Last week (the end of July) was the ninth anniversary of the death of Amy Winehouse. In remembrance I listened to a programme that I had come across some time ago on BBC Sounds. Called “Back to Black: The Raw Pain and Sorrow of Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black”.
The programme talks to a variety of people about what the song means to them. For me it is, and I believe always will be, one of the most powerful songs in music. When I hear it, I feel as if Amy is telling me her story , singing about her struggles and grief. Her voice has that unique power to communicate to make you feel and understand exactly what she felt.
I first heard ‘Back to Black’ when I was nine years old. My mum had received the album as a present when it came out in 2006. Admittedly, when I first picked it up and stared at the album cover I thought ‘amazing, someone else has long dark wavy hair just like me! That’s cool, I’m not the only one.’ Then I listened and her voice had the power to make me feel the emotion of the song even if I didn’t fully understand it.
This could not be portrayed more than in the lyric ‘I died a hundred times’. At the time it was a reference to a relationship break up, although subsequently given added poignancy following her death at the age of 27 through alcohol poisoning. No matter how small or large the pain and feelings are that we go through in life, one way or another we can all relate to this song. Winehouse is quoted as saying,
“Back To Black is about being in a relationship that when it's finished you go back to what you know, except I wasn't working so I couldn't go and throw myself back into work … I didn't really have anything else to go back to so I guess I went back to a black for a few months, you know ... Doing silly things, as you do when you're 22 and you're young and in love." (CNN 2007)
Obviously for most people their post relationship ‘black’ is for a limited period of time, only perhaps recurring if you make the same mistake again. For Amy, it seems like it must have become a permanent state.
The programme demonstrates just how much we need to keep her legacy, story and music alive. A reminder that however famous or rich artists might be, their songs and lyrics are not by chance. That their frailties need to be dealt with like anybody's only far more publicly. Perhaps the stronger and more personal the lyrics then the greater the need to find a way to protect those who might not know what protection is. As Winehouse herself painfully said,
“I only write about stuff that’s happened to me... Stuff I can’t get past personally. Luckily, I'm quite self-destructive.”
As nine years have now gone by since her death there will be a generation of young people coming through who may not have heard of her. Programmes like this not only keep the song alive but also remind us what frailty and emotion is really about.
Stand By Your Man
Why did one of the worlds most famous country singers have a life of failed relationships and tragedy?