In the early part of this new century, I was based in London and there was an amazing new musical act just breaking out. Over the phone between L.A. and London, my longtime Variety colleague Steve Chagollan and I shared our enthusiasm for the very retro and very now British rhythm and blues belter, Amy Winehouse.
In 2005, I was producing a charity event for Variety in London and I secured Amy Winehouse’s services to sing at the event, which wound up drawing such luminaries as Cate Blanchett, Martin Scorsese, Charlie Kaufman, Leonardo DiCaprio, Claudia Schiffer, et al.
At the last minute, Amy Winehouse cancelled on us.
I was pretty angry, but when Winehouse became notorious for cancelling seemingly ALL her gigs, I still found humor in this.
We did a short blog piece on Variety.com that reprinted a copy of the note from her manager stating it was “the first time we have had to pull a performance by Amy…”
The blog item read:
“So now there’s a Grammy Museum, only it seems to be short on actual, you know, Grammys. Variety to the rescue! Our recent move to new offices exposed the darkest reaches of executive editor Steve Gaydos’ questionable filing system and he found a fax that claims to commemorate the first time Amy Winehouse canceled a gig.”
It’s a letter dated Feb. 22, 2005 from Nick Godwyn, the man who discovered Winehouse when she was 16 and became her first manager. More importantly, he’s also the man who inspired her hit “Rehab,” according to the Times: “It was Godwyn’s attempt to encourage Winehouse to seek professional help at a clinic in Guildford, after discovering her in her Camden flat one day, crying inconsolably and skinny as a rake, that inspired her bolshie riposte in Rehab: ‘I said, no, no, no!’ ”
However, first Godwyn wrote this letter to then-UIP chairman Stewart Till, apologizing for “your disappointment that Amy was unable to perform on the night of the 11th February.” And isn’t that a hell of a lot more impressive, not mention more relevant, than a goldish mini gramophone?”
So it was (almost) all fun and games back just a few years ago.
By February 2008, when Winehouse had been refused a visa to travel to the USA because of her well-publicized battle with addictions, there was no more anger or humor, just sadness. And it was summed up succinctly in an interview I did with singer-songwriter Steve Earle after a powerful performance Earle gave in Berlin:
“When the subject of the Amy Winehouse rehab/visa travails controversy came up, Earle, a long-time outspoken advocate for treatment programs for musicians, was adamant in his concern about the troubled Brit chanteuse. ‘The woman is dying. It’s that simple and very very sad.'”
And now the woman is dead.
Winehouse’s passing underscores the seriousness of the battles against addictions that so many individuals, not just gifted musicians, face. And it’s a reminder that even when you’re rich and famous and the whole world knows you’re hurting and you need help, it takes more than hit songs and sold-out shows to make the trip from “no no no” to “yes yes yes.”
Ask Steve Earle.