In 1986, the Pet shop Boys, Madonna and Billy Ocean had number one singles on the Charts, Queen released 'A Kind of Magic', and a 20 year old woman, left Scotland for London to write for on one of the most popular pop music magazines of the time. As a writer for Smash Hits, Sylvia Patterson interviewed Amy Winehouse, shared a plum with Johnny Cash, was threatened by Eminem and watched the music industry as she knew it completely change.
30 years later, Sylvia Patterson reflects on her own life, feminism in rock and roll and the demise of music journalism in her book, I'm Not with the Band: A Writer's Life Lost in Music.
Bono was… at that time, I think it was the year 2000, Bono was in for a great deal of ridicule. Even though in those days the music wasn’t particularly important in terms of being in their glory years, but they were still the biggest band in the world at that time. The thing about Bono is that he really loved the fact that I would pull his leg in a very gentle way. "Bono, is there anything you would like to apologise for? What about some of those specs, for example? Or some of those haircuts?" I remember he got up from the table and he walks around the table and says "I’m getting a tongue-lashing here!" As he put it in his Irish way. He actually loved that. He actually really loved the idea that someone wouldn’t take him so seriously. You find that the ones who were actually really huge, didn’t want to be taken so seriously. After the conversation, he invited me out for dinner with the rest of the band because he was up for even more of a tongue-lashing!
It was a very clinical environment as you can imagine. She was in the Clarige’s Hotel in London – very formal. I was perched in a very swanky suite of the hotel and she walks through the door. I was very much expecting Madonna to walk in basically straight from the Vogue video of 1990 and have some fabulous dancers behind her. Perhaps a fabulous suit, perhaps a conical bra. She walked in the door with no makeup on whatsoever. She said to me, "You’ll have to excuse me, I’m wearing my blanket." And she was wearing a ream of cloth. She looked like a hippy from the 1970s, she had long, centre-parted, greasy hair and plaits on either side and she was very much in her “Earth Mother” phase. And to me, an imposter had walked in the room! Where is the fabulous Madonna? But again it was, ‘What am I doing, this person from a small town in Scotland, here is the most fabulous female popstar who has ever existed and I am going to have to keep a straight face and try to get through the next 45 minutes with this person.’
I think that fame certainly contributed to [her death] to a significant degree. It was 2007 when I met Amy Winehouse. Back to Black was not yet #1 across the planet and she was not yet involved in any serious drugs, she was not yet back with Blake. She was 23, she was a very boisterous person. She was very young even for her 23 years at that time. She had no death wish. She drank too much. She was very obsessed with calories, she was very of her generation in that she was very, very obsessed with being slim. She said it was for health, but it just wasn’t. She hated being chubby, as she thought she was. She actually said to me at one point: “I would rather drink than eat. I’ll save all of my calories for alcohol.” That obviously is not a very healthy mind set to be in.
But I don’t think that she was on some fast track to a Kurt Cobain situation. I just think she was not robust enough to cope with fame and I think that the way that fame had become even 10 years ago, fame had become very frightening and all-encompassing…
Even Adele said last year that fame had become toxic and frightening and I think Amy’s life at that point was going to become the first year when that was apparent. Everything was incredibly tabloid. She did have 40 photographers outside of her door for every day of her life for two years. She was a music person before she was anyone else. The drugs, she wasn’t strong enough to take them and in the end… she just didn’t eat enough. I really do think that is the truth. I think she did not eat enough. She was a tiny money. It was a combination of being unable to cope with fame and just being physically weak. Dreadful, really.