Monday, 20 July 2015

Asif Kapadia's Amy Winehouse, Bulimia and Good Girls Gone Bad

It must be every bulimic’s worst nightmare to have their darkest secret broadcast on the big screen. Amy Winehouse had bulimia, as the public now knows. 
Asif Kapadia’s latest documentary repeatedly intimates that the leading cause of her death may well have been bulimia. Weight fluctuations and plastic surgery stories are the bread and butter of the celebrity media, and Amy Winehouse was not exactly an under-exposed star. She certainly became extremely thin during her rise to fame, and acquired some breast implants. We may dislike it, but we can’t deny that women in the public eye are subjected to an obscenely large volume of commentary upon their appearance, especially on their figure -- and women in entertainment most of all.

But for Amy Winehouse, the media focus in public portrayals always swerved to drink and drugs, to nocturnal escapades and horrible debacles. For Winehouse, the media had in store one very special thread of storytelling, a pre-existing Hollywood narrative: the “good girl gone bad”. Versions of this story were also spun out around Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and in pride of place, Courtney Love.

The structure of this tale and its character is simple, and it goes back to the fallen women of Victorian horror fiction, and further. It weaves its structural thread all the way back to the beginnings of western narrative in ancient times. It is a tale of a woman’s gradual estrangement from society, often connected with a narrative of insanity. It is, at its heart, a tragic tale.

To a degree, prefabricated tales and patterns are a helpful cognitive tool in society; but they remain inventions. The invented narrative of the drug-addled rockstar links Amy Winehouse’s story to the Kurt Cobain story, to Jim Morrison, to the myth of Club 27, and the rich web of rock mythology. Here, heroin is a cognitive prop: heroin is rock’n’roll, is edgy, and totally glamorizeabe. Bulimia can not be glamorized. By its very nature, bulimia is characterized by secrecy, disgust  and shame. It refuses to be seamed together correctly with a public image. 

Kapadia’s film boldly begins to work the bulimia aspect in, and drops it soon again. Perhaps with an awareness that the public expects a feisty rock lioness disaster story, rather than a story of fragility and bruised self-esteem. Several of Amy Winehouse’s close friends and collaborators give their accounts of what happened, and they intensely medicalize the memory with many tenets of pop-psychology. We hear that when in the presence of an addict, one must show tough love, that addiction puts a strain on those around you, that Amy Winehouse lacked self-control, that she had all the options, but chose the worse options, that she did it all herself. All these arguments lead up to one conclusion: there is no-one else to blame. The overall picture begs the question if the system as a whole is to blame.

Taken together, Kapadia’s picture is fascinatingly documents the human instinct to recoil away from responsibility and blame when a tragedy happens. It is an important group dynamic at the heart of our social functioning, and this is where the “good girl gone bad” narrative becomes useful -- and comes back to haunt everyone. Once it is understood that this story is simply the repetition of an ancient pattern, of a tale of gradual estrangement and isolation in plain sight, what is left is the knowledge that as a society we are ill equipped to include and protect those whose character and life go beyond certain limits of the usual. And Amy Winehouse went beyond a lot of limits. First of all, her disproportionately high achievements, talent and success set her apart from the rest. Drugs came later. And bulimia was there the whole time. It is incumbent upon everyone who considers themselves modern, to ask if the “self to blame” model is not just... a bit lame.

Friday, 3 July 2015

a local idiot, for example the barman

When a local idiot, for example the barman, would talk down to me, implying that I was a bit dim, and some guy in a well-worn semi-dinner jacket would chime in charmingly from the bar stool next to mine, which would give me the inkling of a headache, the thought process began “hey, forget them” -- and it would whisper in my head, “these guys are non-guys. This whole conversation has no meaning. You're away from your life. Your brain is a sponge soaked full of substances. All the corridors are bendy slopes now. This isn't even technically actually happening”.
That extended to a million other things too, to the point that nothing was really happening at all any more, if you asked me.
Just fuzzy curves and blank space, where a life could be

jewelled ears, and rhinestone brows, a silver rhino

Fine, so, it says here, dissolve this powder in warm water, and I did. It ripped open the pain of a few years gone, a chorus of frogs in the underworld started bouncing up and down. The monster reared its head again, as was to be expected. With diamond eyes, pearl and silver jewelled ears, and rhinestone brows, a silver rhino, a crystal head full of rainbow prisms and glittering spheres dangling like a Christmas forest.
It exhaled a chilling cloud of frozen soap bubbles and distant chimes. Golden naked bodies on the shore behind it, fashioned in heaven by the goldsmith to Hollywood, cut charmed silhouettes through a fluffy sunrise.
In a cotton ball universe, unworldly and eerie like the promise of immortality itself, glitter and doom........................

Thursday, 2 July 2015

And night flowers grow

A blackened English church
Spikes a devilish tower,
And injects the poor cloud
From the dark womb of the city.

In the church they're doing twelve-steps,
And yet still nobody
Finds a friend in Jesus
Any more.

It’s the curse of Center Point.

Jesus and Jesusette, a divinely entangled couple of hippies,
An owl on their one bare shoulder,
Like ancient gods waltzing around,
They sprinkle stardust
In the dark of boarded-up mansions
So the tall and gaunt, alcoholic grande dame
Awakens an anger that’s been sleeping
And it runs, and sparks up revenge.

"My character deranged my mother",
The foul breath of old ills
Hangs in the damp.

"Would you like some gingerbread?"
"Everywhere I go, food is offered.
I wish that I could eat my own feelings".

Crunchy rejection
Fried frustrated dreams
Bad luck, Saint Giles,
Your soul is spilt.

I’m sitting in a lounge here
That’s darkened, and abandoned,
In a place that was cursed.
I recall the old Gallows.

It’s a strange ghost, this alcohol.
For a heartbeat, Gin Lane rises beside you.
Like a pop-up window of the brain,
Your path was hung with over-crowded Hogarths,
You stroked a dog from another century,
The glass trembled,
You nearly made it,
But the thought slips,
Like a helium balloon.

A nurse whispers
“Here is your medication”
Your life is derelict,
Like the house you sleep in.

"On a hot day,
I would love to go urban-tanning with you
On the roofs, and then spend an enchanted night
Jumping fences into public gardens"

Follow the little white stones
That I threw along the way
They glow in the moonshine
Like little seeds
And night flowers grow,
Sway in the wind like spectral nymphs
And guide your way to a new land

 my debut novel, Cured Meat