"Hers were the most open, honest lyrics you're ever going to hear on pop radio," Amy Winehouse's producer Mark Ronson told Rolling Stone earlier this year. This summer's documentary Amy provides ample reminders of this — including the insinuation that many of her biggest hits were inspired by her fraught, at times violent, relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil. The couple was married for just two years, but involved for far longer. They first met in 2005 and within a month, Winehouse had his name tattooed on her chest. Even after their divorce, they never cut ties completely and Fielder-Civil reportedly collapsed upon learning of her death. The documentary doesn't go into the details of which songs and lyrics Fielder-Civil prompted, so which Amy Winehouse songs are really about Blake?
It's risky to impose such a biographical narrative on a singer's work, because much more goes into crafting a song than any individual relationship. Take "Rehab," for example — Fielder-Civil could be credited for the song because he's often cited as the man who introduced her to drugs, but the song contains so much more than a simple narrative of narcotics abuse. It's triumphant and self-assured, distinctly Amy in a way that asserts her independence from any influence.
Winehouse started seeing Fielder-Civil a year before the release of Back to Black, the album that catapulted her into the public eye and onto the US charts. He's been credited with inspiring much of the album, due to the on-again, off-again nature of their relationship. Some of the finest songs off Back to Black bear clear marks of their romance — here are some of the most damning lyrics Amy's relationship with Blake spawned.
"I Loved You Much / It's Not Enough / You Love Blow / And I Love Puff"
Shortly after Winehouse's death, Rolling Stone writer Jenny Eliscu recalled the singer describing the transition from her first album Frank to Back to Black in terms of the drugs she used. “I used to smoke a lot of weed," Winehouse told Eliscu. "I suppose if you have an addictive personality then you go from one poison to the other." But Fielder-Civil was the one who introduced her to harder drugs — as far as personal narratives in songs go, this line from "Back to Black" is pretty clear.
"We Had To Hit A Wall / So This Is Inevitable Withdrawal"
Blake and Amy described their relationship as soul mates, but they were never the most steady couple. Rehab metaphors abound, and this line from "Tears Dry On Their Own" likely points to both a literal and metaphorical withdrawal — a split from Fielder-Civil, as seen through the eyes of someone with a self-professed "addictive personality."
"Meet You Downstairs In The Bar And Heard / Your Rolled-Up Sleeves And Your Skull Tee Shirt"
Winehouse and Fielder-Civil were fixtures at their local Camden bar, where they first met — this quite literal line from "You Know I'm No Good" sets the scene for the autobiographical tune.
"He Still Stands In Spite Of What His Scars Say / And I'll Battle Till This Bitter Finale"
If the following line "B – I would have died too" weren't sufficient evidence, this line from "Some Unholy War" would still point to B for Blake. Fielder-Civil had a long history of cutting and self-harm, and confessed during his trial that he had attempted suicide no fewer than five times. In this song, Winehouse's love is sufficient to keep them both standing, or else take them both down together.
"Don't Make No Difference If I End Up Alone / I'd Rather Have Myself And Smoke My Homegrown"
Weed seems to recur as a stand-in for independent Amy — because Fielder-Civil turned her on to other drugs, it represents her life before they became involved. Her turn towards her "homegrown" parallels a breakup with Fielder-Civil during the making of Back to Black.
"I Would Die Before I Divorce Ya / I'd Take A Thousand Thumps For My Love"
Winehouse was working on a follow-up to Back to Black when she died in 2011. The material was reportedly just as much drawn from her life as her previous work — the track "Between the Cheats" is one such example. A posthumous collection of Winehouse's songs entitled Lioness was released in 2011. Winehouse was only married once — to Blake Fielder-Civil — so the reference to divorce here must point to his presence again. Earlier this year, he told The Sun that he believed their divorce papers were forged. Perhaps an outrageous claim, but his assertion that neither of them wanted divorce seems to have some foundation in Winehouse's lyrics.
"Will You Love Me Tomorrow? / Is This A Lasting Treasure, Or Just A Moment's Pleasure?"
The Lioness track "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" proves the downside of attributing too much biography to a song — treating a song as a memoir sacrifices some of its universality. "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" is a tribute to the ephemerality of relationships, but considering the many ups and downs of Winehouse and Fielder-Civil's relationship, it's likely that Winehouse's choice to cover the Carole King song at least in part inspired by him.
One of the truly incredible things about Amy Winehouse, and something the documentary Amy highlights, is her sheer musical talent. She could write brilliant lyrics in moments. Ronson recalls playing the piano chords for "Back to Black" and finding Winehouse with accompanying lyrics just an hour later. Sure, much of her work was likely inspired by her taut and occasionally abusive relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil, but independent of autobiography, her songs stand on their own. The documentary is a beautiful tribute to her work and her life. Said Ronson, “You are reminded why she was famous in the first place."
Editor's note: Previously, this article falsely stated that Winehouse wrote "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" and incorrectly represented the lyric "I'd take a thousand thumps for my love" as "I'd take a thousand lumps for my love."