Happy Saturday! I am so, so happy it’s the weekend (I hate being that person) – this week was so crazy at work and, even though I have lots of things on my to-do list this weekend, I’m happy just to be out of the office.
I actually read the latest pick from Blanche’s Book Club in one sitting last Sunday, but it’s taken me all week to gather my thoughts on it for you. So let’s get into it! Today, I’m talking about, “Amy, My Daughter” by Mitch Winehouse. Here is the description from Amazon:
The intimate, inside story of the ultimately tragic life of multiple Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter Amy Winehouse (“Rehab,” “Back to Black”) is told by the one person most able to tell it—Amy’s closest advisor, her inspiration, and best friend: her father, Mitch. Amy, My Daughter includes exclusive, never-before-seen photos and paints an open and honest portrait of one of the greatest musical talents of our time.
Before I get into the heart of the book, I want to say that it took me a really long time to read it. Amy Winehouse’s album “Back to Black” changed my life – sounds super cheesy, but I loved that album (still do).
I listened to it on repeat, and when she got her first “Rolling Stone” cover, I was quick to buy it and read the feature. But it was then I realized all of the drug references in her album were…actually true. And I cried. I remember calling my mom and saying that Amy Winehouse was going to die and why was she living like that?
But still, I loved her and her music, and I framed that cover and hung it in my apartment. Today, it’s hanging in my kitchen. When I learned about Amy’s death, I was heartbroken. I can’t say I was surprised, but I felt she was gone way too soon.
Since then, however, I’ve lived a little more. I’ve dated an addict. And I’ve seen just how bad things can get. I know what it’s like to be with someone that’s possibly the worst person in the world for you. I know what it’s like to hang around a bad crowd. And I know what it’s like to not give a shit about yourself to the point of danger.
When I finally picked this book up from the library and posted about it on social media – I got messages immediately. I was quickly reminded just how controversial Amy was/is and how many questions still surround her short life, and the way she died.
I’ll admit that I didn’t read much press about Amy, even when she was alive. I knew about her husband, Blake, and I knew she was battling addiction and was very close to being thrown in jail. I saw clips of her drunken performances. But, that’s about it.
I still haven’t watched the documentary, and I didn’t know much about her family before reading this book. What I did know, though, is that you cannot force an addict to get help. An addict has to want to get the help for themselves.
I also knew that myself, nor any of the people spouting off opinions, have ever been famous to the point that Amy Winehouse was. Photographers basically lived in her yard, waiting for her to step outside. None of us know what that’s like.
Her music came from a place of pain. In a way, that’s why it was so good. But it was also a part of her downfall.
So, let’s get into the book.
For starters, it’s written by Amy’s dad, Mitch – an important consideration when he talks about his opinion of Amy’s music, and her hair and makeup (heh). He basically is telling Amy’s life story, but most of it does focus on the years when she was in the spotlight while battling addiction. Here are some of the lines I made note of:
- It was precisely because her songs were dragged up out of her soul that they were so powerful and passionate. The ones that went into Back to Black were about the deepest of emotions. And she went through hell to make it.
- While the album’s success altered Amy’s career in every way imaginable, it came with a high price tag. The nature of the songs made it hard for her to feel as excited as you might expect about the album’s reception and success. Whereas people might walk along the street humming “Love is a Losing Game”, to Amy it was like a knife in her heart, a reminder of the worst of times.
- I didn’t think Amy would die, but I just couldn’t see a way out of this. You don’t become an expert in anything overnight, and I was still learning how best to deal with an addict.
- 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.
I want to touch on that last point. Amy went to rehab more than a dozen times. Honestly, reading about all of her incidents in the book became a bit exhausting. Each page was starting to sound the same – in the morning she’d say she wanted to get clean, and by lunch there were drug dealers bringing her crack and by nightfall, she was high. The next day, the same thing.
Even with a nurse by her side, waiting for the 12-hour sobriety mark so she could start a proper detox, Amy could not stay sober. She often had drugs brought to her in rehab – stuffed inside teddy bears or hidden in flower bouquets.
As much as I loved her, she lived probably longer than a similar addict would have. Her family did everything they could to help her – kicking people out of her house, supporting her music, hiring guards to keep drug dealers out of rehab, etc.
I cried while reading this book, as it truly is just a tragic story. A talent gone too soon. Some of the most beautiful things come from the darkest of places – but there is often a price to pay, and she suffered the ultimate one.
My heart breaks for her family, particularly her dad, but I know there are fans across the world that will never forget the gift she left all of us, and the path she created for a new kind of woman in music.
I wish I could say no regrets
And no emotional debts
Cause as we kiss goodbye the sun sets
So we are history
The shadow covers me
The sky above ablaze that only lovers see
-Amy Winehouse, “Tears Dry On Their Own”
I’m recommending this book to Amy Winehouse fans – especially those that were not jaded from the (apparently) subjective view of the documentary.
The next book Blanche’s Book Club will be reading is “How to Party With an Infant” by Kaui Hart Hemmings.
Happy Humpday, my friends! Ever since I found out I’m seeing the Backstreet Boys (in just a few short weeks), I have been taking a stroll down memory lane via old CDs. Yes, I still have CDs. A lot of them are still in my car, and once I got started, I couldn’t stop digging through my collection to see which ones still worked and what songs I still remembered.
So, I started thinking about the albums that really, really meant something to me – then, and still very much now. I didn’t realize it until I wrote this post, but they’re all female empowerment albums, so I guess you could say I’ve been a feminist from the start! Here are my life-changers:
Jagged Little Pill (1995)
I first heard Alanis Morissette when she released the music video for “Hand in my Pocket”. I thought she looked so cool, and I loved that song. I was in 5th grade, and she was speaking my soul.
Shortly after, she released “Ironic”, and I was hooked. I begged my mom to take me to see her in concert, and we did, and it was AWESOME (even though she’s a bit much in-person). I have no real idea how her lyrics connected with me at such a young age, but they did.
I had never experienced heartbreak, or at least not really, but I felt like an outsider, and she was rebellious and I liked that. And today? I still do. I actually have “Jagged Little Pill” on vinyl, and it is incredible. My favorite song has to be “All I Really Want”, because all I really want, is SOME JUSTICE…AAHHOOWWWOWOWOWOWOWWOOOOWWWW.
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998)
The Fugees’ album “The Score” was one of my first tastes of hip-hop. I loved it, so when Lauryn Hill debuted her solo album, I was all over it. And wow. I would venture to say this album has had the most impact on me, musically, in my life thus far.
This was a popular one, selling 1 million copies in its first month (8 million copies in 4 years), and it remained in the top charts for 81 weeks. At the time, Lauren Hill was an icon, and her album was everywhere – even later being placed on several “Best Album Ever” lists.
But in 2000, Hill basically disappeared from the public eye, and stayed hidden for nearly four years. To this day, anytime I see her on TV, I’m shocked. I know that a lot of artists describe an album release as having a child, and she also had a REAL child, after her album release… and I think that album was a once-in-a-lifetime thing.
Regardless, I respect her tremendously, and frankly, I don’t know where I’d be without “Ex-Factor”.
Back to Black (2006)
Amy, Amy, Amy… Rest in peace. I had been a long, long time since an album hit me like this one did. I was fresh off a string of bad men, and wow, this chick had something to say. Frankly, I didn’t realize her authenticity, until I read a Rolling Stone article about her life, her drug use, and her eternal love for Blake.
That article still hangs in a frame in my apartment. It was a true loss of innocence, but also a realization that this was an artist who wasn’t just putting on a show. Sadly, she was living every bit of her pain.
While I couldn’t connect with her drug and alcohol addiction, I could very well connect with her willingness to love wholeheartedly, even when it was just wrong. And I still very much love her for putting all of that into words – it healed me in a way I cannot full understand.
The title track is one of my favorites, as is “He Can Only Hold Her”… it all varies depending on my mood.
…There you have it! Notice you don’t see any John Mayer albums here… while all of his albums have meant a lot to me, they have served as “soundtracks” to sections of my life, but not anthems, if that makes sense (still love you, John!). I’d love to know what albums you can’t quit; tell me in the comments!
The following is an original piece, written by Holly A. Phillips in 2007. The characters and storyline is based off the song “Valerie,” sung by the great Amy Winehouse. Read part one here.
* * *
Kyle laughed. “Damn. It makes me want to address the crowd back at Killian’s. Remember that song we used to sing?”
“Valerie?” Mark asked. “Yeah… ‘stop makin’ a fool outta meeee, why don’t ‘tcha come on over, Valerie.”
Kyle laughed and strung along. “How ironic, right?”
“Well I guess, but I didn’t know any Valeries back then. I’d change the name to some drunk girl in the crowd, remember?” …’Since I’ve come home, well my body’s been a mess, and I miss your ginger hair and the way you like to dress…'”
Hours later, Mark and Kyle had finished a few beers. They’d sung in the garage and jammed for an invisible crowd until the cold air had frozen.
“Kim saw Val at the grocery the other day, said what happened…” Kyle said. “Do you miss her? You haven’t said anything about her.”
“Of course I do. She was here for years, but I guess we just saw things differently.”
“Don’t you want a family? Children are so great, really, you should see Kim with ours.”
“It isn’t that, man. I wanted things to happen in its own time, you know?” Mark said. “Val would just act like everything was cool until I’d step out of line once, then all of the sudden we’d be fighting about marriage.”
“I better get home,” he said. “Maybe we’ll do this again.”
Mark said goodbye. It was quiet. He furrowed his brow and began to shuffle his sock feet through the house. He went through the living room, where she’d screamed at him nights prior. He walked into the kitchen where he’d left a pile of dishes — Valerie always did those.
He opened the fridge, aiming to kill time. He shuffled down the hall where she’d torn their pictures off the wall on her way out. He passed shelves packed with books he’d only read half of. He climbed into bed, hoping he wouldn’t smell her perfume in the bed. He closed his eyes and tried to fall asleep, but his mind was buzzing.
Mark didn’t have serious girlfriends in college. He had several flings, but was often concentrated on music or schoolwork. Mark could see himself marrying Val, but he wanted her to calm down so he could ask on his own time. He didn’t want to force such an important decision. He loved Val and liked the way he felt when he was with her — the old Val, anyway. He didn’t know if those feelings would come back.
When Val left, it was a shock for Mark. He was emotional, but he generally just wanted her to be happy. So, he thought, if that’s what she wanted then so be it. Her calls were puzzling. Mark figured she was just remembering the past and acting on impulse. After all, they couldn’t build a marriage off a fond memory.
The next morning, Mark was uncovering more instruments in the garage and dusting off record collections. Someone knocked on his front door. He crept to the large door, got on his tip-toes and peered through the rectangle window. There she was, in her usual white coat. Her dark hair was pulled back, her eyes were squinting from the sun, and her red lips were pursed.
He walked through the garage to the foyer, opened the door, and stood.
“Hi,” Valerie said. “I heard loud music coming from the garage when I walked up.”
“Yeah, I was just playing some…” Mark paused. “You okay? Or… did you forget something?”
“Oh, well no, at least I don’t think so,” she said. “Can we talk?”
Mark didn’t know what to say.
She drew her hands across her chest. “It’s cold. Can I come in?”
Mark motioned toward the living room. Valerie stepped inside moving toward the couch. Mark stood in the doorway.
“Right here is fine,” Mark said.
“Okay, well, I’ve really missed you. I know we have different ways of showing how we care.”
Mark was silent.
“I mean maybe I can wait longer, I am only 32, you know?”
“Aren’t you going to say anything?” Val asked, getting annoyed. “Or maybe you could even sing something since that’s what you’ve been doing since I left.”
“Wow, yeah, okay let me sing you something Val. I don’t think you should wait any longer,” he said. “If you want to get married and have children, then I think you should go do it.”
“What?” she asked.
“Yeah, you told me I can’t commit to anything and maybe you’re right. So I can’t finish a book or a television series, but if it’s something I care about, I do commit, but you don’t see it that way.”
Valerie stormed to the door, throwing her polished red nails in the air. Mark followed her and closed the door. He moved back to his record collection singing the cover song.
“Stop makin’ a fool outta me… Valerie…”
The following piece is an original written by Holly A. Phillips in 2007. It was based on the song “Valerie,” sung by the one, the only Amy Winehouse.
* * *
He unfolded a black chair and put the acoustic on his knee; he closed his eyes and ran his fingers across the strings. It was severely out of tune, warped from the weather. He tightened the strings and worked them back to life, the sound becoming sweet.
It was 9pm on a frigid Thursday in November. The cold garage floor awakened him. Old boxes of music he’d just uncovered surrounded Mark.
“Can’t you commit to anything?” she asked four nights ago.
“Val, three years is a commitment,” he pleaded. “I am committed to you.”
“Make it official,” she said. “We are in our thirties, Mark. I want children, let’s get this show on the road.”
But now, it was too late. Valerie was gone, took her show on the road, but left Mark behind. Mark had, and still did love her. He never noticed any real problems between the two of them, until Valerie would explode over a late night dinner or during a sports program. She always said the same thing:
“Hello, don’t you see I’m here, too?” or “Mark, I worked on this dinner all afternoon, can’t you at least be on time or call me?”
Mark didn’t understand trivial matters, like calling. After all, they lived together.
In the garage, he moved onto the sky blue Fender and plugged in the amp; reveling in its static start. Mark moved about the garage, laughing at the chords he remembered and the songs his fingers had memorized. It was college again, only this time, he was alone in his garage wearing boxers, which were bigger — to compensate the beer he drank in those days.
Valerie was never a music lover like Mark. He’d grown up in a house, always listening to jazz and the blues. He moved through stages of interest, but played some rock in college with three of his buddies. They mainly did open-mic nights and frat parties, but it was some of the most fun Mark had.
The phone rang. Mark listened through the garage door that led into the kitchen to hear the answering machine.
“You’ve reached Mark and Val, leave us a message and we’ll get back to you.”
“Hey… it’s me, again… Mark, if you’re there please answer. I know it was me who left, but please, I really want to talk to you.” Valerie sighed and then hung up.
Mark met Val in college; they had a few classes together. They were never close until after graduation; they kept running into each other at coffee shops. Then, Val was bubbly and spontaneous. She was a dream. She’d show up unannounced with a homemade casserole and a bottle of wine, which they always enjoyed over a game of Scrabble. They fit together. When Mark was out with Valerie, he felt he could take over the city.
The relationship moved quickly, but it was natural, until they moved in together. Valerie was so buttoned-up all the time. She never wanted to relax and was always bringing up lunch conversations she had with her married friends. Those talks ended in Val muttering something about “free milk” and thing she would shake her ring finger in his face. Mark had never lived with a girlfriend before.
Mark got back to his music. He cleared out boxes, finding different pedals he once used. Each one warped the sound in its own way. Occasionally, he would stand up and sing.
There was a knock on the garage door.
“Great,” Mark said to himself. “Someone’s pissed about the noise.”
Mark pulled up on the large door to see his friend and neighbor, Kyle, standing in the driveway, equipped with his black, triangular electric in his hand.
“Hey man! Wow… been awhile,” Mark said.
“I know,” Kyle said. “But it’s alright. I heard some familiar music coming from out here, so I thought I’d join…”
Mark motioned Kyle into the garage and pulled the door down behind him.
“Great, man. I ran into a little extra time on my hands and been digging up our old stuff,” Mark said.
“Yeah,” Kyle said. “I haven’t played this thing since ’95. Kim was a little agitated when she saw me leave the house with it.”
Mark laughed as he walked into the kitchen.
“I bet,” he said. “Women worry, you know. But you don’t have to stay late — although it feels good to hear it all again.”
Mark cracked a few beers and moved back into the garage.
“Man, you kept all our old stuff. I don’t even remember half of it,” Kyle said.
“I know, but once you hear it, it really comes back,” Mark said, smiling. “It’s great.”
Mark plugged his guitar into an amp and started tuning. Mark worked the Fender, plugged in a pedal, and went to it.
Check out “Valerie”, part II, right here, next Friday, August 28.
I got a record player for my birthday! Wahoo! It’s something I’ve been wanting for years; mainly because I think it’d be really fun to hunt for records. I was always planning on buying a player for myself, but just never could get around to justifying it.
So, I asked for one and my mom got it for me, along with a few of my favorite records — Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” and Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill.”
I didn’t get a traditional-looking record player; I wanted something different, and something small. I don’t have much room for anything big in my apartment and the last thing I need is more clutter. I got the Sylvania Turntable in blue, with USB coding (see it here).
The cool thing about it is, you can use batteries with it if you aren’t in a situation to plug it in! And, if you buy a record that you don’t have otherwise, you can hook it up to your computer and it will put the digital files there. Neat!
Last Friday night, I got home from work and needed to get some cleaning done, so I decided to take a moment and set up my record player. Now, I’ve never even touched a record, so I actually did follow the provided directions.
It took me a minute to get everything set up, but I put in Jagged Little Pill first. Everything was sounding good, until it just wasn’t. The song slowed down and sounded completely warped. I looked into the other room where the record player was, and… Blanche.
The open-style of the Sylvania had tempted Blanche — think about it, an open-record, spinning — and she had her paw on the record. Nnnoooooo!
It took me 30 minutes of reminding Blanche, NO, we do not touch the record. This was very, very difficult, as Blanche is a kitty who loves two things: 1. Loud music, and 2. anything mysteriously moving.
But by side two, Blanche had distanced herself (1 foot) from the player and was being a decent cat about the situation. I just hope the record isn’t completely ruined.
In other news, being reminded how freaking good Jagged Little Pill was? PRICELESS. There are songs on there I totally forgot about, and as I was listening, and singing along, I was Googling, and found out that this month, the album turns 20. Wow (I actually found a recent article from Elle on the subject).
“One Hand in my Pocket” might still be my jam.
There’s a ton of albums on my wish list right now — John Mayer, of course, David Gray, Lauren Hill, Alicia Keys, Jamie Cullum, Chris Botti, etc. — but what are some you’ve heard that you think I’d like?
“I feel drunk but I’m sober, I’m young and I’m underpaid. I’m tired but I’m working, yeah. I care but I’m restless, I’m here but I’m really gone. I’m wrong and I’m sorry baby.” — One Hand in my Pocket