As of a month ago, I knew very little about Amy Winehouse. I remember when the song Rehab flooded the U.S. airwaves, forever imprinting her voice on our collective mind, whether we were fans or not. When she died in July of last year, I, like many out there living much of our lives on the Internet, snickered at jokes made on Facebook, “she should have gone to rehab, yes, yes, yes” and other insensitive mockery. All I knew of Winehouse was what the media fed us on a mass scale: a drugged up, anorexic mess with a tumultuous relationship with husband Blake Civil-Fielder. When she died, the general consensus was that it was bound to happen given her drug abuse and lifestyle.
In June of this year, the biography Amy, My Daughter hit the stands, written by Mitch Winehouse, Amy’s father. It was an intriguing concept, a book written from a father’s point of view on his deceased daughter. Not knowing what exactly to expect, I gave it a go and found that it’s appeal factor would extend to a number of people in a number of directions. It’s about love: familial, romantic, platonic and artistic. It’s about passion. It’s about God-given talent and creative output. It’s about loving someone with an addiction and it’s about helplessness. It’s about perceptions of addiction. It’s about relapse and struggle. It’s about the media and how they filter the truth. It’s also about how one loser can really fuck up your life.
Mitch Winehouse’s writing is honest and accessible and doesn’t bog you down with self-pity or an over-inflated picture of Amy (besides what your typical father doting allows). He begins with the end of Amy’s life, and then backtracks to her childhood through adulthood to the end again. Much of the book describes her spunky personality and close-knit family unit. Given all the negative press about Amy, it’s a wonder that she came from such a grounded and supportive family. Even her parents, who divorced when Amy was young kept a friendly relationship thereafter. When Mitch describes her addiction and his reaction to it, he holds nothing back, including the ugliness of Amy’s actions, and similarly the ugliness of his response. His candid storytelling adds credibility to his point of view because he admits to situations where he may be seen as less than honorable, and dares to cast his daughter in a negative light for the sake of truth, whereas most parents tend to inflate their child’s persona. He tells her life as he remembers it, and he remembers it well because he kept a diary throughout her years of stardom and addiction documenting their family’s highs and lows.
AMD carries you through her 27 year-old life and career, revealing details that allow you to gain a more thorough understanding of who Amy was as a woman and an artist. For example, Amy wrote all of her own songs, which is surprising in this culture of mass produced, factory style music. Because of her songwriting style, each song is a small window into a very personal and often painful time in her life. Another surprising facet of Amy’s life was that she didn’t abuse drugs or alcohol until the met Blake Civil-Fielder, whom she later married and divorced. Popular notions of the musician paint pictures of a hardcore addict who lived on the edge, but as her father reveals there were often spurts of sobriety where she would write and spend time with her family, but she always struggled daily with drug abuse, especially when using with Civil-Fielding. After her husband was thrown in prison for bribery, Amy was able to get clean of hard drugs, which translated to alcoholism and was the ultimate cause of her demise.
Amy’s music acts as a bittersweet reminder of an extraordinarily talented young woman who suffered from substance abuse and died as a result. It’s a sad wonder to think of what she could have done in the future, but luckily for us we are able to enjoy the three albums that she was able to create during her short life. This book is a historical blueprint that enriches how we experience her music. Mitch Winehouse’s biography on his daughter is essential reading in order to truly understand the woman behind the music.