Review: Mitch Winehouse – “Amy, My Daughter

Amy, My DaughterAmy, My Daughter by Mitch Winehouse
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book starts with the end of Amy Winehouse. Her father receives the call from one of their security boys, who says he needs to come home at once. He then knew, and so the book begins from Amy’s beginning.

It’s a quite chronological book published nearly a month before the one-year mark of Amy’s death, and it is done to draw money to The Amy Winehouse Foundation, which her father founded after her death.

The first thing that I felt while reading the start of the book, was a weird feeling that it’s saturated by honesty. I know, Amy’s dad could have written anything in here and is the only one to know whether it’s true or not, but then again, he brings out a few of his own faults in this entire story. In the end: who knows? It’s definitely not the quite horrid book on Nancy Spungen, as written by her mother Deborah.

Amy Winehouse seemed to have a very special, close bond with her father, who stayed close to her until the very end.

This book shows her as a human being, filled with laughter, brilliant song-writing and singing capacity and immense tragedy, notably through her tragic infatuation with Blake Fielder-Civil, the man she married and who turned her onto Class-A drugs.

It’s actually worthy to notice that Amy Winehouse died from alcohol problems, and that she at that point hadn’t done Class-A drugs in almost three years’ time. Of course, her Class-A addictions might have been a in indirect reason to her death, in the end.

The book portrays her as a human being, i.e. in another way than the papers portrayed her, e.g. when she was little and misbehaving in school:

Over time Amy got worse in the classroom. Janis and I were called to the school for meetings about her behaviour on numerous occasions. I hope the head of year didn’t see me trying not to laugh as he told us, “˜Mr and Mrs Winehouse, Amy has already been sent to see me once today and, as always, I knew it was her before she got to my office “¦’ I knew if I looked at Janis I’d crack up. “˜How did I know?’ the head of year continued. “˜She was singing “Fly Me To The Moon“ loudly enough for the whole school to hear.’ I knew I shouldn’t laugh, but it was so typically Amy. She told me later that she’d sung it to calm herself down whenever she knew she was in trouble. Just about the only thing she seemed to enjoy about school was performance. However, one year when Amy sang in a show she wasn’t very good. I don’t know what went wrong ““ perhaps it was the wrong key for her again ““ but I was disappointed. The following year things were different. “˜Dad, will you both come to see me at Ashmole?’ she asked. “˜I’m singing again.’ To be honest, my heart sank a bit, with the memory of the previous year’s performance, but of course we went. She sang the Alanis Morissette song “˜Ironic’, and she was as terrific as I knew she could be. What I wasn’t expecting was everyone else’s reaction: the whole room sat up. Wow, where did this come from?

Learning that Amy suffered from an immense stage-fright and often tried to solve that by drinking before going on-stage was enlightening. Apparently, that’s what caused her first and last performance in Belgrade to be a complete disaster.

Before that, though, she would be prone to break off important business meetings such as one prior to the release of “Frank”, her debut album. On the other hand, one of her friends wouldn’t have it:

“˜I’m putting you in that dumpster until you say you’re going to the meeting,’ he told her. Amy started to laugh because she thought Nick wouldn’t do it, but he picked her up, put her in the dumpster and closed the lid. “˜I’m not letting you out until you say you’re coming to the meeting.’ She was banging on the side of the dumpster and shouting her head off. But it was only after she’d agreed to go to the meeting that Nick let her out. She immediately screamed, “˜KIDNAP! RAPE!’ They were still arguing as they walked into the meeting. “˜Sorry we’re late,’ Nick said. Then Amy jumped in: “˜Yeah, that’s cos Nick just tried to rape me.’

And then, she met someone:

After Frank came out, Amy would begin a performance at a gig by walking onstage, clapping and chanting, “˜Class-A drugs are for mugs. Class-A drugs are for mugs “¦’ She’d get the whole audience to join in until they’d all be clapping and chanting as she launched into her first number. Although Amy was smoking cannabis, she had always been totally against class-A drugs. Blake Fielder-Civil changed that. Amy first met him early in 2005 at the Good Mixer pub in Camden. None of Amy’s friends that I’ve spoken to over the years can remember exactly what led to this meeting. But after that encounter she talked about him a lot. “˜When am I going to meet him, darling?’ I asked. Amy was evasive, which was probably, I learned later, because Blake was in a relationship. Amy knew about this, so initially you could say that Amy was “˜the other woman’. And although she knew that he was seeing someone else, it was only about a month after they’d met that she had his name tattooed over her left breast. It was clear that she loved him ““ that they loved each other ““ but it was also clear that Blake had his problems. It was a stormy relationship from the start. A few weeks after they’d met, Blake told Amy that he’d finished with the other girl, and Amy, who never did anything by halves, was now fully obsessed with him.

And in that relationship, on working with Mark Ronson on her second album, “Back To Black”:

A lot of her songs were to do with Blake, which did not escape Mark’s attention. She told Mark that writing songs about him was cathartic and that “˜Back to Black’ summed up what had happened when their relationship had ended: Blake had gone back to his ex and Amy to black, or drinking and hard times. It was some of her most inspired writing because, for better or worse, she’d lived it. Mark and Amy inspired each other musically, each bringing out fresh ideas in the other. One day they decided to take a quick stroll around the neighbourhood because Amy wanted to buy Alex Clare a present. On the way back Amy began telling Mark about being with Blake, then not being with Blake and being with Alex instead. She told him about the time at my house after she’d been in hospital when everyone had been going on at her about her drinking. “˜You know they tried to make me go to rehab, and I told them, no, no, no.’ “˜That’s quite gimmicky,’ Mark replied. “˜It sounds hooky. You should go back to the studio and we should turn that into a song.’ Of course, Amy had written that line in one of her books ages ago. She’d told me before she was planning to write a song about what had happened that day, but that was the moment “˜Rehab’ came to life. Amy had also been working on a tune for the “˜hook’, but when she played it to Mark later that day it started out as a slow blues shuffle ““ it was like a twelve-bar blues progression. Mark suggested that she should think about doing a sixties girl-group sound, as she liked them so much. He also thought it would be fun to put in the Beatles-style E minor and A minor chords, which would give it a jangly feel. Amy was unaccustomed to this style ““ most of the songs she was writing were based around jazz chords ““ but it worked and that day she wrote “˜Rehab’ in just three hours. If you had sat Amy down with a pen and paper every day, she wouldn’t have written a song. But every now and then, something or someone turned the light on in her head and she wrote something brilliant. During that time it happened over and over again. The sessions in the studio became very intense and tiring, especially for Mark, who would sometimes work a double shift and then fall asleep. He would wake up with his head in Amy’s lap and she would be stroking his hair, as if he was a four-year-old. Mark was a few years older than Amy, but he told me he found her very motherly and kind.

Seems she did have an acute sense of humor at times:

I pointed out that the BRIT Awards were looming, and even though she wasn’t nominated for anything, they wanted her to perform and receive a special achievement award. I explained to her, though, that unless I knew she wasn’t taking drugs, I would make sure she didn’t perform. “˜I’m gonna do it, Dad,’ she insisted. “˜Look, I’ve even emailed Ronson about it.’ She showed me what she’d sent him.

SUBJECT: My God you’re ugly.
TEXT: Are you coming to the BRITS, you savage, savage man. I would prefer Maud, but Madonna couldn’t even fast-track the quarantine laws. I did everything, trust me. I go bananas over you. Levi Levine p.s. Frank Sinatra is and always will be God.

I laughed. “˜I suppose Maud’s his dog? And why’d you call yourself Levi Levine?’ But Amy had drifted off to sleep.

Then came the Class-A drugs that she had been ranting against before meeting Blake:

The day-to-day changes in Amy amazed me: the next evening Raye called me from the studio to say that she and Mark had had a really good day working. He also said that she had been able to take her prescribed Subutex, as she had been drug-free for twelve hours. When it came time for her next dose, though, she couldn’t have it as, once again, she had taken other drugs. As a result, she went into withdrawal and the whole process started yet again. That Sunday, I drove down to the Henley studio to find Amy in bed. She was filthy and suffering the effects of withdrawal. I managed to get her into the shower, realizing again how painfully thin she was. If Amy had died at that point, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised. I put her back to bed and stayed with her until she fell asleep. Sitting in a chair next to her bed, I despaired. I was running out of ideas. If she took drugs she couldn’t take Subutex for twelve hours. If she didn’t take Subutex she went into withdrawal so she took more drugs. A horrible vicious circle.

…and everything spiralling out of control every time she and Blake would have problems, plus the drugs:

All this was still going on when I got there and I had to force her on to her bed to stop her harming herself even more. I held her in my arms until she finally calmed down, then got a nurse to patch her up and to stay with her. I wrote in my diary, “˜This has been one of the worst days of my life. I don’t know what to do next. Please God, give me the strength and wisdom to help Amy.’ Every day brought a new set of horrors. The following week Amy presented herself, on schedule, at Limehouse Police Station, accompanied by Raye and Brian Spiro, to talk to them about the crack-cocaine video. Of course, she was high on drugs and drink. Amy was charged and bailed to return there later that month. When I mentioned rehab, all Amy could say, in her drink- and drug-fuelled state, was, “˜I’m not going to any facility, I want to go to Holloway,’ meaning the women’s prison in north London. Although the Bond song had now been cancelled, a couple of days later Amy wanted to go back to Henley to work on other stuff, so I arranged for her to go while I stayed in London. Over the week, I checked in regularly with Dale Davis, her bassist and musical director. Some days they were getting work done, on others Amy was being yelled at on the phone by Blake so she’d get high to console herself.

Perhaps the most difficult thing about loving and helping an addict, which most people who haven’t been through it don’t understand, is this: every day the cycle continues is your new worst day. When looked at from the outside it seems endless, the same thing over and over again; but when you’re living it, it’s like being a hamster on a wheel. Every day there’s the chronic anxiety of waiting for news, the horrible rush when it turns out to be bad, the overwhelming sense of déjà  vu ““ and the knowledge that, despite your best efforts, you’ll probably be here again. Even so-called good days are not without their drawbacks. You enjoy them as much as you can, but in the back of your mind there’s the lurking fear that tomorrow you could be back to square one again, or worse. For me, this was life with Amy. If I was stopped by someone in the street and they asked how Amy was doing, I knew they wouldn’t understand if I told them what was going on. I’d learned that it’s nearly impossible to explain how this could keep happening. I’d imagined that, as they offered sympathy, they’d be wondering, How can her family let this carry on? Or, Why didn’t they lock her up until she was clean? But unless an addict wants to quit, they’ll find a way to get drugs, and as soon as they leave the rehab facility they’ll pick up where they left off. Long before Amy was an addict, no one could tell her what to do. Once she became an addict, that stubbornness just got worse. There were times when she wanted to be clean, but the times when she didn’t outnumbered them.

Later, Amy rid herself of the drugs, but never the alcohol. She found love again in Reg, a man who seems to have treated her with love, care and a lot of affection, and they spoke of getting married.

In the end, I think it seems that Amy was on the way to recovery from alcohol addiction, but it killed her. She had stated that trying to quit alcohol was much harder than trying to quit drugs.

At the end:

I knew that Amy couldn’t have died from a drug overdose, as she had been drug-free since 2008. But although she had been so brave and had fought so hard in her recovery from alcoholism, I knew she must have lapsed once again. I thought that Amy hadn’t had a drink for three weeks. But she had actually started drinking at Dionne’s Roundhouse gig the previous Wednesday. I didn’t know that at the time. The following morning Janis, Jane, Richard Collins (Janis’s fiancé), Raye, Reg and I went to St Pancras mortuary to officially identify Amy. Alex couldn’t bring himself to go, which I fully understood. When we arrived there were loads of paps outside the court, but they were all very respectful. We were shown into a room and saw Amy behind a window. She looked very, very peaceful, as if she was just asleep, which in a way made it a lot harder. She looked lovely. There was a slight red blotchiness to her skin, which was why, at the time, I thought she might have had a seizure: she looked as she had done when she had had seizures in the past. Eventually the others left Janis and me to say goodbye to Amy by ourselves. We were with her for about fifteen minutes. We put our hands on the glass partition and spoke to her. We told her that Mummy and Daddy were with her and that we would always love her. I can’t express what it was like. It was the worst feeling in the world.

All in all: a very moving, sad, tragic, frustrating, beautiful and interesting book about a regular person with massive talent and lyrical intelligence. Highly recommendable.

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One Response to “Review: Mitch Winehouse – “Amy, My Daughter“”

  1. Niklas' blog » Blog Archive » Quotes from “Amy, My Daughter” by Mitch Winehouse Says:

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