him to sit down, slowly unbuttoned their jeans, and pissed all over him. I heard him tell the story to a full hall at Berkeley in 1966, when his career as the most envied record producer in the world – for the Crystals' "Da Doo Ron Ron", the Ronettes' "Be My Baby" and "Walking in the Rain", the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost that Lovin' Feeling", and a full top 40's worth more from 1961 to 1966 – seemed over, at least to Spector himself. Ike and Tina Turner's "River Deep –Mountain High", his most ambitious record, with the biggest, most implacable sound and an arrangement that made it feel as if the record lasted a lifetime, not three-and-a-half minutes ("That," the Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia said, "sounds like God hit the world and the world hit back"), failed to come anywhere near the radio; Spector closed his studio and began lecturing at colleges. "I didn't really know what was going on," he said of that night backstage. "I thought it was some kind of initiation, you know, like after it was all over they were going to let me into their club" – he told the story without embarrassment, without shame, as if it were funny, just one of those things, he was explaining, along with rigged contracts, third-party lawsuits, phony promoters and electric fences, that rock'n'roll was really about, as if he would never get over it.

Phil Spector Winehouse
 Phil Spector with Darlene Love. Photograph: Ray Avery/Redferns

After the novelty wore off, after the radio wore the song out, "To Know Him Is to Love Him" stood simpering, dripping treacle, almost crossing the line from sentimental homily to prayer, a dirge at its most lifelike. It was music far behind rock'n'roll, music for weddings without dancing, too square for proms, like the material the Teddy Bears used to fill out their only album: "Unchained Melody" and "Tammy". Spector had to know the song was a dead fish; in the years to come, he never tried to pawn it off on any of the performers on his own Philles label, not even the hopeless Bob B Soxx of the Blue Jeans.
Winehouse was born in London in 1983. "I'm a Russian Jew," she once said bluntly: she learned to sing, she said, from listening to Mahalia Jackson, Dinah Washington, Ray Charles, and Thelonious Monk. It was only in her early 20s that she was captured by Spector's female singers, by "Tonight's the Night", "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" and other shimmering singles by the Shirelles, and most of all by the Shangri-Las. They were two sets of sisters from Andrew Jackson High in Queens, New York.
The Shangri-Las' producer and songwriter was George "Shadow" Morton. One day in 1964, as he always told the story, he showed up at 1650 Broadway, having heard that his old friend Ellie Greenwich was writing songs there; he met her husband and songwriting partner, Jeff Barry. "He turned to me," Morton recalled in 2001 for a TV documentary, the barest hint of a grin curling at the corners of his mouth, letting you see his eyes twinkling behind his shades, "and said, 'Well, just what is it you do for a living?' 'Well,' I said, 'actually, some people would call it being a bum, but I'm a songwriter, just like you.' So he said, 'What kind of songs do you write?' And I said, 'Hit songs.' And he said, 'Why don't you bring one in and show it to us?' And I said, 'You've got to tell me: you want a fast hit or a slow hit?'
"He said, 'Make it slow.' And on the way to the studio, I realised, I didn't have a – I didn't have a song. I had ideas, but – so I pulled the car over, on a place called South Oyster Bay Road, and I wrote a song." It was "Remember (Walking in the Sand)", the first of three top-10 hits by the Shangri-Las on Red Bird Records, the independent New York label formed in 1964 by Leiber, Stoller and George Goldner. "It was very corny," Leiber said 37 years later of the song Morton brought in. "Very sweet, and, finally, somewhere, touching. It wasn't synthetic. It was for real – like he was."
The record was melodramatic, distant, dark, hard to catch, moving the way you walk in the sand, the ground slipping under your feet. It began with heavy bass notes on a piano, reached past itself with the faraway cawing of seagulls, a sardonic chorus of ghosts snapping fingers, and harsh, cold voices chanting "Remember", as if the singer telling the story could ever forget. On paper it was about a boy telling a girl they were through; on record, like all of the Shangri-Las' best records, it was about death. The cadence was blunt, broken, stark.

 Shangri-Las. Photograph: Getty Images Michael Ochs Archives/Michael Ochs Archives

What will happen to
The life I gave to you?
What will I do with it now?
With anyone but 16-year-old Mary Weiss as the lead singer, the unrelieved doom in the music might have turned into a joke, but it never happened, not in "Remember", "Give us Your Blessings", "Out in the Streets", "Past, Present, and Future", or "I Can Never Go Home Anymore", not even in the comic-strip play "Leader of the Pack". "I had enough pain in me, at the time," Weiss said in 2001, "to pull off anything. And to get into it, and sound – believable. It was very easy for me," she said with a big, thank-God-that's-behind-me smile. "The recording studio was the place that you could really release what you're feeling, without everybody looking at you." In 2001, Weiss was working for a New York furniture company; on September 11 she was downtown, a few blocks north of the World Trade centre. She saw the first plane hit, then the second. Two weeks later, ending an essay she wrote about the event, she fell back into the hard count of "Remember", as if the pacing of the song, like the others she sang, had long since for her become a language, a way to speak about what you couldn't speak about, a way of placing yourself in the world: "New York will never be the same. The United States will never be the same. For that matter I will never be the same person.
"We all want to go to sleep, and wake up and realise it's been a bad dream.
"It's not."
That was the language Winehouse heard. It was a language she learned. The Shangri-Las' records became talismans, charms, fetish objects, voodoo dolls signifying curses she laid on herself. "I didn't want to just wake up drinking, and crying, and listening to the Shangri-Las, and go to sleep, and wake up drinking, and listening to the Shangri-Las," Winehouse would say of how she wrote her unflinching songs, but she did. That was why, over and over again on stage, she would let "Remember" drift in and out of the almost sickeningly deliberate pace of "Back to Black", the title song of her second album, released in 2006, and her last studio album while she was alive, until you had to hear the two songs as one. That was why, in her irresistible, unreadable 2008 Grammy awards ceremony performance of "You Know I'm No Good" – filmed via a live hookup from London; Winehouse's drug addiction kept her out of the United States – Winehouse was her own leader of the pack. Winehouse might not have had anything on her side but the satisfaction of getting it right, saying what she had to say, adding something to the form that had brought her to life as an artist, adding her name and face and the story it told. Yes, she wrote "You Know I'm No Good", and like any work of art, it was a fiction that bounced back on real life, maybe the author's, maybe not; as she sang the song on the Grammys, you could hear and see her listening to the song as well as singing it, hear the song talking to her, hear her asking herself, as she sang, Is that true? Is that what I want? Is that who I am? Is that all I've got?
One day in 2006 Winehouse stepped to the microphone in a BBC disc jockey's studio to sing "To Know Him Is to Love Him", and with a guitarist softly fingering doo-wop triplets, a drummer tapping, and a bassist counting off notes as if he'd thought about each one, she unlocked the song. In the three seconds it took her to climb through the first five words, to sing "To know, know, know him", you were in a different country than any the song had ever reached before. All of Winehouse's commitment to the songwriter's craft, the way her professionalism was inseparable from her fandom, was brought to bear as she sang. It also disappeared, leaving both her and the song in limbo, out of time, no need to go forward, no need to go back. With the slightly acrid scratch that sometimes crept into her harder songs dissolved in a creamy vortex, the feeling was scary, and delicious; in those three seconds, then moving on through the first lines with hesitations between words and syllables so rich with the spectre of someone facing the Spector tombstone and reading the words off of it out loud, TO KNOW HIM WAS TO LOVE HIM, each word as she sang it demanding the right to be the last word, or merely wishing for it, the song expanded as if, all those years, it had been waiting for this particular singer to be born, and was only now letting out its breath. You could tell, listening, that Winehouse had worked on the song for a long time. "Congratulations!" said the disc jockey, Pete Mitchell, when the performance was over. "Recorded by the Teddy Bears!" "It's like when somebody dies – all the people do is yell 'He died, he died,'" Phil Spector said in 1969. "I yell 'He lived.' A hell of a lot more important than the fact that he's dead, is the fact that he lived."
"She could not stand fame any more than I could," Mary Weiss said in 2011, after Winehouse was found dead in her London house, after the torrent of her-whole-life-was-a-train-wreck, anyone-could-have-seen-it-coming schadenfreude that followed. "I related to her so much it is a bit scary. I will never understand why people get off kicking people when they are down and need help. How could that possibly make you feel better about yourself?"
"I was asking her to be an actress, not just a singer," Morton said of Weiss. Her songs, like Winehouse's, were all locked doors, doors that locked you out or that you locked yourself from the inside. But maybe because Weiss can still speak plainly – "I wish I could have helped her, even if she never sang publicly again," Weiss said – inside her words one can perhaps see other lives for Winehouse: a junkie on the street like Marianne Faithfull, who finally walked away, back into the career she never really had the first time around, first recording in the same year the Shangri-Las first recorded, in 2011 covering their "Past, Present, and Future" on a new album; a music teacher for kindergarteners; a grimy singer with a guitar case open at her feet, like anyone in your town; an old woman with stories nobody believes. "The girls in the Shangri-Las," Shadow Morton said, "they became the Shadowesses. I mean, they disappeared, they vacated. And a lot of the other girls who were with Red Bird, they just seemed to – like dust. As if it never was." But what did he know? That was only one version of the story, and there is an infinity of stories that tell this tale.
Greil Marcus's The History of Rock'n'Roll in Ten Songs, from which this edited extract has been taken, is published by Yale on 11 September.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

What really killed Amy Winehouse was the eating disorder bulimia

Amy Winehouse
Poster by T.A.

What really killed Amy Winehouse 

was the eating disorder bulimia, 

her brother Alex claims



The underlying cause of Amy Winehouse’s premature death at the age of 27 was the eating disorder bulimia, her brother has claimed.
The singer’s older brother Alex Winehouse, 33, said in an interview that years of suffering from bulimia left Amy “weaker and more susceptible” to the physical impact of her alcohol and drug addictions.
A coroner's verdict recorded that the "Rehab" singer died of “alcohol toxicity” after drinking too much.
“She would have died eventually, the way she was going," Alex told the Observer. "But what really killed her was the bulimia… Had she not had an eating disorder, she would have been physically stronger.”
Bulimia is an eating disorder characterised by episodes of binging followed by self-induced vomiting. Alex claims Amy was a sufferer from her late teens until her death at the age of 27.
“She suffered from bulimia very badly. That’s not, like, a revelation- you knew just by looking at her,” he said.
She was influenced, he said, by her peers, who were “all doing it”, at the age of 17. “They’d put loads of rich sauces on their food, scarf it down and throw it up. They stopped doing it, but Amy never really did,” he said.
Amy, who won five Grammy awards for her breakthrough albumBack to Black, was found dead at her flat in Camden, north London, on 23 July 2011.
An inquest recorded a verdict of misadventure after finding that she had 416mg of alcohol per decilitre in her blood- more than five times the legal drink-drive limit.
Since her death, her father Mitch and her brother Alex have set up the Amy Winehouse Foundation, which works to prevent the effects of drug and alcohol misuse on young people.
An exhibition of family photographs and objects belonging to the singer has been put together by Mitch and Alex Winehouse at the Jewish Museum in London, opening next month.

Amy Winehouse was killed by bulimia

Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse was killed by bulimia, 

not drugs, says her brother

Drink and drugs took their toll but eating disorder fatally weakened Amy, says Alex Winehouse
  • The Observer, 
Amy Winehouse
Amy Winehouse performing in 2007, four years before her death. “What really killed her was the bulimia,” said Alex Winehouse. Photograph: James McCauley / Rex Features
Amy Winehouse, whose life was dogged by drug and alcohol abuse, was killed by an eating disorder rather than by her addictions, according to her brother.
In his first full-length interview, Alex Winehouse, 33, the singer's older brother, told the Observer Magazine that his sister's long battle with bulimia "left her weaker, and more susceptible". He added: "She would have died eventually, the way she was going, but what really killed her was the bulimia."
Winehouse, who won five Grammy awards for her breakthrough album, Back to Black, died in July 2011 at the age of 27.
An inquest recorded a verdict of misadventure after finding that she had 416mg of alcohol per decilitre in her blood – more than five times the legal drink-drive limit and enough to make her comatose and depress her respiratory system.
According to her brother, who was speaking to mark the opening of an exhibition dedicated to his sister's life at the Jewish Museum in Camden, north London, her system had been fatally weakened by years of bulimia, a disease in which bouts of extreme overeating are followed by depression and self-induced vomiting. "Had she not have had an eating disorder, she would have been physically stronger," he said.
Alex Winehouse revealed that Amy had developed bulimia in her late teens and had never shaken off the illness. He explained that, as a 17-year-old, his sister had a group of friends who "were all doing it. They'd put loads of rich sauces on their food, scarf it down and throw it up. They stopped doing it, but Amy never really stopped. We all knew she was doing it but it's almost impossible [to tackle], especially if you're not talking about it."
According to Beat, the world's largest eating disorders charity, there is a lack of data detailing how many people in the UK suffer from an eating disorder. Although the Department of Health provides hospital episode statistics, these include only those affected by eating disorders who are being treated as NHS inpatients. As a result, the figures omit all those who have not come forward, have not been diagnosed, are receiving private treatment or are being treated as an outpatient or in the community.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) suggests 1.6 million people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder, of whom around 11% are male. More recent research from the NHS, however, suggested up to 6.4% of adults potentially 3.2 million people, display signs of an eating disorder..
It is estimated that, of those with eating disorders, 40% are bulimic. Bulimia is associated with severe medical complications. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder. Research has found that 20% of anorexia sufferers will die prematurely.
After Winehouse's death, her family set up a foundation in her name to curb misuse of drug and alcohol by young people. The Amy Winehouse Foundation is run by Alex and his father, Mitch, a singer and former black cab driver.
The charity recently donated money to Beat to enable it to continue running an internet forum with a dedicated moderator.
Alex Winehouse said: "We had to support eating disorder charities because no one talks about it. The situation in this country is that about five or six years ago there were around 10-15 eating disorder charities out there. Now there's only three, one of which is exclusively for young men.
"Beat was in real need of an online forum … so that there's always someone there to talk to. I just want to try to raise awareness of bulimia. It's a real dark, dark issue."

Monday, July 27, 2015

Growing up with my sister Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse

Growing up with my sister Amy Winehouse

As an exhibition opens about her family life, Amy Winehouse's brother Alex talks in his first major interview about the girl who became a superstar – and reveals what he thinks really killed her
    • The Observer, 
Amy outside her Gran's flat
'She was annoying, frustrating, a pain. But she was also incredibly generous, very caring': Amy Winehouse as a teenager outside her grandmother's flat. Photograph: Winehouse Foundation
A few months ago, almost two years after his sister Amy's death at the age of 27, Alex Winehouse was sorting through her possessions and came across a child-size navy blue jumper. The jumper turned out to be part of Amy's old school uniform from Osidge Primary School in Southgate, north London that, unbeknown to her family, she had stowed away carefully for years.
"I couldn't believe she had that," Alex says now, sitting in a sun-streamed room, one leg resting across the other and leaning back in his chair. This is his first ever full-length interview, given to mark the opening of a major new exhibition at the Jewish Museum entitled Amy Winehouse: a Family Portrait. The school jumper, Alex says, is his favourite exhibit.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Why the Amy Winehouse film is little better than the paps who hounded her

Amy Winehouse
Poster by T.A.

Why the Amy Winehouse film is little better than the paps who hounded her


Asif Kapadia’s documentary, which chronicled Winehouse’s turbulent and brief life, walks a thin line between insight and exploitation

Ruby Lott-Lavigna
Wednesday 22 July 2015 15.44 BST

In our image-saturated culture, where we sit drooling at our computer screens hungry for the latest bit of celebrity gossip, it’s no wonder that we are all fascinated by the Amy Winehouse story. Graphic and upsetting in equal measure, the narrative of the talented yet troubled artist who struggles to reconcile her artistic ambitions with society’s demand for celebrity satisfies our hunger on all counts. Just like a car crash, we want to look away but we simply can’t.
If you think I’m being disrespectful in reducing an upsetting story of self-destruction into a bite-sized bit of gossip then I would have to agree with you. 
Unfortunately, this seems to be the attitude of the new documentary Amy, which compiles personal footage and talking heads to canonise Winehouse. Critics have applauded it – Mark Kermode calling it a “sober, unsensational and overwhelmingly sad film” and Robbie Collin from The Daily Telegraph “piercingly sad and honourable film” – seemingly to focus on the heart-wrenching nature of the story and empathise with the subject rather than the form.

Amy Winehouse

Crucially, all the critics seem to overlook the film’s exploitative lens: a lens that lingers on intimate images of Winehouse gaunt and high, or on the shocking footage of her body being removed from her Camden home in a body bag. One that leers at her bulimia-wrecked form or even more questionably, uses paparazzi footage in the same breath as explaining how being hounded by the press drove her closer to breaking point. The documentary lacks a voice, supplementing this void with a tabloid-esque scrapbook timeline transposed to screen. Using personal footage and amateurishly inscribing her lyrics across the stage as she sings them, it is reminiscent of a fan-made YouTube video. The documentary seems to lack any moral control, instead stacking one image of a drunken Winehouse on top of another, gradually effacing its own credibility.
The reluctance to call out the film for being tragedy porn misplaces the sensitivity we should feel when dealing with the Winehouse story. I’m unsure why the reviews fail to address it: probably as a result of conflating respect for Winehouse with respect for the film. In fact, I think the inverse should be true here – anyone who wishes to be considerate of the posthumous star and her family should strongly question the film. Indeed, how can anyone familiar with the story feel comfortable watching footage of her in such vulnerable condition? It is footage that contributes nothing aesthetically or narratively to the film, working only to accentuate the shock factor.
Amy poses important questions about the way we memorialise artists, and indeed, whether gender plays a part in the way we remember them, or even deal with them when they’re alive. Part of me would have felt better consuming something that gave the graphic imagery a value, though this in itself is not watertight ethically. Why is it acceptable to show images of Winehouse slurring her lyrics on stage high or drunk or both, under the guise of art?
The truth is, I felt no artistic catharsis to justify the images I saw. Instead, I was left feeling uncomfortable, ashamed that I’d been complicit in the tabloid culture that in part pushed Winehouse into exactly the darkness that the film attempted to document.


Saturday, July 25, 2015

My hero / EL Doctorow by Michael Schmidt

EL Doctorow

My hero: EL Doctorow by Michael Schmidt
If there was a Great American Novel it would be Doctorow’s Ragtime, that melting pot of historical presences and common people

Michael Schmidt
25 JULY 2015

Edgar Lawrence Doctorow’s relation to the American novel was radical, contrary and corrective. He respected his readers, and was a literal-minded, unillusioned patriot at odds with those who exploit patriotism. If there was a Great American Novel it would be Ragtime (1975), that melting pot of historical presences and common people, from Emma Goldman to JP Morgan,Henry Ford to Theodore Dreiser, the jazz trumpeter to the disenfranchised worker, resurrected with all their bodily functions functioning, in a world so vividly imagined that it breathes something more than oxygen back into their lungs.
Doctorow writes as a grandson of Russian-Jewish immigrants, who understands the world of outsiders. All of his novels cross, back and forth, the border between history and fiction, and feed historical understanding – of the civil war, the birth of the American century, the Depression, the McCarthy era. They are alive to social inequality and racial injustice, exploring that moral innocence which issues in the cruel, creative, reductive self-interest of the political, business and criminal worlds. He evokes the full spectrum, from American dream to American nightmare. John Updike loved his “information-rich prose“ and how his “impertinent imagination holds fast to the reality of history even as he paints it in heightened colours“.
Doctorow’s novels grow out of earlier novels as well as history. Billy Bathgate(1989) is an urban Huckleberry Finn; the narrator’s voice one of unattenuated innocence witnessing a predatory world. It is a road novel, a picaresque adventure. Is it true? No, Billy’s voice is nuanced beyond his years and education. Is it credible? Yes, because Doctorow has trusted his narrative instincts and gone with them, because of Billy’s “puckish truculence”. Welcome to Hard Times(1960) is an anti-western, “playing against the music already in the reader’s head”. There is not, as with Mailer or Roth or Bellow, a sense of oeuvre. Each of his novels starts from scratch. This worked against the recognition of his stature and his legacy, a library of freestanding books that belong equally on the history and literature shelves, that engage and memorably inform. But literature, he wrote, “gives to the reader something more than information. Complex understandings – indirect, intuitive and nonverbal – arise from the words of the story”. The reader lives the book.
 Michael Schmidt’s The Novel: A Biography is published by Harvard.

Amy Winehouse / Ten years from now I’ll be 30, so I’ll maybe have one baby

Amy Winehouse unpublished 2004 interview: ‘Ten years from now I’ll be 30, so I’ll maybe have one baby’


The singer listed her life ambitions in an early interview conducted a decade ago


Amy Winehouse detailed her dreams to have children in a previously unpublished 2004 interview.

“Ten years from now I’ll be 30, so I’ll maybe have one baby,” she said.

“I’ll have out my second album and a couple of concept EPs, and my real honest music will be saved up for the big albums.”

The feature never ran in the targeted weekend magazine because the editor thought Winehouse would never amount to anything. She had released her debut album, Frank, only a few months before, which went was certified double platinum by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry for sales of more than two million copies in Europe alone.

Winehouse died on 23 July 2011, aged 27 of alcohol poisoning, following a period of abstinence. She battled with drug addiction throughout the last few years of her life, regularly using heroin, crack cocaine and cannabis, but quit them in 2000.

“Oh I do see myself settling down, getting married and having kids,” she continued. “But when I think about a family life in the future there’s rarely a man involved which is kind of weird.

“I think I’d be a good mum, well, I hope so. I hope I won’t be a shit mum. When I have kids I want to have loads of them, at least five. I’ll always work from home and have a studio in my house.

“I imagine I’m recording downstairs in my basement and the kids come down looking for their mummy then they’ll pretend to sing into the microphone and it’ll be cute.“

The singer also discussed her childhood and her infamous rebellious streak.

"I wasn’t a tearaway but I definitely wouldn’t conform to anything,” she said.

“I was bad with authority and didn’t want to be told what to do. I’ve never been an idiot – I was a smart girl but I’d do stupid things like go around Asda and nick stuff because my friends told me to. I was a good girl as a teenager.“

She was also asked how she’d like to be remembered – and, although tragic, her wishes came true.

"I’d like to be remembered as someone who wasn’t satisfied with just one level of musicianship… as someone who was a pioneer,” she said. “I’ve got all this time to make that happen, that’s what’s so exciting. I’ve got years to do music."


Friday, July 24, 2015

Amy Winehouse / In her own words

Amy Winehouse: in her own words


In a previously unseen interview from 2006, Amy Winehouse shared her love for Sarah Vaughan, gospel music and the Shangri-Las – as well as recalling her first big break

  • Amy Winehouse and her brother Alex
Amy Winehouse and her brother Alex

On her musical evolution

When I was younger, I didn't really listen to a lot of soul. But in the last year I got really into Motown girl groups. I liked Otis Redding from 14 or 15, but I listened to hip-hop and jazz for so many years. It goes jazz, soul, Motown, then hip-hop. Obviously, I've gone in the middle.

On gospel

I've been listening to a lot of gospel singers like Mahalia Jackson andAretha Franklin. I love gospel, because gospel is so truthful. You know, I'm not religious, but there is nothing more pure than the relationship you have with your God – there is nothing stronger than that apart from your love of music. Gospel is very inspirational.

On Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington

Ella Fitzgerald knew how to carry a tune, but to me she's just like a lot of other people. You can hear her and go: that's Ella Fitzgerald, but it's not like she stood out. Sarah Vaughan is one of my favourite singers of all time. She was an instrument. I've heard one record, it's like a humming solo, and she sounds like a reed instrument – like a clarinet. I came to Sarah Vaughan later: I was about 18. And I learned to sing from Dinah Washington, and from stuff like [Thelonious] Monk. It wasn't just the vocal jazz – I learned from everything, really.

On her brother's music collection

My brotherwas listening to stuff like Sonic Youth and Pearl Jam and Therapy, really, like, I-want-to-die bands. I had a really brief flirtation with that, but I must have been nine – and then I discovered Salt-n-Pepaand I was like: I've got my music now. He started listening to jazz when he was about 18 and I was 14. I just remember the first time I ever heard[Monk's] Around Midnight, through the wall. I was just like: what is that? And I remember the first time I heard Ray Charles. It was Unchain My Heart. I remember walking into my brother's room. I always used to knock because he would throw stuff at you if you didn't. But I opened the door and he goes, what? He looked at me as if I was about to go, "Mum's dead" or something (touch wood). He goes what's wrong and I went: "Who is this?" And he went: "It's Ray Charles." Then I just listened to Ray Charles for three months, exclusively.

On her first break

I did one gig as a singer for the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, which everyone has come through or goes through at some point. That was my first and last gig, because my manager came and said, "We'll give you loads of studio time - just go in and play guitar and write songs." And I was like: thanks, why? And he was like you're going to make an album and then I'm going to get you signed and everything. So it was cool. A couple of months ago, I did a massive opening for a casino. I'd go out with just my piano player and we would do jazz all night. Or sometimes there are these Russian bankers that really like me because I'm a Russian Jew. They always book me if they are in town, and we do jazz for them. We don't do my stuff.

On the Shangri-Las

I love the drama, I love the atmosphere, I love the sound effects. And they wrote the most depressing song ever: I Can Never Go Home Anymore. When me and my boyfriend finished, I used to listen to that song on repeat, just sitting on my kitchen floor with a bottle of Jack Daniel's. I'd pass out, wake up and do it again. My flatmate used to come in, leave bags of KFC and just leave. She'd be like: there's your dinner, I'm going out. It's the saddest song in the world.
This is an edited extract from a previously unbroadcast interview, recorded at the Other Voices festival in Dingle in 2006. Amy Winehouse: The Day She Came to Dingle, an Arena documentary for BBC4, will be broadcast at 10pm tonight.

• This article was amended on 31 July 2012. The original misspelled Thelonious Monk's first name as Thelonius. This has been corrected.