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Book Review: Amy, Amy, Amy – The Amy Winehouse Story by Nick Johnstone

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Writing an unauthorized biography is always a risk, but the prospect becomes even riskier when the subject of that biography is somebody as volatile as Amy Winehouse. With many of the “sources” for information pertaining to the young woman coming out of tabloids and paparazzi press, the veracity of any such biography as written without the consent and participation of the subject is usually questionable.

Amy, Amy, Amy: The Amy Winehouse Story by Nick Johnstone is one such unauthorized biography. Johnstone’s book is out on Omnibus Press and is the first biography about Winehouse to be released. It chronicles her career in almost excruciating detail at times, detailing her early bouts with depression and her first gigs with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra right up until present day with drunken television appearances and the rise of her album Back to Black.

Johnstone writes the biography well enough, but often over-describes elements that will likely appeal to only the most dedicated Winehouse fanatic. For instance, when he discusses Sylvia Young Theatre School, where Amy attended, he describes how much the fees are for students of various ages to attend there. While this bit of insight might seem compelling to some, for the most part it feels like Johnstone is trying to fill up space due to his having little actual source material.

The book is very simplistic and relies on the cut-and-paste approach. Johnstone uses various sources, including many tabloid sources, to piece together a narrative of Winehouse’s life and career. The results are often highly speculative and presumptuous.

The few interviews Johnstone does get seem to linger and drag out on minutiae, detailing — from the backup singer or a drummer (Troy Genius) who didn’t even meet Winehouse — the recording of Frank. Other interviews are more interesting, such as the four-page interview with Major, a producer who worked with Winehouse early on with some demos. Still, the interview with Major often gets bogged down with tangential details – and an extensive bio on the producer of early Winehouse demos isn’t exactly pertinent or compelling.

Highlights, however, can be found in the early chapters related to the recording of her first album and the fun Winehouse seemed to have making early demos. The information is often tarnished by obscure statements and incidentals, however, which caused a lot of the information to lose impact.

According to some recent “reports,” Amy Winehouse flew into a rage over the book after seeing it for sale at a garage in London. She demanded that staff remove it from the shelves. It should be noted that Winehouse had been on a “marathon booze bender” before the incident. Nevertheless, the feeling generally is that this unauthorized biography did not please the troubled singer.

Amy, Amy, Amy is about as unauthorized as you can get. The “author’s note” details the fact that Winehouse was asked to participate in the book but did not return any calls (shocker!). Interviews were also asked of various other major players in Winehouse’s life, but to no avail. This led to the cobbled approach of the book, which seems comprised of nothing more than an elongated Wikipedia entry and a few other meandering details.

Overall, the book is quite poorly done. There are smatterings of spelling errors and plenty of punctuation issues throughout, which add to the unprofessional feel of the book. The editors certainly should have taken a closer look at this narrative. Sources are given with obscurity and some statements aren’t sourced at all. The tone of the book is rather moderate and Johnstone seems to legitimately care about his subject. It’s just too bad the finished product doesn’t reflect that all too well.

Amy, Amy, Amy is the first biography on the singer, so it is bound to get some attention. A perusal of various Winehouse message boards shows that her fans seem to be very interested in a book about her, but others are apprehensive about the need for a biography at this point in her career. At age 24, there is (we hope) a lot more in the life story of this talented but troubled performer. One expects that a more comprehensive biography, complete with Winehouse’s input, will arrive in time. Sadly for now, this one will have to suffice for her hardcore fans.

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About Jordan Richardson

  • SCB

    This review is spot on. Anyone interested in Amy Winehouse would probably want to check it out, as I did, but don’t expect much. There is a lot of filler, including an excruciatingly detailed description of a tube station near Amy’s childhood home. Overall, the book is mostly a collection of reports attributed to London tabloids.