Amy’s Requiem, in the season of mourning

Ahead? the return of Bernard Labadie, who was sick and is getting better. Saturday he’ll conduct the first of the Mozart @ 260 concerts with the TSO, next week conducting their adventurous staging of the Mozart Requiem.

Behind? A week that saw the passing of so many.

David Bowie

Brian Bedford & William Needles

Alan Rickman

The anniversary of my father’s passing is one marked every year in my family, casting a shadow over the beginning of the year, even without the additional sadness this week.

Between this litany of losses and the upcoming Requiem, I finally downloaded Amy,
Asif Kapadia’s 2015 documentary that I had been afraid to see for the longest time because i expected it to be too heart-breaking in its story of an untimely death of a true genius.  But i suddenly felt ready for it.  I guess it would be fair to say that i love her.

In some ways it’s exactly what I expected, a film that’s full of politics. As you watch the unfolding disaster of her life, the untimely death of Amy Winehouse, you sense the contention, fingers pointed. Whose fault was it? why did she have to die and who could have saved her?  Knowing how the story ends means there’s a huge weight hanging over the story, over her life.

But no, it’s not that kind of death after all, not that kind of film. No, it’s a chance to hear the voice and the songs, and to attempt to get inside the head of a brilliant talent while enjoying and celebrating the music.

In social media it’s possible to celebrate Bowie’s life, his achievements and the stories of what a great person he had been. Similarly we hear about the kindness of Rickman.

And so while everyone all around Amy tries to save her, she couldn’t be saved. At one time I think I recall an account in the press that seemed to blame a boyfriend, more or less the way Whitney Houston’s death has been blamed on a boyfriend. But that’s not how it happened. The boyfriend may have helped facilitate some of her habits, but her eyes were open, her choices lucid.  In a flashback her mother explains that she simply couldn’t be controlled, that she was larger than life even then.

I can’t get over the power of her most famous song, the one that suddenly elevated her in everyone’s eyes even as it seemed to celebrate an insane lifestyle. “Rehab” instantly begins with the expression of the conflict central to her life.

“They tried to make me go to rehab but I said no no no”.

The song erupts in the middle of her life-story, with a first line that in a heartless world would be her epitaph scrawled in blood on her grave-stone.

Eventually she did go. There are several heart-breaking moments in this film, but one I’ll never forget is the moment when she’s just won her Grammy (one of several) for “Rehab”. She had been clean for months at that point, other than her alcohol habit, and was telling her best friend at that very instant that she was so bored without drugs. The Grammy that might have stirred her earlier in her life? It meant little to her at this point.

If I may be forgiven for trying to psychoanalyze her, I felt very sad for her, that she lost her way. When she was younger she said she loved writing songs. At this point she was a genuine jazz artist, the voice her instrument, not her meal ticket. But she lost her way, seduced by the money people paid to hear her sing, and enslaved by the several substances she depended on (a horrific list).

Tony Bennett met her at one point, mightily impressed by her gift, yet he didn’t hear what we get to hear, namely the jazzier songs captured earlier in this wonderful film. I figured that however heart-breaking the film might be, I’d get to hear this wonderful voice, not expecting that I’d be discovering an original compositional voice.

At one point someone remarks that she sounded –in her early 20s—like a 65 year old jazz singer, little realizing how close she was to the end.

I look forward to listening to Amy again, less requiem than celebration.

This entry was posted in Cinema, video & DVDs, Music and musicology, Personal ruminations, Reviews and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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