Amy Winehouse, You Know I’m No Good: the meaning of the lyrics

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Do you remember Amy Winehouse alive? Every day dozens of virtual bouquets of flowers are placed in the comments to her songs, the elegies dense of pathos periodically published on the Internet cry the destiny that stopped a brilliant artist. But the eccentric girl, her unequivocal voice, do you remember them?

I listened to that song again, by chance. That song began to circulate in 2007, and I never listened to it with real attention, perhaps influenced by the considerations related to her premature death. I didn’t realize how particular that was. You Know I’m No Good, caught among Youtube recommendations, stands out with its vital charge and the intensity of its feelings.

The album from which it is extracted, Back to Black, had launched Amy among the greatest British musicians: it is the first British artist to win 5 Grammy Awards in one night on February 10, 2008, when the album triumphs in Best Vocal pop album category. With a sale of 3,580,000 copies only in the UK, it is now the second best-selling album in the country in the 21st century and the thirteenth ever.

At that time, Amy met Blake Fielder, the guy who will marry her, the one she is so deep in love with, the one she just betrayed. It happens after a period of eating disorders and nights ruined by the excesses. You know I’m No Good, she writes in the message bottled in the album, which is the same of Rehab, that well known refusal to  get cured from alcohol addiction.

We do not focus on the story of Amy and her young death. We will try to focus on the song that she gave us, example of beauty and immortal sensibility. I’m No Good reflects the betrayal and perhaps even the last relapse in alcohol. “I’m sorry, I’m trying hard”, she seems to tell us, “but I told you I am like this.” Everyone wanted a better Amy. Perhaps what she was asking was just to be loved.

Meet you dowstairs in the bar and hurt,
Your rolled up sleeves in your skull t-shirt,
You say ‘What did you do with him today?’,
And sniffed me out like I was Tanqueray

Few details are enough to recreate the scene: he comes to the appointment to talk about what happened. He tries to keep calm, too strong because the betrayal can shock him. But it’s not easy, and he tries to smell her, in order to check on the other’s smell, as he was smelling a bottle of gin to check that it’s pure. And she knows how he feels.

‘Cause you’re my fella my guy,
Hand me your Stella and fly,
By the time I’m out the door,
You tear men down like Roger Moore

She doesn’t want to be too sorry or in any way in a weaker position. He acts as some James Bond’s actors: stolid as no one else; and she is a lover who must not apologise for anything. The request for forgiveness emerges only afterwards, and it’s not explicit.

I cheated myself,
Like I knew I would,
I told you I was trouble,
You know that I’m no good

“I’m not a good girl, I’m not like you expected”: she can’t ask for forgiveness, she doesn’t say she’s sorry. But the alibi is on that “myself”: because if I love you, and it’s you, tight in my back, what I care about, I’m the one who gets screwed.

Upstairs in bed with my ex boy,
He’s in a place but I can’t get joy,
Thinking on you in the final throes,
This is when my buzzer goes,
Run out to meet you, chips and pitta,
You say ‘when we married’,
’cause you’re not bitter,
‘There’ll be none of him no more’,
I cried for you on the kitchen floor,


She’s really in love, she writes in the second verse: Yes, she wanted to betray him, but even at that moment she was thinking to him. And without giving any explanation, she runs to meet him. Next scene, they are chatting and crunching something (the detail of the chips creates, with very few words, the idea of one of their habitual conversations). She knows who she wants and she is grateful that he didn’t run away: they come back together, they will leave this episode behind.

The singer-songwriter is wonderful on creating a climax with music and words and then breaking it in last stanza, making us even more empathic: thinking back to that conversations, she’s afraid that he changes his mind, sad for having disappointed him again.

Sweet reunion Jamaica and Spain,
We’re like how we were again,
I’m in the tub, you on the seat,
Lick your lips as I soap my feet,
Then you notice like carpet burn,
My stomach drop and my guts churn,
You shrug and it’s the worst,
Who truly stuck the knife in first

Jamaica and Spain, that is smoke and alcohol. She plunged into the tub and he is with her. Everything as before, then he sees signs and senses that it happened again. As if the temperature suddenly plunges, the two stop talking. Once again, he says nothing, he doesn’t disclose what he thinks, proud as her, wounded by that ostentatious indifference. It was all right, and now it’s over. Who’s hurting who now?

It is a story of proud love. It is the flow of consciousness of a girl who tightens her fears into her heart and is unable to apologize. But she’s asking to be loved. The words we don’t say are often the most important, the phrases that are stuck between the heart and the throat, the hardest to express.

Even if I can’t pronounce them, the lyrics seems to tell us, please understand. Even if I can’t apologize, forgive me. I am also the one who chases you, asking to stay together; the one who smiles when you make those plans; the one who is probably afraid of being better.

Behind a mask that wants to be strong, a request for forgiveness and help is hidden. I betrayed you and I ran to you immediately: don’t leave me, help me change. Loving and forgiving is not easy and it is even more difficult to let yourself be loved and forgiven, because it is difficult to accept gratuitousness. But in the end of the day, what remains is the hope of being rescued and welcomed.

Amy comes back, every time, with a bag of chips or a bottle of beer. With no words to say, after having cried in secret. She lets the other take her back, she let him forgive her. Wishing to be helped in changing, even if she will feel in debt afterwards. Maybe that’s what love really is: to feel wrong, to accept that we are not perfect, and start over again together.

Amy Winehouse (14 Sep 1983 – 23 Jul 2011)


Rating: 5.0/5. From 1 vote.
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