Symphony of sympathy searching for the girl with the big voice
The pressure of going back on the road tipped Amy Winehouse over the abyss that had long beckoned, writes Barry Egan
BILLIE Holiday died in 1959 -- an alcoholic heroin addict at 44. Amy Winehouse only made it to 27 before her young life met a similar grim end.
Since she rose to fame with her debut album Frank in 2003, Winehouse has had to listen to media calling her the new Billie Holiday.
It was as much a comment on Amy's voice and her ability to channel hurt and despair into lyrics as it was on her self-destructive lifestyle.
It didn't seem such a leap of the imagination to believe that Amy was heading down the same road to oblivion as Billie Holiday did courtesy of heroin 52 years ago.
"F**k her," was Amy's response in a 2008 interview when asked if Billie Holiday was one of her role models.
One of the saddest parts about Amy Winehouse's death yesterday is that it all seemed so inevitable. No one was really surprised. (Being exposed in the Sun smoking crack cocaine wasn't a cautionary tale for Amy. It was just another night for her.)
It seemed inevitable that Amy Winehouse would die young. She was plagued by health problems, bad relationships, and addiction. She lived a tempestuous and difficult life and sometimes seemed her own worst enemy.
People in the British music industry have been saying for years that Amy was going to end up dead if someone didn't step in to help her. Maybe you just can't help someone who doesn't want to be helped.
It was well known that she had addiction problems but a friend of hers told me that she had been clean for 10 months after being away from the stage for this period and it was the pressure of going back on the road that tipped her over the edge. We'll never know the real truth, of course.
I heard that Amy was trying to pick up the pieces of her broken life. Yesterday morning, she smashed those pieces of her life irreparably to smithereens in her flat in Camden.
Amy never seemed able to exorcise her own demons. She had the drugs and the drinking and the self-harming and the eating disorders to blank out the devils in her tormented psyche. When you heard her sing -- be it You Know That I'm No Good or Don't Go To Strangers -- she expressed an incredible depth of emotion that spoke of her own pain and self-agony.
She chronicled mutually detrimental relationships and the people who stayed in them. She was singing her pain and about the person she knew best: herself. Amy was a wounded angel in search of her wings.
"It's so sad," Sinead O'Connor told me last night. "Her poor parents. So hard to raise a child safely and then have drugs take them away. Kids, please learn from this. You don't ever want the cops calling your parents to say you are dead. Drugs don't care who you are. Don't pick them up. Not even once.
"Apparently," Sinead continued, "Amy's dad was on UK TV over the last few days, pleading with people to stop giving her drugs.
"But we must not forget the millions of addicts the world over, who suffer unseen because they aren't famous. So we should pray for them and their families also as we pray for Amy and her family," said the singer.
"She was very vulnerable," agreed a very emotional Vince Power from his London home. "I worked with her a lot. She was a North London girl and I live in North London, so I knew her. I am really sad and shocked. We all have a sense of disbelief that she's dead. It is such a tragedy that she's gone."
"She played a few festivals and things for me. I know her dad. Amy played Benicassim in 2007 [Power's Spanish festival] and was absolutely amazing. I was only listening to her earlier today in the car with my daughter. It is desperately sad. She will be hugely missed."
"She was a real talent living," said Louis Walsh, who met her at an awards show a few years ago (and gave her X Factor tickets). "She will be even more famous now because she's dead, a bit like Janis Joplin."
There are theories that the pressure of knowing she was going to go back on tour around the world next summer was getting to her. Again, no one knows what was going on inside Amy's head but herself. She gave an intriguing interview to the Washington Post in 2007 where she said the following about success: "I don't give a f**k. I know it's good for the record company if I do well here. I don't care.
"If I had my choice," she added, "I'd be a roller-skating waitress in the middle of nowhere, singing songs to my husband while I'm cooking. What I'm doing, I'm so grateful to be doing -- it's so exciting, so fun. But I've never been the kind of girl who knocks on someone's door and says, 'Make me famous'."
Either way, the closing chapter of Amy Winehouse's life is a desperately sad one. The manner of her death brings the Billie Holiday comparison full circle.
In the end, Amy Winehouse was the big loser. Still, I'll always remember her as the coquettish, beehived songstress who refused rehab with a beautifully simple refrain, "I said no, no, no."
It's only a pity she couldn't exercised such caution to saying no to the drugs that eventually killed her.