Amy's brother, Alex, had a guitar, and whenever he was out of the house she would fiddle around with it. She bought her own when she was fourteen and started writing her own songs a year later, around the same time she discovered weed and dropped out of school. Yet Winehouse insists that her behavior wasn't the result of teen angst, which she says she'd worked through ahead of schedule. "I do suffer from depression, I suppose," she says. "Which isn't that unusual. You know, a lot of people do. But I think because I had an older brother, I did a lot of that 'Oh, life's so depressing' stuff before I was even twelve. That's when I would be reading J.D. Salinger — or whatever my brother read- and feeling frustrated."
I point to my left forearm and say, "I couldn't help but notice the scars. How old were you when you started doing that?" She looks at me, surprised, but doesn't have a ready-made answer, so I continue: "I mean, the cutting." Her muscles seem to tighten, and she avoids eye contact as she replies, "Um, that's really old. Really old. Just from a bad time, I suppose. "And then, stammering, "D-d-desperate times."
After she dropped out of school, Winehouse worked odd jobs — including a gig as a "showbiz journalist" for the World Entertainment News Network — and started singing with a jazz band. A friend in the music business saw one of those performances and offered to hook her up with studio time to record some demos. "I didn't believe he'd actually let me do it," she says. "I was like, 'What's in it for you?' I just didn't get why he would be so willing to help me. Because I didn't think it was special to be able to sing." The demos from those sessions helped Winehouse score a label deal and management contract with Fuller's company and, later, a publishing deal with EMI. On the very same day the check from EMI cleared, the eighteen-year-old singer-songwriter moved out of the house she was living in with her mom and into a flat in Camden with Juliette.
Though it was inspired almost equally by hip-hop and jazz, Winehouse's first record, Frank, released in 2003, put her in a league with crooners Jamie Cullum and Katie Melua as a key player in a U.K. jazz revival. Never released in the States, Frank went platinum in England and brought her nominations for a slew of awards, including the Mercury Music Prize (which she didn't win) and the Ivor Novello Award for songwriting (which she did). But around the same time she met her Baby, she rediscovered the Sixties music she says she'd loved as a girl. "When I fell in love with Blake, there was Sixties music around us a lot," she tells me five days later in Miami. I was supposed to meet with Winehouse that morning, but she and Fielder-Civil had other plans. They went to get a marriage license with the idea of getting hitched the next day but decided at the last minute that, since they were already there, why not just go for it? And that is how, alone in front of a Miami clerk and for the modest cost of about $130 in fees, Amy Winehouse married her Baby. "I don't want to say we did it on a whim, because that makes it sound whimsical," Fielder-Civil tells me, an irrepressible grin plastered across his face, his eyes dancing with happiness.
The couple met in Winehouse's usual Camden watering hole in 2005. "It was my local," she says. "I spent a lot of time there, playing pool and listening to jukebox music." For Winehouse that meant blues, Motown and girl groups. "More significantly, I used to smoke a lot of weed," Winehouse says, explaining why those sounds appealed to her so much when she was writing songs for Back to Black. "I suppose if you have an addictive personality then you go from one poison to the other. He doesn't smoke weed, so I started drinking more and not smoking as much. And because of that, I just enjoyed stuff more. I'd go out and have a drink. The whole weed mentality is very hip-hop, and when I made my first record, all I was listening to was hip-hop and jazz. The weed mentality is very defensive, very much like, 'Fuck you, you don't know me.' Whereas the drinking mentality is very 'Woe is me, oh, I love you, I'm gonna lie in the road for you, I don't even care if you never even look my way, I'm always gonna love you.'"
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