Up All Night With Amy
Over beer, tea and banana sandwiches, the singer opens up about her jailed husband, her next record and her unravelling life
It’s dawn on a hot Sunday morning in June, and Amy Winehouse is inside her North London home, staring at her reflection in a dark tinted mirror, looking the tiny little body in front of her up and down, assessing the emaciated tattooed limbs, the jungle of a black beehive weave, the hallucinatory glow of her transparent green eyes. All around her, Winehouse’s home is in disastrous disarray: Discarded bags of potato chips, crumpled nuggets of tinfoil, beer bottles, lingerie boxes and scattered old credit cards tell of a long night that hasn’t ended in weeks, maybe months.
While Winehouse’s Saturday isn’t really over, her Sunday has begun with a shriek. The tabloids have hit the pavement and slapped her out of her weekend reverie with yet another high-decibel scandal. This time it’s photographs and videos ”“ leaked from a lost digital camera ”“ that show Winehouse in various states of dereliction, all shot by her now-imprisoned husband, Blake Fielder-Civil. What’s scandalous this time isn’t the pictures of Winehouse surrounded by crack pipes (there have been too many of those this year) but a video of her singing to Fielder-Civil a ditty chockablock with racial slurs: “Blacks, Pakis, gooks and nips”¦ deaf and dumb and blind and gay,” she and a girlfriend sing goofily.
The morning headline reads sex, drugs and racist rant, but at Winehouse’s place, there’s no publicist or manager to be seen, no crisis-management squad deployed to save one of the decade’s most successful female vocalists from public shame. That’s not Winehouse’s style ”“ it’s just her and a girlfriend. British singer Remi Nicole pores over the paper, annoyed, telling her friend that all this scandal has to stop.
“All right, Remi, it’s over,” says Winehouse bluntly.
“No, but how did anyone know about you and Alex and Kristian?” Nicole asks her, referring to alleged extra-marital dalliances by Winehouse reported in the press.
“They’re, like, all these Chinese whispers,” says Winehouse sadly.
“You need to get rid of the cunts around you who whisper,” says Nicole, and after a pause, “What’s the point of him taking pictures of you with a crack pipe?” referring to Fielder-Civil.
“It wasn’t like that, babe,” says Winehouse sweetly as she scours the floor in a stupor for a head scarf. “It’s important that you know that. You know a lot of things are more casual to me than they are to you.”
“Yeah, like smoking crack,” Nicole says under her breath.
“It’s just incidental,” says Winehouse. “He’s taking pictures of me because we were on our honeymoon, and he thought I looked pretty.” She finds a red scarf with white polka dots, Ã la Minnie Mouse, and carefully fastens it around her head, tying it in a jaunty bow. Winehouse lifts her black wife-beater and stares at her chest ”“ the tattoo of her husband’s name thundering across her heart, barely encased by a gray polka-dot push-up bra. “Should I wear my Spanish top?” she asks no one in particular. Downstairs, a growing pack of paparazzi has gathered in a frenzy, inches from her door, with cameras at the ready, anticipating Winehouse’s response.
For the last hour, Winehouse has been getting ready to meet the paparazzi; she’s been carefully drawing the dark, thick Cleopatra swoops around her eyes, over smudges of makeup past, her long, manicured red fingernails masking a black resin lining, her lip gloss glittering pink, foundation covering little scabs that raid her face. “What are you going to say, Amy?” I ask her from the couch where I’ve been slumped over, scratching notes for the past few hours. At 4 am ”“ after I’d spent half the night outside her apartment, hoping for an interview ”“ Winehouse had, much to my surprise, opened the door and invited me in for beer. Since then, Winehouse has been puttering around her house in varying states of consciousness, disappearing every half an hour or so upstairs to her bedroom and returning to talk to me a little about her music, a little about her drugs and a lot about her imprisoned husband. Through it all, she’s an attentive and open hostess, boiling me tea and giving me extra slips of paper to take notes. Now, thinking about the waiting paparazzi outside, she keeps her eyes fastened on her image in the mirror.
“I could just go out there and say”¦ I don’t know.” Her mouth is slack. “I don’t know, really.” Winehouse gives her hive one last tease and trots gamely down the stairway. She opens the door, and on cue a firestorm of flashbulbs surrounds her, voices crying her name. “Amy! Amy! Amy!”
“I guess I should apologise,” she starts, fluttering her eyes, swaying her hips, flipping and tucking her hair innocently.
“Don’t apologise, Amy, don’t apologise!” the photographers shout as they blast her with their flash fusillade. “We love you, and your friends love you!” “What next, Amy?” they cry. “What are you going to call your new album?”
She smiles, making them wonder if she’ll answer, and then wickedly says, “Black Don’t Crack.”
This past year, Amy Winehouse, 24, has gone from being one of pop music’s most ascendant and celebrated talents to a tragicomic train wreck of epic proportions. Winehouse has insisted from the beginning of her career that she is a simple girl crazy in love with her man. Her life, her history and talent all seem barely worth talking about when one could talk about Blake, how fit he is, how perfect for each other they are. “We are so in love, we are a team,” she rhapsodises to me. “Blake, Blake, Blake, Blake, Blake, Blake, Blake.” It’s as if she’s putting herself in a trance.
The daughter of a taxi-driver father and a pharmacist mother, Winehouse grew up in a North London home where jazz voices such as Dinah Washington and Frank Sinatra were always on the record player. Sam Shaker, the owner of a longtime club in Soho, Jazz After Dark, remembers the night four years ago when Winehouse asked him if she could sing a few sets with the blues band. “She goes on the stage,” says Shaker, “and I didn’t know what she was doing: Was she drunk, was she stoned? It didn’t make any sense. But then I heard her voice. The band had to stop.”