Five years ago today I got into my dad’s car around 6 o’clock in the evening. I had been rushing to get ready so the air conditioning was an instant relief. At the very moment I clipped my seat belt into the holder my dad switched radio stations. There was a short pause before the next perfectly pronounced, emotionless headline was read:
“Amy Winehouse has been found dead at her Camden home”
As dramatic as it sounds, this is exactly how I remember it. I can still feel that same sensation when I recall it and it’s hard to define. Somehow it felt personal, a strange emotion to hold when Amy was not someone I ever knew. My day from here on in was bleak, I scrolled through news articles searching for more details, listened to Frank and Back to Black on repeat, looked at pictures of her, watched interviews, thought about her friends and family and what her final moments were like. I mourned her.
It was my first real experience of celebrity mourning on a “personal” level. Although I had felt sorrow and paid my respects to famous figures in the past, I can’t deny that news coverage of collective mourning whereby people were seen flinging themselves on the ground or crying hysterically had always bewildered me slightly.
“You didn’t know them so how can it hurt that much?”
Reminiscent perhaps of my reaction to girls in school the day Take That broke up. Inconsolable, some even staying home to recover – little did we know then that boy bands could come back from the dead.
I think for me with Amy, her age, aesthetic and instability were definite factors in the connection I felt to her. It was of course her music though, above everything else. Timeless, soulful and brutally honest, she was real and raw. The stories her lyrics told I recognised as my own. Her songs had become the soundtrack to so many of my life experiences good and bad.
What struck me most in the days, weeks, months… years following Amy’s death was Camden’s reaction. The place she proudly called home didn’t just mourn and pay tribute to her, the community gave her a kind of veneration. I see Amy as the Patron Saint of Camden. A term described by Wikipedia as “the heavenly advocate of a nation, place, craft, activity, class, clan, family or person.” Amy’s love affair with Camden was bitter sweet: “she was one of the few contemporary musical acts to be intimately associated with a specific area of London. Camden and Amy; the two were synonymous. Drugs, vintage clothing, live music, rough boys, late nights, hard drinking – it’s hard to think of another star whose attributes match so exactly the place where they lived.” (darkestlondon.com)
Be it messages scrawled across the back of pub toilet doors or the unveiling of a life sized bronze statue in 2014. Amy is ever present. Mitch Winehouse said “they don’t put statues up for people who are with us anymore so it reinforces the fact that physically she’s gone but spiritually she’ll never leave us.” (guardian.com) It is the spiritual and saintly imagery found in so much of the art dedicated to Amy, particularly that on the streets of North London that fascinates me. Amy fought rejection, addiction, an eating disorder and depression, the tabloids hounded and mocked her descent into destruction. Yet in death (much like the suffering saint) Amy is depicted as heavenly and most importantly, at peace. Always keeping watch over her beloved Camden.
Amy Jade Winehouse
14/09/1983 – 23/07/2011
As this is Death & The Maiden and you can’t blog about Amy without sharing some of her music…
These cemetery scenes were filmed at one of London’s infamous “Magnificent Seven”