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
Winehouse is rarely alone. Her home is on a hushed cobblestone lane off the main drag of raucous Camden, but throughout the night, musicians, dealers, masseuses, friends and fans come and go freely.
Outside, a nearly ever-present herd of paparazzi ”“ mostly men, mostly in their early 30s ”“ stand around, smoking cigarettes and cracking jokes that revolve around the length of their zoom lenses. Winehouse is their meal ticket, and a fun one. The paps jokingly refer to her as “the pied piper of Camden” for her powers of enchantment. Winehouse treats them like animals in her care ”“ she makes them tea and, on several occasions, smacks them if they get too close to her. And for all that, they love her, speak of her talent and way of life with reverence.
“She’s on loads of crack, but you can see through that,” says Simon Gross, a freelance photographer. “I just want for her to get better. I’m hoping someday for that set of pictures of her riding her bike in the park or something healthy.”
In the hours I spend with her, her main concession to health is a large upright tanning bed, which she uses every day. She often seems like she is having trouble staying awake, fighting to keep her eyes open. “I just took my night-time medicine,” she says. “I’m so tired.” Winehouse seems lonely, in search of a perpetual slumber party. “Women don’t try to use me,” she tells me groggily. Her trust is remarkable; at one point, she even discusses her night’s outfit with two female teenage fans over her door-bell intercom.
Her arms are spotted with cuts and scratches, and she itches at them furiously as she wanders upstairs. She offers me beer with ice and lime and then realises she doesn’t have any beer. She sends Nicole to ask a paparazzi to go buy it for her, and when he returns, she laughs at his request for money.
She floats into the kitchen, a sea of dirty dishes, to wash glasses for our beer. She’s dazed, keeps losing track of what she’s doing, her eyes flicking around. “I’m sorry, I’m a really shit interview,” she says politely to me, a totally unexpected reporter in her house at 4:00 in the morning. She spends 10 minutes washing the glasses, fondling the edges slowly with the sponge and drying them with a big, filthy bath towel that sits on the counter. She adds beer and ice, and dumps in a few other splashes of old soda sitting around.
I ask her what her next album will be like. “Same stuff as my last album but with some ska.” Have you started recording it yet? “It’s not so much about recording, it’s about whatever.”
I ask her about her fallout with Ronson. She tells me he made a snap judgment about her based on all the negative press. “We are close enough that I thought we could be like, ”˜Hello, darling, it’s me,’ ” she says. She adds that they went to the studio for a few days in Oxford, but they weren’t connecting. “I played him tracks I liked, just getting the vibe, and he was like, ”˜Amy, come, let’s work.’ He was really just uptight”¦” she trails off and then resumes cheerfully: “He left after three days, and I was like, ”˜Breathe a sigh of relief, I’m in the country and I can write.’ ”
I ask what the songs are like. “When the songs are done, they’ll be all atmospheric and cool like that”¦” She does this sort of Sixties-ish Space Age Bond-girl dance, standing with a hip thrust to the side, wiggling her fingers, and opening her mouth. “Whaaaaa”¦” is the sound she makes. “They might be like these girls I’ve been listening to, like the Shangri-Las.”
I ask her about Doherty. “We’re just good friends,” she says. “I asked Pete to do a concept EP, and he made this face, he looked at me like I’d pooed on the floor. He wouldn’t do it. We’re just really close.”
She pulls up the guitar, picks the chords to the Sixties tune ”˜I Will Follow Him,’ puts down the guitar and disappears upstairs for a while.
When she returns, she teeters over to the living room, moves the array of bottles and glasses aside and asks Nicole for a massage: “Press my face, Remi.” She sits in front of Nicole, puts down a pillow and then jogs off to get massage oil and paper towels. “Will you just sit still?” asks Nicole, who seems distinctly sober. In a matter of minutes, Winehouse has moved Nicole again, this time to the couch, and she’s burying her head into her lap as Nicole works diligently on Winehouse’s small, gnarled back.
“I love Amy,” says Nicole.
“Yeah,” says Winehouse, adopting a cute voice, “she loves me.”
“Amy is a very honest type of person,” says Nicole. “She blows my mind. She’s very special.” From her lap, Winehouse mutters, “Special needs.”
“She’ll hate me for saying this, but her heart is made of gold,” says Nicole.
“Made of wood,” mumbles Winehouse.
“She’s very democratic,” says Nicole. “Diplomatic,” corrects the lap voice.
“I want to fall in love like Amy,” says Nicole. “I think I’ve been in love before.”
Winehouse lifts her head: “No, no, if you had, you’d be dead because you weren’t together.”
Winehouse wants to show me her wedding pictures, but first she wants food. “I’m on a strict pizza diet,” she says perkily. “I’m on a strict put-weight-on diet. I love food. I’m just stressed out.” She returns from the kitchen with an oozing white-bread-and-banana sandwich, on which she sprinkles potato chips. She hands Nicole her laptop, which is caked in fingerprints and smudges, and asks her to show me the photographs of Winehouse and her husband making out, the two of them mugging for the camera like Mickey and Mallory, passing pills to each other with their tongues. Winehouse gets up for more food. Nicole continues the slide show, and suddenly the screen flashes Winehouse’s blurry face, taken from above with a phone in one hand and a gigantic penis in her mouth. Nicole and I both look away. “I’ve never been to rehab, I mean, done it properly,” says Winehouse from the kitchen. “I’m young, and I’m in love, and I get my nuts off sometimes. But it’s never been like, ”˜Amy, get your life together.’ ”
It’s 9 am, and outside the last paparazzi leave, shouting up, “Thank you, Amy!” “You’re welcome!” she yells back, then she mutters, “You fucking gooks.” And cracks up. She thoughtfully calls me a cab and walks me downstairs, inviting me to join her a few days later for a private concert in Moscow, where she will be paid a reported $2 million to play for Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich. (A day later, her manager rescinds the invitation.) After the show, the newspapers report that Winehouse was drunk and Abramovich’s organisers were sent into a mad scramble to search for a replacement. They say she played hours late and without underwear. Her publicist, Tracey Miller, dismisses the rumours, insisting it went well. Winehouse is scheduled to play at various festivals and concerts in Europe this year. But in mid-June, Winehouse fainted in her home and was taken to the hospital by her father. As this story goes to press, Miller says Winehouse remains in the hospital: “They are just taking it one day at a time,” she says. “In a way, it’s good she’s there.”