The first I remember of Amy Winehouse is seeing her on Popworld with Simon Amstell, around the time of her first album Frank. She was immediately memorable: funny and fresh and down to earth. There was a cheekiness and cleverness about her that shat all over the media-trained popstars that Popworld (much missed) regularly took the piss out of.
Well I bought the album, and I liked it, but it was her second album Back to Black that really got under my skin. Passion and defiance, good times and pain, all wrapped up together on one intoxicating disc. I’m listening to it now. It’s the pain that shines through. That record got me through some terrible times. I’d fallen for a guy who turned out to be a criminal, the police caught up with him, he went to prison. Sequence shortened, as they say in the iPhone ads.
I stood by my boyfriend through the best part of a year. Everyone’s good, underneath it all, aren’t they? Everyone has their problems! I went to see him in prison a lot. It was awful. Amy stood by me. She went through some similar shit. She seemed to understand. He left no time to regret! Me with my head high! Get on without my guy! I died a hundred times! I really did.
Well he came out of prison eventually. And we split up. We still hung around one another though. It was hard to let go. Then he did some more shit and went back to prison again. And in 2008, while I was still mooning over my ex, I finally met the love of my life. I was DJing at a karaoke night on Saturdays. He walked in and he sang You Know I’m No Good. Brilliantly. At the end he called “Shout out to my boy Blake in Pentonville!” Yeah, he’s an Amy fan too.
“Hey,” I said, sidling up to him on a break. “I’ve got a boy in Pentonville myself, sort of.” We’ve been together ever since. That’s what I’ve got to thank Amy for: her troubled life and her brilliant work, completely indivisible, providing me with the chat-up line that got me together with the man I love.
Let me share a story with you, via my ex, of an afternoon in the Pentonville visiting room when Amy went to see Blake. It’s not the sort of thing people generally get to hear about, unless you’ve led a complicated life like hers or mine. Amy was trying to spend some quality time with her man, and believe me it’s hard work getting those visits booked, and an upsetting environment when you get there. Every prisoner in North London started singing Rehab at her, the whole room filling with her own words thrown back at her. When you’re powerless, mockery’s all you’ve got. “Fuck you!” Amy shouted back at a room full of hardened criminals. “I’m rich!” And she was.