“Life teaches you how to live it, if you live long enough.” Tony Bennett
It was a regular agency day in Ogilvy a few years ago. We worked on a digital campaign for Lenovo, gossiped during the breaks and pretended to do research while on social media. I was on Facebook and saw a close friend and then colleague, post a link to a news article. It was about the death of Amy Winehouse. There were 2 things that caught my attention – the friend rarely posted an update and that it was about a musician that I knew very little about.
All I remembered from that news article was a picture of an anorexic Amy from a few days ago and that she was a drug abuser. I played a few of her songs that day, mostly to connect with my friend’s grief and admiration of the artiste. It was later when Adele and Lady Gaga paid her tributes that I put her in the list of singers who were potentially great musicians too. I must have also read the wiki page on the club of people who died when they were 27. Beyond these bursts of information, at that time, I had very little to do with her life or music.
Last year, after I discovered Caro Emerald, I began to explore pop-jazz music a lot more. I admire how the genre of music is empowered by a great voice. There are many female singers with beautiful vocal chords. However, what resonates with me the most is a soulful, deep sound that doesn’t need or take the support of other electronic enhancements. In this league, I love Caro Emerald, Lady Gaga, Edith Piaf, Norah Jones, Adele among others. However, due to the lack of any reinforcement I was still not into Amy Winehouse; until 3 days ago.
Through yet another news article, I discovered that there is a documentary film that’s reportedly a great cover of her life story. That day, before I booked my tickets, I read a lot more about her, her life and listened to her album ‘Back to Black’. There was a mash-up of thoughts, emotions and self awareness that prompted me to buy the tickets; even though I was/am not in the best state of mind to experience sadness. I had booked 2 tickets but both my sister and my partner couldn’t make it due to their engagements.
Yesterday, I did what I consider the saddest thing to do i.e., ‘watch a movie in a theater alone’.
The documentary brings nothing new to the table about the events in her life. However, it is an amazing work of film-editing. There is not a single video montage that was not already taken, available or created as part of previous media works. The way the filmmaker has weaved a perspective just with the use of existing documentation and interviews (as voice overs) is commendable. But what makes the biopic extraordinary is that it leaves your heart loaded even if you knew everything about Amy Winehouse.
Take my case. I had already justified to myself why I wanted to watch the documentary. I think, as an aspiring artiste, I understand the turmoil that I have to go through to deal with my overwhelming stock of emotions. I also understand that almost all those who have the ability to process emotions through art, are always on the edge and vulnerable to disaster. And above all, there is an addiction to emotions, because it fuels art. And hence, artists go out of their way to experience an emotion thoroughly to write, paint, sing or play their heart. If that experience looks accessible through substances, especially when you are young and aggressive, isn’t it hard to resist? Sadly enough, there are few who get the chance to navigate themselves out of that easy inlet.
I gave up alcohol recently. I found myself using a glass of wine to flush out an hour of writing every day. If you are an artist, you would know that a drink makes it easy to slice out some tunnel thinking in a chaos of daily commitments. Without it, it’s absolutely necessary to identify that disruption-free part of the day when your creativity oozes out. It also has to be preceded and succeeded by stress-free time. A rough calculation of this means :
1 hour of creative writing = 30 minutes of warm-up + 1 hour of writing + 30 minutes of cool down
I was at a point where I didn’t have the luxury of that extra hour. Last year, I fell into a pattern and this year, I decided to fix it. Ironically, I gave my drink-a-day up just when I needed to chill with a glass of wine the most!
It has been over a month of no-alcohol and although I am proud of the fact that I can keep up with it; I know how sad life seems these days unless I swim, walk or write in a flow.
As I watched the film, I was grateful to the universe that I didn’t discover utopia-inducing substances when I was too young and naive to understand the effects. Even when I added ‘a drink everyday’ to my lifestyle, I was conscious of its benefits and the joy it brought to my otherwise sensitive personality. Then there was my partner who enlightened me with the idea of moderation as a way to enjoy everything in life. So, my extreme ideas and attitude towards things I care about, are fueled by moderate amounts of coffee, food and wine. As a writer, I have to oil my machine somehow. So, I still work with coffee, food and chocolate; but for now, no more drinks for me.
The lack of that opportunity for Amy cut through me with her life-story. She was too gifted to not have discovered it someday. She was experiential enough to associate her life-course with the dis-associative help that she relied upon. If only it hadn’t been so messed up, she would have developed a discipline to inspire and guide thousands of artists who drown in alcohol and drugs everyday.
If only she had lived, Amy would have come back from black.