Janis: Little Girl Blue BBC 4, written and directed by Amy Berg.



After the death of Johan Cruyff, I got talking and into one of those arguments about who was better Cruyff or Zinedine Zidane. I said it was close to call, but that Cruyff was just perhaps more elegant. ‘How can you get more elegant than Zidane?’ was the riposte. Fair point. Just my opinion. I’d seen both players in their prime, and love football. I was frequently number 14, even if I couldn’t manage the Cruffy turn without a ball at my feet, I  played football for a bit –too long most people would argue, including all of my managers- but you’ve got to live the dream.

What I’m trying to say, in this lengthy preamble, is I thought Janis Joplin was a rubbish singer, but in an apologetic tone, I shouldn’t really be allowed an opinion.  I never yearned to play the trombone or oboe. I was one of those kids that when we were singing hymns at infant school the teacher would say ‘why don’t you leave it for a bit’ and coach the other kids to hit the high notes, or even any notes. And I’m the kinda guy that says things in the pub like who’s that band again, they’re pretty good, what are they called again –Snowsomething- but they’re a bit loud, aren’t they? Janis Joplin was loud and brash, but I liked her for it. There are echoes of Amy Winehouse, but I quite liked the latter’s voice. And if I’m being picky, which I am, I’d prefer Bette Midler’s version of The Rose to Janis Joplin’s messy real-life version.

When push came to the shove, Joplin found her groove and wailed it was something from a lone wolvette lost and alone at the edge of tundra where even the trees are lost and alone. It was look at me. And fuck you. Fuck me. Please. There was something elemental in Janis Joplin.

You get to talking about talent and then because it’s a woman fall back on how she looks. ‘I’m a Red Hot Mamma’ subtext, I’m black and bluesy, and I’m fat. Marie Osmond ‘Paper Roses’ face like filigree and voice that would fit into any Disney franchise. That’s who I like. That’s how shallow I am.  How Janis Joplin looked was a big part of who she was. She hides behind her hair. When she’s a big star she tells the talk show host that she’s going back on the tenth anniversary of her high school reunion. That’s nominally, that’s sweet, but  a fuck-you moment.

What she’s saying , I guess, is I might not have graduated from high school and might have been voted the ugliest looking guy in school – think about that for a moment, being voted not even the ugliest girl, but ugliest guy – but hey, I’ve made all this dough and I’m a big star. So fuck you. But beneath that cocky exterior there is a little girl that doesn’t fit behind the white-picket fence in Austin, Texas. The type of place where white is right and joining the local KKK is a rite of passage. Janis didn’t fit in and she knew she’d be trouble and she obliged. But in a letter home to her mum, the kinda mum that hoped Janet would settle down with the kind of  man  she married that had a job for life, mass producing things that people didn’t want, but bought anyway, Janis wrote: ‘After you reach a certain level of talent, the deciding factor becomes how much you need to be loved’.  Janis needed to be loved.

And Janis found that love in blues and rock and roll, the zeitgeist of free love in hippy San Franciso, free festivals, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Cosmic Blue Band filling the Albert Hall, but there’s a whole heap of stop signs she had to run through before she was found ‘Full Tilt’ dead of a drug overdose on 4th October 1970.  RIP.

Amy, Channel 4, 9pm., directed by Asif Kapadia 2015

a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/worst-case-scenario/”>Worst Case Scenario</a>


A documentary with only a first name tells you a lot. In marketing terms it says you should know who this person is, someone with a unique selling point. Amy Winehouse died in 2011, her memory fading, but there’s lots of images in this dramatic retelling of her life and loves, and they are not of the Princess Diana variety of burning candles and flickering flames. No less that jazz great Tony Bennett, who we see working with Amy here, said ‘she had a considerable gift’ and compared her voice favourably with Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holliday.

This is a cut and paste job of Amy’s early life before she found fame, mostly grainy footage from hand-held cameras. We learn her father left her mum for another woman when Amy was twelve or thirteen. Prior to that she was a boisterous child, difficult to control. Afterwards, Amy did what Amy did and nobody was going to stop her.  Later there is added footage and more polished and pixelated images of Amy crashing and burning in a time frame that spans thirteen years. Amy cracked the American market open like an egg. She was so well known that jokes about her disintegration were told by Jay Leno on The Tonight Show. She was an easy target for Frankie Boyle this side of the Atlantic. And even national treasure and nice boy comedians such as Graham Norton describe daily filmed doses and images of  her ‘as like a mad woman’. Take away the like and you’ve captured Amy, but you couldn’t hold her. Nobody could hold her.

In one of the early clips of Amy on the Jonathan Ross Show he described her as one of us. Opinionated, working class, and that bit more gobby than most. She knew what she wanted and liked. Watch her face, and here her snort, as one interviewer tries to compare her with contemporary chart-singer Dido. There’s a certain irony in that. Dido with an extensive property portfolio is one of the richest ‘singer/songwriters’ in Britain. That could have been Amy you may think, but only if you came from planet Zarcon.

Dido is Barbie. Amy with her Ashkenazi phenotype looks like Edward Munch’s The Scream, but with long swept back hair that grows bigger and wilder as she grows smaller and her success sweeps her away.  Amy writes on her body with tattoos.  She boasts to the camera that she has carved her boyfriend, and later husband, Blake’s name onto her stomach with a slither of glass being used as a prop for a photo-shoot in some trendy warehouse in New York. It’s the initial break up with Blake that prompts her to write and record her second album Back to Black. Words and feelings and torn from her body and projected into something bigger, something in her voice that resonates and catches you unaware.

There are lots of users in this profile of Amy. Certainly you’ve got the press swarming around her like midges. Media frenzy doesn’t quite cover it. Phone tapping. The press systematically stalked her, seemed to know everything she did, and said, one of her friends complained. Near the end of her life Amy told a friend she’d give it all up, all the fame and fortune, just to be able to walk down the street again. Bit clichéd. But Amy was too honest for her own good. You could never, for example, imagine her investing her millions in property. She invested in heroin, crack cocaine, speed and a drug pharmacopeia. She didn’t believe in moderation. When Blake left her and went back to his first girlfriend she admitted to texting and phoning him non-stop. Loud music and drugs. You wouldn’t want to live anywhere near Amy if you wanted a quiet life.  Amy won Blake back.

We see them endlessly canoodling in America. In a restaurant Blake stares at the camera and laughs and says ‘I’ve no money. Who’s paying?’ He looks behind him towards Amy and the camera follows his gaze. ‘Amy’s paying,’ he says. Amy pays for everything. Later, he explains, without any sense of irony. ‘I’m a good looking guy, I go to the gym. Look at the state of her.’

Her dad makes a lucrative career out of his daughter. In one poignant scene he berates Amy for letting her fans down by refusing to be photographed with a young couple that had asked to be photographed with her, even though she’d already stood between them and allowed them their shot of pseudo-stardom. Amy turns to her dad and says ‘if it was money you want I’d have given you it’. She’s making the point, he’d brought a film crew and sound man with him while she was meant to be on holiday recovering from drugs.

She never did recover from drugs. Blake took the rap when police busted down her door and found their stash. He went to prison. She just went and bought more drugs. Or she substituted drugs in general for alcohol. I laughed when she was taken to hospital and was something like 27 times over the legal-driving limit. Most folk I know drink sensibly and stay between five and ten times over the legal-driving limit, unless driving a mobility scooter, where thirteen or fourteen times, or being sick in a lay by, is advisable. But I guess when Amy is picking up award after award and admits ‘this is so boring without drugs’ the prognosis for abstinence is not good. Her heart was massive, but blew up. I guess that’s the nature of the beast. I liked her.

Amy Winehouse – The Day She Came to Dingle. BBC 4 IPlayer.

amy winehouse

Director, Maurice Linnane


There is currently a new film documentary out about Amy Winehouse. Since her death she seems to have become more popular. I don’t listen to music. I’ve read more about Amy Whitehouse than I’ve heard her voice. There she was in the pages of some tabloid falling over drunk, or out of her face on drugs, or both. Reams of newsprint on her boyfriend who went to jail because he was caught with drugs. Amy was always on the cusp of going into rehab. Then she died.

Yet here she was at the height of her fame, in Dingle of all places. Think of Father Ted and you’ve got Dingle. It’s falling into the Atlantic and nobody seems to have noticed or cared. They create a music festival to fix the church up, it needs a bit of tiling and perhaps a new roof. Invitations go out to stars such as Martha Wainwright and Amy Winehouse and they come. Perhaps they don’t know where Dingle is.

They send a driver to pick up Amy on that cold, wet and wintry December night. He doesn’t know who Amy Winehouse is and doesn’t really care. It’s a hire. He holds up a sign with her name on it. She’s there with two backup guitar players. Big hair but no big entourage that’s it. I like that about her. The driver tells us the viewers when he saw her he asked where her mum was. She looked so young and so tiny. She laughed and said she was in London.

She knows her music. She was asked about her influences. I don’t really speak that language. I could follow the conversation part ways. She said she liked Kylie until she was about six. I still like Kylie. Then from six to eight she liked Madonna. I still like Madonna. Then it was hiphop. I don’t know what that is. Gospel music. Then it was jazz and Thelonius Monk. I was lost by that stage. I’m aware that it’s a kind of improvisation with musicians working off each other around a common thread, but music isn’t rational it’s emotional.

Amy Winehouse can walk the walk and talk the talk, but she doesn’t so much sing as inhabit a song. Love is a Losing Game finds a voice that shows how to shred itself and bleed notes on a stage. Back to Black is a simple enough song, a motif with words wound around that simple refrain, but for Amy it’s personal. She means what she sings. Amy Winehouse here is humble and delightful. She lives on-stage. Dingle saw the best of her. Sadly we’ll see no more or hear no more. A genuine God-given talent.