by Kellan Miller
As one ages, one must come to grips with a slew of challenging truths, no matter how bitter they might taste. I'm not talking about inconsequential truths like the fact that Sriracha actually comes from the United States, or that Ted Cruz is in fact the Zodiac Killer. No, I'm talking about real, facts of life shit. For instance, when Jennifer Lawrence first penetrated the mainstream consciousness, I along with every straight man I know welcomed her with both outstretched arms and bulging crotch. But recently I came to the harrowing conclusion that Lawrence is violently unfunny, almost as if she has a personal, deep-seated vendetta against humor. Even Daniel Pantaleo, the NYPD officer who strangled Eric Garner to death and basically said "What up bitches? Thug Life!" afterwards to the camera, is on the record saying that Lawrence's actions are a grotesque attack on humanity.
Fortunately, Lawrence's deplorable ‘SNL’ performance finally puts an end to this sinister YouTube spiral I have succumbed to in the last two hours. This happens to me at least once a week on average, lasting far into the wee hours of the morning despite most days having to wake up early in the morning for work. I start with something innocuous like ‘The John Oliver Show’ or “Late Night With Seth Meyers,” then “Broad City,” then “Portlandia,” then maybe a little ‘W/Bob & David,’ and inevitably appears an ‘SNL’ clip. The ‘SNL’ rabbit hole is the absolute worst-- all 41 seasons worth on Hulu, including the earlier seasons with all those people you are "supposed" to revere for some reason despite their total lack of talent, like David Spade or Adam Sandler.
Excuse my Trump, but those greedy network executives at Hulu are Grade-A bastards. So much entertainment shouldn't be widely accessible for people with sleeping troubles and corporate jobs. But as I watch Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader and Fred Armisen lampoon my friends and I on the wildly funny "Californians" sketches, I stop the video in a rare display of self-discipline and opt for a documentary instead. I suddenly remember I've yet to watch “Amy,” a documentary about none other than the late Amy Winehouse, my favorite songstress. When I say favorite, I'm not exaggerating not even one iota, like your super chill buddy who asserts has been an ardent supporter of the Golden State Warriors for his entire lifetime ("Yeah one time my step-brother's roommate's ex-girlfriend's best friend was travelling to Seattle but had a layover in San Francisco, and I've been a fan ever since").
In 2007, during my freshman year of college, things like Twitter and Instagram were not mega popular at the time, so if you desired platforms to exhibit your inherent right to bless others with your well-earned, millennial narcissism, only Facebook and your college dorm room was at your disposal in these dark times. Of course, if you are secure enough in your skin, you don't necessarily need a plethora of posters and prints to advertise your eclectic, sophisticated cultural tastes. Clearly this sentiment didn't apply to me. But for my peers, having to contend with my breathtaking charisma and encyclopedic knowledge, I decided to take the philanthropic route by blending in with the crowd and decorating my own walls with expensive laminated paper.
Thumb-tacked right above the desk I accomplished my greatest moments of procrastination was Amy Winehouse's first cover issue of Rolling Stone, featuring the cover story "The Diva and Her Demons." I had fallen madly in love with Amy that summer. In an era predating the immeasurable bliss Spotify shepherded into my life, three things happened that would seem utterly preposterous to a person young enough to first learn about the Spice Girls in a history book-- I heard a song on the radio, collected real paper money, and went to a store to purchase a compact disc (four things if you include the fact that it was a bookstore, and five things if you include that the bookstore was Borders).
Back then I classified female pop singers as largely belonging to either two categories. First, you had the all-I-do-is-drink-party-rebel-rebel-rebel-no-matter-what multi-hair-dye sensations. Second, a whole two and a half hours South of the complete flip-side in rush hour traffic was the opposite group. Tinted by soft voices and acoustic guitar, these women tended to pen love songs about bearded men who wore wool caps and denim jackets in August. In a nutshell, these women sound exactly like what Nora Ephron would sound like in the distant future when scientists discover a way to transform people into actual songs.
Yael Naim's "New Soul," which was used for a 2008 MacBook Pro commercial, is a perfect example of what I'm alluding to. Obviously, Apple has a reputation for using music to market their products. Normally their selections go off without a cinch, and even prompt a bunch of douchebags to post "I'm here because of iTunes commercial ____" on YouTube. But that wasn't the case in 2014 when the company chose to use The Pixies' "Gigantic," a song about Kim Deal's admiration for a big black penis in an iPhone commercial. Obviously, this was a pretty dumb idea for implicit reasons that go without saying. Everyone knows that Apple prides itself on designing products using Bauhaus-inspired simplicity. The penis is the exact opposite in terms of shape. Like I said, incredibly stupid.
But I digress. Watching “Amy” was enthralling from start to finish. Because I put such a high premium on winning, watching similar-minded people suffer total and absolute failure is a fascinating spectacle to behold. When I say failure I don't mean those websites dedicated to texting or social media "epic fails" (Yes, it's amusing that your mom mistook you for her booty call, but why post it online for the world to see?). There is something both haunting and immaculate about Amy’s demise, with the ominous "Rehab" only scratching the surface. The documentary explores this in meticulous detail.
Even though the online sphere is still the preferred battleground of pimply, socially awkward weirdos subsisting on bigotry as not to have to confront their own crippling jealousy of the people they despise, most people love to see strangers taste success. The typical rags to riches anecdote is an everlasting hologram that gifts common folk hope for better days again and again, regardless of dreadful credit card debt personified, literally choking the life out of them with outstretched hands. No matter how chaotic life can get, people want to believe that with only a little blood, sweat, and a lucrative television show contract, a person on the bottom can rise to the top, forever denying requests to connect on LinkedIn because NO NEW FRIENDS FOREVER AND EVER AMEN.
The simple, half-baked narrative of Amy’s eternal can’t-get-right predicament that survives in the popular consciousness does disservice to a much more complicated reality. Not only were there myriad instances where Amy could’ve possibly recovered, but she was often a willing participant in her own rehabilitation, the latter unfortunately not being the case with many addicts. But Amy was forever surrounded by purported loved ones who repeatedly established roadblocks in her quest for recovery, not to mention leading her down the wrong roads altogether in some instances. Any person who has stuck a ruler or measuring tape between their legs at age 12 (presumably the entire male species) cannot possibly watch the documentary without a crippling sense of shame and contempt for the Adam’s Apple race, if the ruler anecdote wasn’t enough for self-disgust. Amy had the supreme misfortune of being born to her father Mitch Winehouse, and plunging into hopeless love affair with Blake Fielder-Civil, objectively the two worst human beings in existence.
Let's start with the lesser of the two literal evils-- Fielder-Civil. After she released acclaimed her debut album Frank in 2003, featuring timeless jams like "Fuck Me Pumps" and "Stronger Than Me," Amy embarked on a torrid love affair with Fielder-Civil. Torrid mainly because, after introducing her to a life of drugs and all-night partying, he was dating another woman at the time, and eventually broke up with Amy on a voicemail. She soon succumbed to an abysmal depression in which she subsisted on a diet of alcohol. For God knows what reason, Mitch Winehouse decided that her daughter didn't need rehab, which if you watch the documentary is 1000 percent ludicrous. Luckily, her friends convinced her to clean up her act, and eventually get back in the studio again.
Collaborating with Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi, she transformed the pangs of heartbreak into one of the finest albums of the decade with Back to Black. Pretty much all of the songs dealt with her rocky relationship with Fielder-Civil in some way, like "Teardrops Dry On Their Own" and of course, "Back to Black." When Amy achieved her meteoric rise in 2006, people the world over enthusiastically hopped on the bandwagon. Looking back, with squinted eyes and nostrils covered, it’s a wonder that Americans in particular even survived the mass pestilence.
In some sort of deranged, maniacal premeditation, record label executives decided in unison to completely eradicate the world with music so shitty it required exceptional, classically trained musical minds to befoul chords so spectacularly. Nickelback, arguably the most disastrous thing to happen to the world, somehow managed to flip their what-Kurt-Cobain-would’ve-sounded-like-had-he-actually-survived-the-gunshot-and-shot-himself-two-more-times style into a gajillion record sales. Songs like “Laffy Taffy” and “Chicken Noodle Soup” wiped clean all the sweat, blood and elbow grease the good men of the band Creed put into ensuring that their catalogue would sit atop the pantheon of the worst music ever created. The virus spread in such a sweeping fashion that even Jay-Z temporarily forgot how to make music and released your weedplate’s weedplate Kingdom Come. But in October of that year, along came Amy, like a goddess arriving just in time to teach us how to get over.
As stated in the aforementioned Rolling Stone piece: Amy is bringing a rebellious rock & roll spirit back to popular music," says Mark Ronson, the DJ-producer who helmed more than half of the tracks on Back to Black. "Those groups from the Sixties like the Shangri-Las had that kind of attitude: young girls from Queens in motorcycle jackets. Amy looks fucking cool, and she's brutally honest in her songs. It's been so long since anybody in the pop world has come out and admitted their flaws, because everyone's trying so hard to project perfection. But Amy will say, like, 'Yeah, I got drunk and fell down. So what?' She's not into self-infatuation and she doesn't chase fame. She's lucky that she's that good, because she doesn't have to."
Back to Black was much needed salvation to say the least, a colossal spray can of air freshener to douse the code red, John Goodman post 4th of July BBQ level foulness threatening to ruin us all. Writing for The Guardian, Dorian Lynskey opined: “Starting with the pungent single ‘Rehab,’ everything is in its right place: the exuberant neo-Motown swing supplied by producers Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi; the rich, sinewy vocals, somewhere between Lauryn Hill, Beth Gibbons and Etta James; and the thoroughly modern songwriting.” In the most eclipsing example of praise, Pitchfork awarded the album a 6.4 rating, which in ratio is equal to a 15 by us regular folk.*
*Editor’s Note: If Richard Pryor and Louis C.K., the ingenious purveyors of wisdom, have taught us anything, is that true legitimacy in life is only achieved through the act of self-deprecation. People love to see others make fun of themselves, except for hip hop. In the rapper’s realm, one must be endowed with the powers to fuck multiple women at a time without speaking a single word to them, slang hard narcotics on the street corners of dangerous neighborhoods despite their celebrity in the TMZ age, and burn through an entire mortgage down payment in a few hours at the strip club.
This is a good thing. There needs to be balance. I don’t want to live in a world where on a whim Chris Brown couldn’t use his unrivaled charm and psychosis to steal my girlfriend away from me at the club. But as a writer with no musical talent whatsoever, I must take the denigration route, which is why I am currently looking at the myriad emails I’ve sent to the editors at Pitchfork for them to take a chance on a young whippersnapper like myself. To this day I haven’t even received a reply back. “Go fuck yourself you no talent-having assclown. Best Regards, Pitchfork Editors” is exceedingly preferable to absolute nothingness.
So as good as it feels to crack wise on Pitchfork for time to time, it is only a fleeting comfort at best, because I know my heart will instantly fill with gratitude rather than scorn for the motherless the student loan collectors who manage to bait me into a life both bereft of joy and money, all because the University offered me the chance to become a better writer while using the same information that is easily accessible and free on the internet. Pitchfork is like the really hot chick at the bar that Barry Sandersizes you with a “Oh I need to go talk to my friend” spin-move to ward off both your cheap cologne and whatever douchebag pick-up line you learned from some even douchier Pick Up Artist Forum. I will keep my head held high in the long, long walk back to my posse’s circle and calmly laugh off the humiliating experience with the ole trusty “She’s a real bitch/cunt” line. But later on I will attempt to soothe my own feelings of inadequacy with Ben & Jerry’s, “30 Rock” reruns, and the knowledge that a person named Bieberbabex0022 thought highly enough of the article I wrote last week to retweet it.
What is it Pitchfork? Why do you reject me constantly? I too believe that all of pre-David Bowie’s Low album era humanity is irrelevant, and that Radiohead and Arcade Fire made the world and saw that it was good. I can even make up fancy sounding genre-labels like “Micro-age-Super-Mario’s-Brothers-Lo-Fi-Fuzz-Pop” that make other people feel stupid for never having heard of them. And as for my resume coup de grace, after enough drinks I can say with a straight face that Young Thug is the prolific visionary to touch a mic. I know that I use too many adverbs and that my bastardized Kerouac-esque run-on sentences have no place in a world where people don’t read, but I’m working on it. Give me a fucking break. I’ve already stopped employing the Hunter S. Thompson method of writing long-winded digressions and rants that have little to nothing to do with the overarching article itself.
Most pop artists subsist in a small, crowded, and cushioned chamber, with poked holes in the ceiling for them to breathe, surviving on a diet of Pop Chips and Diet Coke. Their entire artistry is the unimaginative offshoot of record label executives studious in the business of molding them into real-life hashtags. Even if a spark of originality and talent caused the industry to notice them in the first place, by the time the PowerPoint slides are head-nodded through, a robotic cash cow has been spawned, armed with a team of personal songwriters and sparkly outfits. I’ve been told by credible sources that executives oversee covert locations where they cultivate large gatherings of potential recruits and also discard defective ones. It sounds crazy at first, but makes a lot of sense if you really think about it. I mean, what the fuck happened to Cassie?
But I digress, again. The incredibly fucked up thing about the Amy situation is that after her massive rise, none other than Fielder-Civil showed up again, and the two resumed their romance, eventually marrying. That's when things started to go South for her at a rapid clip, especially when they both became addicted to crack.
In an interview with the Times Magazine, Fielder-Civil defended himself: “I don’t think I ruined her, no. I think we found each other and certain people need to realize that she did have other addictions before she met me,” he told the Times Magazine. “She wasn’t a happy, well-adjusted young woman … and I find it disrespectful to imply I was some Machiavellian puppet master.”
Fielder-Civil is absolutely correct to clear his name here, and it is truly unfair and mortifying that people would imply that he was an evil, Machiavellian puppet master responsible for the death of the love of his life. It’s easy to pile on Blake considering how revolting he is. But when you are scrolling through your news feed after somehow managing to break yourself from the black hole of all 742 pictures from your best friend Julie’s trust-funded trip to Italy and stumble upon a story like “Blake Fielder-Civil Dating A Transexual Amy Winehouse Impersonator” you can only sigh and put down the shovel.
For a person who spends an inordinate amount of time deleting emails from publicists wanting me to write a few glowing words about their newest artist, Amy was a superior talent. Plus, she was a real talent, in the sense that she presented a raw, unedited image of herself and her flaws. Obviously, a lot of the demons that ultimately brought about her demise were the product of her own doing, but who knows what could've happened if she wasn't surrounded by the worst people imaginable? I could conclude this rambling article with even more rambling superlatives about what a major talent she was, but in 2007, Prince decided to perform Amy's "Love Is A Losing Game" with her live. Also, Tony Bennett, who collaborated with her on their Body & Soul project, stated: "Jazz is a wonderful art. Listening to it, I compare it to watching the greatest tennis player who's so intelligent about where he places the ball, it becomes effortless. The great ones that are very talented know just how to turn jazz singing into a performance that's unforgettable. And Amy had that gift. The fact that she died at 27 years old is just horrible to me. If she had lived, she would've been right up there with Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington. It's just a tragedy.”
Watching “Amy,” I was left with one unshakable feeling. Throughout her life, she longed for a father figure-- someone she could trust. Instead, she was surrounded by men with selfish interests. Sadly, her prince never came, and our beautiful, musical princess left this world far too soon.