Beyond the Stage Review — A Haunting, Heartbreaking ShowPosted by Mike Schumacher
A lined A4 notebook is pinned open on a board, highly doodled with love hearts and the strange ideas of an 18-year-old girl, not unlike any other 18-year-old girl throughout history. “Just plain fuckin’ nice” is the title of a playlist that includes Bobby Darin’s I Wanna Be Around (1965), as well as the words “Chris Taylor loves Amy Winehouse” (with loves scored out), “Paul Watson loves Amy Winehouse” (with loves scored out), meticulous notes on how to fill out the form and send a cheque to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency in Swansea, a shopping list that includes “£200 – fridge, £40
The fact that the fragments of everyday existence become archaeological riches in death is a monument to the mystery and folly of fame, but it’s these inner-world nuances that stick with you throughout Amy: Beyond the Stage is the first show at the Design Museum devoted to a single musical artist. It’s a mesmerising celebration of a still painfully short life, more than a year in the making and instigated by Amy’s father, Mitch (who asked Amy’s stylist, Naomi Perry, to approach the museum); early-years notebooks and photos gifted by Amy’s mum, Janis; walls alive with TV screens showing early interviews and acoustic demo performances (unleashing the full force of the Winehouse personality and staggering vocal talent); a classy reconstruction
There’s also a distinct sense of loss: her best-known guitars are quiet on walls, and her famous gowns are immobile on mannequins, several of which are on loan after being sold at auction in Los Angeles in November for more than $4 million (all profits from both auction and exhibition are earmarked for the Amy Winehouse Foundation).
The most moving artefacts, on the other hand, are the street signs of Camden Square, north London, which fans claimed as graffitied books of condolence from the day she died in July 2011 (stolen 14 times and now owned by the family), her beloved Wurlitzer jukebox, and a used wand of mascara from the Back to Black era: she was a millionaire by this point, but still loyal to the high street Rimmel brand (at the sight of which It’s no surprise that Winehouse had the most effect on Adele — a screen displays Adele’s Albert Hall concert from September 2011, encouraging the crowd to beam their phone lights into the gloomy auditorium, transforming it into a galaxy of stars: “Amy can now see us from upstairs,” says the narrator.
Winehouse’s mental anguish, brought on by the hazards of fame and addiction, is now seen through a new perspective. “In the limelight,” for example, considers how the mainstream media of the mid-to-late 2000s, which gleefully mocked her struggles, “implying that Amy was dysfunctional rather than in need of empathy and support,” has evolved in a society that encourages “the growing awareness of the connection between public perception and self-esteem.” Would she still be alive today if she had gotten today’s level of assistance? Surprisingly, she most likely would.
The exhibition concludes with the obligatory “immersive experience,” a mirrored, semi-circular space that displays performance footage of Tears Dry on Their Own from Shepherd’s Bush Empire in 2007 (reimagined as the jazz club Joe’s Pub in New York), the images distorted into an impressionistic, painterly dreamscape that is at once beautiful, euphoric, and disturbingly ghostly. It’s a gut-wrenching finale, in which Amy Winehouse is no longer immortalized via her songs — she was a talented 27-year-old lady who will never be forgotten. It’s also a tribute to death’s secrets that the farther her life fades, the more brilliant her brilliance becomes.
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