• Stepping Stones Kottla

Legendary Artist Amy Winehouse

By Ella Gullfeldt.

According to Wikipedia, an artist is “A person engaged in an activity related to creating art, practicing the arts, or demonstrating an art.” I don’t think that is a very helpful explanation of what an artist really is in essence. For me, an artist is a person who can create something that stirs emotions in people. Someone who can inspire and make people think further and bigger. An artist uses his or her creativity and imagination to do something above ordinary, something with thoughts behind it that tells a story. An artist has the power to express his or her inner self through art in such a way that it touches the hearts of others. I believe Amy Winehouse was such a person.

The first song I ever heard with Amy Winehouse was ‘Back to Black’, which is still one of my favorite songs to listen to. The lyrics are about a girl whose lover has left her to go back to his previous girlfriend. Even if it is a very sad song, it makes me feel happy and hopeful. I think it is because of her voice. She sounds sad and strong at the same time as she wants to tell me that whatever happens in life I have the strength within to cope and live on. Even if you die “a hundred times” like the song goes there is still life left. One explanation as to why Amy Winehouse touches my heart is because her music helps me stop for a second, take a break from everything that is happening around me that may be stressful, enjoy the moment as it is and look inside myself for a while. This creates an immediate connection between her and me as a listener. For me, Amy Winehouse was one of a kind and not like everybody else. I admire her because she dared to be different, not only through her exceptional music but also through her special look, expressive attitude and colorful personality.

More than other artists, Amy Winehouse’s lyrics are powerful and emotional. Her songs were often inspired by her own life and experiences and therefore you can find a lot of her in her music. That she was so successful in creating her own style of music and doing her own thing is very inspiring to me and reminds me that I am my own person, in charge of my own will. We shouldn’t let anyone stop us from being whoever we want to be and do what we want to do in this world. When you hear one of her songs you immediately recognize who it is and it feels like she speaks directly to you. It is like a bubble she creates that helps you see and discover things within yourself. But listening to her voice also makes you think about who she was and her in many ways very tragic destiny.

I believe Amy Winehouse became an iconic artist because she shaped, and was in charge of, her own image and her own sound. She had a very ordinary characteristic and cool look with thick black eyeliner, a big mouth, and a fantastic beehive hairstyle, inspired by sixties jazz singers like the Ronettes. In the documentary “Amy” from 2015, there is one scene when she appears in a television talk show in 2004. The journalist asks if her managers have tried to mold the way she looks, behaves and speaks and she answers, “Yes one of them tried to mold me into a big triangle shape but I went noooo….” You can tell she was a very funny and smart person. In the interview, she appears to be much older than 21. Afterward, she continues and explains that she writes her own music and has her own style. “When someone has so much of everything there is really not much you can add.”

A Life That Was Too Short

Amy Winehouse was born in London 14 September 1983 in a normal working-class family. Her family background was Jewish and her ancestors were Russian and Polish immigrants. She grew up with a love and passion for music and a dream of becoming a performing artist. Her grandmother, who was a jazz singer, suggested that Amy should start theatre and tap-dancing lessons, which she did when she was nine years old. At about the same time, Amy started her first rap-group called Sweet’n’Sour together with her friend Juliette Ashby. After she started taking lessons, Amy Winehouse went to several singing and theatre schools. She bought her first guitar when she was 14 and after that, she started to write her own music. At a very young age, she sang as a lead vocalist in a few bands. One of them was the National Youth Jazz Orchestra and it was as a jazz singer she first became known and felt most comfortable. She was very talented and a few major record labels began to pay attention to her and started to compete over signing her. The talent scout Nick Shamansky, who later became her manager, eventually got her to sign her with Island Records. Her debut album “Frank” was released in 2003. It was named partly after Frank Sinatra, a singer whom she admired, and partly from the adjective meaning sincere, candid and open-hearted. Her second album, “Back to Black”, was released in 2006 and was a huge international success featuring legendary tracks such as “Rehab”, “You Know I’m No Good” and my own favorite “Back to Black”.

Sadly Amy Winehouse died from alcohol poisoning on July 23, 2011. She shares her age of death at 27 with many other iconic musicians, such as Jimmie Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and Kurt Cobain. During her short career, she quickly became known as a very troubled artist, both through her music and her antics. She suffered from alcohol and drug addiction and she had bulimia. Some physicians believed she also suffered from a borderline personality disorder (BPD), although she was never diagnosed. BPD is characterized by intense mood swings, emotional instability, inner pain, and addiction. Perhaps that explains why she was accused of punching fans and being violent on multiple occasions. She had a complicated relationship with her family, particularly her father, and her husband Blake Fielder-Civil to whom she was married for three years and who also was a drug addict. Her personal difficulties and troubled lifestyle caused her a lot of pain. That she quickly became so famous and was constantly watched over by the media and the paparazzi made it even more difficult for her to deal with her problems. When she was little she dreamt about becoming an artist but when she finally reached her goal it turned out to be a pitfall that she couldn’t escape from.

How She May Be Remembered

Like all the best artists, Amy Winehouse was self-made and she created music that was a mixture between soul, rhythm and blues and jazz. She had her very own unique sound, recognized by her deep expressive contralto vocals, and a personality that was a complex combination of strength and insecurity. Amy Winehouse may have lived as short as 27 years, but she left behind a legacy of raw talent, soul and passion for music. But I don’t think Amy Winehouse would have wanted to be remembered as a huge pop star because she was not comfortable in that role. It was as a jazz singer, performing at small intimate clubs, that she felt most at home and that’s also how I think she would like to be remembered.

People all over the world still listen and enjoy Amy Winehouse’s songs and she has become a role model for her music. But many aspects of her life were also very tragic and listening to her also reminds you that she was agonized and troubled. Many people may have difficulties separating her addiction problem and her music and thus look at both her and her songs in a negative way. But I don’t want to be judgmental about her alcohol and drug abuse which was probably her way of coping with a very difficult life situation. Nevertheless, the dark side of Amy Winehouse’s life does not make her as good a role model as her music does.

An Inspiration for Other Artists

Amy Winehouse’s work created a huge influence on the music industry and still does. You can say that she started a revolution, especially for female artists. She represented the unconventional and helped other unconventional female artists to climb the charts, particularly because of her challenging image and deep lyrics. Many musicians have pointed out that Amy Winehouse was a great inspiration. Female singer-songwriters such as Adele and Lady Gaga have stated that Amy paved the way for their careers and there are indeed many similarities between them. They are all singers with strong characters that have built their success on musicality, a great deep voice and a strong expression of personality.

Drawing by artist Rachel Harrison, 2011.

Her life is the theme of the documentary film “Amy”, that had its opening in Cannes in 2015. With the film, the British director Asif Kapadia wanted to tell the story about Amy Winehouse's life as it was, her unique music creation, her complicated relationship with her family, how she experienced her fame and her struggle with addiction and eating disorder. The film was an international success and is the highest-grossing British documentary ever. It received an Academy Award for best documentary film at the Oscars in 2016, a Grammy for the best music film and several other prestigious awards. Another documentary about Amy Winehouse “Amy Winehouse - Back to Black” was released in 2018. The picture is about the recording of her last album.

Amy Winehouse ́s legacy has also inspired painters and creators. The exhibition “You Know I’m No Good” at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco opened in 2015. It assembled drawings, videos, and sculptures responding to the legacy of Amy Winehouse by the artists Rachel Harrison, Jason Jägel and Jennie Ottinger. Another exhibition “Amy Winehouse: A Family Portrait” about Amy Winehouse’s life was first shown in 2013 at the Jewish Museum in London. It was assembled with the aid of Amy’s brother Alex and shows personal belongings such as her guitar, her record collection, photographs and some of the outfits she wore on stage. Since its opening, the exhibition has toured internationally and was last shown at the Belarusian-Jewish Cultural Heritage Center in Minsk.

A bronze sculpture of Amy Winehouse by the British artist Scott Eaton can be seen in Camden Town, London, not far from where she lived. The statue displays Amy in natural size, wearing high heels and her signature hairstyle. There she stands, looking out over the place where she lived, forever remaining in the heart of her many fans and supporters all over the world.