I can't remember when a book last left me with such a sense of undiluted joy. Alex James is clearly one of those people who is extrovertedSo.Much.Fun.
I can't remember when a book last left me with such a sense of undiluted joy. Alex James is clearly one of those people who is extroverted, optimistic, spontaneous and naturally lucky, and the tone of the book is infectious. He has enthusiasm and curiosity about pretty much everywhere he goes and everything he does, whilst seeing his 1990s excesses through older, wiser eyes - it's lovely to find such positivity combined with self-awareness and intelligence. It seems that he rarely did stuff or hung out with people because it was supposed to be cool: he unwittingly stumbled across them and genuinely really liked them. This is friendly, funny and often aphoristic writing and it's really nice to see someone uncynically making the most of life, whether it's debauchery or geeking out over science. Heck, I probably don't know enough optimists!
I will definitely be looking out for his newspaper and magazine columns in future and I'll bet this isn't the last time I'll read Bit of a Blur. As one of the cover quotes says, this book is excellent company.
It can make you feel inspired to go to somewhere new, or finally throw yourself into some unusual interest you've pondered. But the slightly dazed simplicity of expression and tangential wit - probably the effects of years of booze and drugs - and the sense of looking back on a younger, wilder past, meant that the book also felt like it was on the right wavelength when I read the first few chapters earlier this year when quite ill, dizzy and without the energy for any projects.
Of course, one of the other reasons the book seems quite so magical is that Blur were *the* band of my teens. This is life on the other side of the stories in NME and Melody Maker, inside the London Britpop scene where we dreamed of hanging out - and the middle chapters are chock full with references that sent a shiver down my spine. ...more
[4.5] Why not 5? For years I'd looked at Maus - friends' or shop copies before I got my own - and thought the cover illustrations were so beautifully[4.5] Why not 5? For years I'd looked at Maus - friends' or shop copies before I got my own - and thought the cover illustrations were so beautifully and subtly shaded that the busy black-and-whiteness of the interior was a let-down. After a while of reading, I got used to it, and Spiegelman can convey remarkable things via dots and lines of eyes and mouth.
One of the strongest things about Maus is its acknowledgement that people who are heroic in having survived terrible things can also be bloody difficult to live with. ...more
[2.5] Drab: a friend captured in one word what I'd tried to say in 200 of surprisingly splenetic rant. It doesn't have to be anything to do with stayi[2.5] Drab: a friend captured in one word what I'd tried to say in 200 of surprisingly splenetic rant. It doesn't have to be anything to do with staying at home in your slippers, as the blurb implies; there are people who can do that and be wickedly funny about it. (At least the final 60-70 pages were more relaxed and fun and an improvement on the rest.)
Being good at other things, or being a nice person, doesn't necessarily make someone much cop at writing prose. Although the ratings for this book show that, as far as Belle & Sebastian frontman Murdoch is concerned, I'm in a minority on that point. Alongside 100+ mundane blog entries from 2003-06, there are a few poems and lyrics in here - most are pretty good. His thoughts are more interesting distilled; likewise, a reprinted Q&A from the NME has some pretty snappy answers.
What's woefully lacking are humour and passion. More than once he says he won't get into a topic too much because he doesn't want to bore us. Nope, by providing superficial summaries of recent activities in words of no flair - the sort of thing that's interesting from old friends but probably not what you pick up a book for - he bores me, for one. What I wanted was some proper trainspottery detail. He's obviously capable of it on football and music. There are a few playlists, but no extended commentary on the qualities of the songs with the insight you'd hope from a musician, nor (aside from one paragraph) real detail about his own recording and production. Whenever he mentioned something and I thought I might check it out one day, I realised it was because people I knew had also recommended it... His taste is good, but the way he talks about stuff drains it of vitality.
The humour: he's way too scared of offending people. (Okay, I'm not immune to that either, else I'd have given you the aforementioned splenetic rant in the style of someone who grew up wanting to write for the UK music press.) But if you're a fucking popstar you can describe Joy Division as a nihilist moaning over a bass solo without saying it's something you shouldn't say on the radio. (That was one of the few interesting bits that got past his self-censorship.) And it's good enough to be amusing even if you like 'em. (I bloody love the bass solos, though it varies re. the nihilsm.) Still, I read Luke Haines' book straight afterwards, which more than made up for the lack of pointy-elbowed jibes.
Murdoch talks a bit about religion, and his charmingly quaint pillar-of-the-parish activities, but only to the extent he talks about other things he likes, and never in a proselytising way. If this book does have a use to me, it's as a public-sphere example when trying to explain to the angriest sort of atheist that not all religious people are right-wing fundamentalist arseholes. (Saying I know a few left-wing liberal, moderate Christians who are really nice and don't preach at people is all very well, but mentioning someone they've heard of is more useful.) Although a couple of said angry atheists I've known would, on the basis of this book, try to characterise him as a touch puritanical or sexually repressed; he spends a high ratio of time staring at random girls, described in a manner not unlike a shy, nerdy 17-year old boy, rather than pulling (he confesses he's never asked anyone out) as you might expect from a mid-thirties moderately successful popstar in good shape. It might be to do with religion. Or some other unrelated reason, he might be one of those people who's careful because they get involuntarily attached rather easily.
But how many damn times have I explained to someone or other that B&S aren't really twee, it's just an image that doesn't stand up to close examination; look at all the sleaze and sexiness and melancholy in their songs. I got into them through 'Stars of Track and Field' and 'Seeing Other People'...go figure ... that's their essence, to me. And then there's at least half the rest of Sinister, and the Carry-On/Confessions 'Step into My Office', and the weird Tigermilk cover, and the beautiful sad sharpness of early spring light that lives inside most of The Life Pursuit. (Interesting that several parallels are made in here between that and the first two albums - the three I love.) The twee-goody thing is kind of right after all. Thank fuck for Death of the Author.
Still, there were things to like in the [not very] Celestial Cafe: - It's getting light, a time when instead of going to bed, you'd rather hitch to Oxford, or the Midlands, following your nose, ending up in a strange person's spare bedroom. I once ended up in Amelia Fletcher's [of Tallulah Gosh] house. Murdoch seems too constrained by lurking tendrils of Calvinism to have that sense of wonder and adventure on most of these pages. I wanted to read more which did have, so a few days later I started Alex James' second book. - I guess I wanted it to be Don't Fear the Reaper, Make Me Smile, Virgina Plain and There Is A Light That Never Goes Out rolled into one. And it isn't going to happen. The exhilaration of those tracks! The taste! The confidence in the voice (too often lacking, though it could have done without that "I guess"). And the realism is charmingly easy to appreciate now I've finished the Luke Haines... I did play 'I'm a Cuckoo' on repeat quite a lot of times. But not near so many as the first three. - Despite his religion, he despises Christian Rock.
...As well as things to grimace at: - Worst of all, it turns out he's the sort of person to tell a cross stranger to Cheer Up! Yes, that works really well.
Despite everything, this was a fast read - perhaps because it was never exactly involving....more