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.
A few years ago, I read a book called “The Bag Lady Papers,” by Alexandra Penney. Penney, a visual artist, lost her entire fortune in Bernie Madoff’s infamous Ponzi scheme in 2008.
The book begins when Penney hears the news of Madoff’s confession. She rifles through all of her paper statements, sent monthly by Madoff’s staff. The story continues in the months after her financial loss, as she sells her properties and looks for work.
I read the book years ago because I was fascinated how Madoff could pull off such an elaborate stunt. But I thought of it the other day, as I can relate (on a small level) to how Penney felt.
Penney was no doubt luckier than most would be in a situation like that. She was formerly the editor-in-chief of Self magazine, so she got a job right away blogging about her Madoff experience for The Daily Beast (which, I’ll admit was probably chump change compared to what she had invested with Madoff).
Because of this, her blog wasn’t loved as perhaps you’d think — readers couldn’t relate to the fact that she’d never ridden a subway, or eaten fast food, and she never gave up certain luxuries, such as her maid.
But I’ve been thinking a lot about this type of thing over the last few months. And you know what? Loss is loss. Sure, someone like Penney is better off than half the world, but she’d built a life for herself that she’d grown accustomed to.
It was a life that she’d worked all her life for. She even talked in the book about how she’d purchased her fine china one piece at a time over years and years, because it’s the only way she could afford it. But then, her money was taken from her by someone greedy, for no reason.
The best part about the book? The way Penney forged on. The day following the bad news, she got up early, and marched down to his office. And then? She looked for jobs. She put her homes up for sale.
Over the course of these six months (can you believe it’s been six months since my career change), many of the people I knew (even friends) put me in that box of “the girl who lost her job.” When in reality, that’s never who I’ve been, nor is it who I’ve become.
Every day since then, I have worked. Even on Christmas Day, I worked. I have gone days without sleep. But I’ve never missed a bill. I’ve never been late on a payment. I still go out to eat. I still live the same lifestyle. I’m still planning beach trips (!).
The truth is, if you’re quick to put someone in a box, that’s where they’ll stay. And the real loss of that belongs to the one who judges.
Today, Penney is still a successful photographer and a writer for The Daily Beast. Go girl!