Amy Winehouse: The Mighty Atom – a retrospective!
Perhaps everyone in popular culture has their own particular memories of Amy Winehouse, garnered from music channels and videos, the news and even real life.
I’m no exception. Her fame and celebrity status never inhibited nor prevented her from participating in and living her life. However, her music spoke to all of us directly – right into the situations and contexts of the dysfunctional aspects of our own lives. Whether it was Back In Black, Rehab, You Know I’m No Good, Tears Dry On Their Own or Love Is A Losing Game, there was always something there we could identify with.
She was a habitué of all the best boozers in Camden Town, in North London; The Hawley Arms, The Good Mixer and The Old Blue Last in London’s trendy Shoreditch near her parental home in ‘Ackney (Hackney).
My most enduring memory of her was the first time I actually met her, having seen her on the scene, stoating about, living large. I had been putting on Mulligan Presents showcasing new music (signed and unsigned) to East London at The Old Blue Last. Usually I put on four bands on the last Saturday of the month, and this was no exception. Amy had shown up and just in time to see my nephews play in their incarnation as The Genies:
“Shit!” Steve said. “She’s standing right in front of the stage with Peaches (Geldof) …”
“Geeet up there!” I replied. “You’ll be fine… She’s just one of us!”
I meant it. She was. She is… still.
So off they went up onto that legendary Old Blue stage, treading the same boards as Amy Winehouse herself had, The Artic Monkeys, Arcade Fire, and Glasvegas had before them. Later that night, I was downstairs looking at the ceiling. It had just been massively reinforced after it had almost come down during a secret gig by Alex Turner and The Artic Monkeys. On the evening in question, the queue went around the block and it was three deep at the bar. I looked up smiling, there must have been two hundred peeps upstairs and the capacity was 125 max.
Amy, her husband Blake (at the time), Peaches and a handful of stragglers were holding the bar up at The Great Eastern Street exit. I was beckoned over and did so. What I encountered was Amy Winehouse totally at home in the world. She looked up at me smiling and rubbing the balls of her husband Blake. And that is how I will always remember her. Brazen, not giving a rat’s ass what anybody thought, a glass of Jack n Coke sitting askew in a hand. She was still nowhere near as tall as me and that was with the Beehive. The Mighty Atom; Amy Winehouse; Larger Than Life!
Flashback: I’m wearing a shirt and tie, black Loakes shoes, a woollen grey Brookes Brothers suit to match the shocked pallor in my complexion. I’m on The District & Hammersmith Line of the London underground travelling from my home at Fieldgate Mansions in Whitechapel to my place of work – The Promis Recovery centre in South Kensington, London. I worked there as an addiction psychotherapist, graduate psychologist and Clinical Manager under the maverick Doctor Robert Lefever, founder of the UK’s first and most elite private Minnesota Model rehab. He’d texted me to come in early if I could. The press were all over him like white on rice. I stared at the text and I looked around the carriage of the subway train. Everyones’ heads were in a newspaper. The Mirror, had the following headline emblazoned across its front page: AMY DEAD! Just like Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix, she was twenty seven.
On my I-pod, Frank had just finished and Rehab begun. Years have passed and its common knowledge now, so I don’t mind writing about it. It’s actually folklore. Amy had come to Promis for an assessment with Doctor Robert’s son Robin, a psychologist like myself. After careful thought, he’s reported to have said: “I think that your depressed!” The words were immortalized in her global hit Rehab.
It never ceases to amaze me that someone so small in physical stature could have caused such a musical tidal wave all over the world. I can still feel surges, waves and ripples today. It seems like yesterday that my editor at the time, Andy Capper posted her song Rehab on my Facebook Page just as it was being released. It said: “Listen to this!” and had a smiley beside it.
Today I sit and think of that promising younger generation of talented kids; Amy Winehouse, Peaches Geldof. The question on my mind seems vulgar and imposing: Why do some make it and others don’t? Why am I still alive? Do only the good die young? I don’t know.
My attention revisits the soulful, awesome and original music being piped into my ears through my I-pod. As I listen to Back To Black, I visualize the funeral procession in the video. Was that prescience a premonition, on her part. Or a self-fulfilling prophecy?
In the chauffeured car from the Promis Recovery Centre to the ITN news studio in the West End, even Doctor Robert appears shaken: “Are you going to talk about her?” I ask him in the backseat, both of us huddled together, just pals for the moment.
“No, no …” he replies after what seems like an eternity, staring momentarily into my eyes … “of course not, only the disease …”, he exhales, tired.
“I can’t believe she’s gone …!”
All words by Harry Mulligan. You can find more of Harry’s work in his author archive.