[3.5] Louise from Sleeper: plenty to like and also plenty to dislike, she wasn't easy or straightforward and that was part of her awkward-squad appeal...more[3.5] Louise from Sleeper: plenty to like and also plenty to dislike, she wasn't easy or straightforward and that was part of her awkward-squad appeal. In the first, pre-fame, half of the book I was reminded mostly of the dislike; I was annoyed and frustrated as I had been nearly twenty years ago when reading her interviews, full of disappointment that someone I thought was cool had said that. And wished, then and now, that I was reading Justine Frischmann instead because she wasn't like this.
That first half was mostly in that semi-humorous nostalgic journalese that thousands of people, including several of my friends, can write creditably probably even on a bad hangover and no sleep. Tapes made from Top of the Pops, people you liked and disliked at school (surnames always given as part of the style, though it rarely seems a fair thing to do) - you know the sort of thing. It gets old unless you really really like the person, the music they're talking about and/or they've got a transcendent writing style. I actually wouldn't swap her childhood for mine, though it, whilst far from perfect, was happier and more normal on balance. Whilst she, like me, felt a bit out of sync due to having older parents, she was just a bit brighter than average, not brilliant as I'd assumed when I was a teenager, and she seemed too content with the mediocrity around her, not weird enough - an asset in her suffocating, bully-riddled Essex school... There are shining moments but mostly it's all very stereotype-Essex, right down to the way she and her friend dress to see a Bowie gig. I used to assume that having spent teenage years closer to London would mean that interesting, less obvious music and culture and people who liked them were easier to find, but this was no better than hundreds of miles further north - and much worse than my school which was at least quite peaceful (even if it couldn't compare, in terms of academic options or interesting people, with the schools many of my university friends had been to).
Much of the meh-ness fell into place later, with this: “Our debut interview was with the NME or Melody Maker, I'm not sure which – both are interchangeable to me. Jon, Diid and Andy have grown up on these papers but they've never been part of my musical landscape.” So that's partly why her tastes stayed so mainstream-pop, why she never even referred to the idea of corporate-sellout plastic Bowie in order to dismiss it, why in her teens she hardly seems to get any more serious about music than she was as a kid. That she didn't have any idea about what you actually needed to do to be in a band until she went to university and didn't even know the difference between rhythm guitar and bass. (The fucking cheek! As far as I was concerned you were a write-off band-wise if you hadn't learned to play guitar etc reasonably well by university time . Not that I, being frequently ill and also very moody back then, would have been any sort of asset to a student band even if I could play. I had several opportunities to talk myself into bands, but wouldn't have dared because you already had to have the skillz. I was in absolute agreement with that, never liked people to see I couldn't do stuff, and simply being an okay singer was not good enough for me if I couldn't play and write. If it hadn't been for illness I certainly would have made a better stab at it, or perhaps I would have been confident enough not to think the keyboard too embarrassing to be worth working at; as it was my hands were too weak for guitar and I tired too easily in the crucial year or two when it may still have been worth seriously learning and practising guitar - pretty often even walking to lectures was too much.Yes I am bitter.)
Oh god, and then there was this bit: “He's a boy. He is very particular about amps and guitars. He's surprisingly reluctant to base his selection criteria on a) which guitar looks the prettiest b) which guitars come in green, c) what guitar Courtney Love is currently using.” [I have one of my bouts of “I'm not actually a girl, I'm something that was randomly allocated the body of one (and usually tries to make the best of this). Though at least she reminded me of an old favourite, Hole's 'Celebrity Skin'... my name is might have been, my name is never was, my name's forgotten, and that power pop chorus angrily celebrating nothing - because you might as well when you've nothing else to celebrate but almost. Words and ideas which sound quite different when nearly twenty years older; I'm just smiling in recognition. ]
And this: “His interview technique is a test of their musical hobbyism, to see if they pass muster or fail...It goes on like this for another half an hour. Endlessly on about favourite rock guitarists and obscure German electronica and not a single question directed to the girly singer. No enquiry into songwriting or lyrics.” Now, there were not a lot of social things I was good at as a fresher, but I am 100% serious that even as a teenager I dealt with equivalent group conversations way better. You fucking well interrupt, you tell them your opinions about music that are as well-informed as theirs, you watch the momentary puzzlement gradually turn to respect, which is a bit of a buzz, and you keep on with the joining in and interrupting - after all they interrupt each other all the time, so once they've noticed you in the first place it becomes equal. In my day there was even a useful comedy reference if they were being twats in certain ways. (Mentioning the Fast Show woman whose ideas were always repeated by men – I used to know her character name – leveraged several apologies. Thank you Arabella Weir.) If I'd been more truly confident and more solid, I should have started referring to them as my Sleeperblokes... It was a great disappointment to me, and I honestly thought it would not be this way as I got older, that I can count on the fingers of one hand the other women I've known who also like this sort of intensively detailed conversation about music – and a couple of them I don't even know very well, mostly just to talk to online in group discussions. Oh yeah, and the “musical hobbyism” thing, and not talking about songwriting? That's because the journo doesn't want to show up his own shortage of musical talent, is trying to create a level playing field with people he envies, and is doing the same for many readers who are in the same boat. Not that I realised this until I was much older...
But then, but then … In that same bit about the interview, just as they're starting to get famous, there at last is the Louise Wener who I remembered, who was the reason to read this bloody book... Not even realising the irony of this whilst making no effort to talk to the woman, the journalist “hasn't stopped banging on about political correctness since he got here. You use the phrase 'right on' a lot, don't you?...it's a bit prescriptive, a bit Orwellian” (p.158) She may have felt like a controversialist cartoon, but if you were a teenage girl with strong, awkward opinions, reading this stuff was seriously inspiring.
Then remembering about when I disagreed with her and agreed with Frischmann. “How does it feel to know boys are masturbating over your photograph?...They are questions male music journalists ask me. All the time...” [Find quote] Justine Frischmann was detached, amused and cool, not angry or especially flattered. Which was even more cool because she didn't look like Claudia Schiffer. Though what I don't remember anyone saying at the time was “So what? If you're not very old or a complete moose (and possibly even then given the infinite variety of humanity and its secret tastes) someone who saw you on the bus this week probably thought about you later on whilst they were having a wank. It's good that they don't tell you...”
It's probably fitting that a post about Louise Wener consists mostly of off-topic, off-the-cuff rants. But yeah, on to the good stuff, because there is also plenty of it. In the pre-fame section 1, her writing really takes off, away from the journalese, with the more melancholy stuff: the chapter on the “groundhog years” of temp jobs, cold flats, rubbish rehearsal rooms and greasy spoons, and on her father's last illness and death. That inspired her to give the band one last push, a sad event but so lucky in the timing: a band like theirs needed to pop up in 1993-4 at the beginning of the Britpop cycle; arrive very late at the party in 96 or 97 and you might only have a few months before you were dropped. (Later, she says that one thing that contributed to the rise and fall of Britpop was cuts in singles prices that record companies couldn't really afford, and in 97 they were put up again. [p.296] Which instinctively makes sense. I didn't buy a lot of singles when I already had the album, but when they were only 99p I sometimes would if I liked a B-side that Lamacq and Whiley had played, or to support a band like a team. I still remember the scorching journey into town to buy the cassette single of 'Country House', in the summer of 1995 which for me as for her is “indelibly hot and sunny in my memory”. I loved to imagine I was somewhere else (Camden), doing more exciting things, but far away in my boring life there was still some magic.)
Films or songs about being famous are often derided, and not of much interest to people who haven't experienced it, but Louise Wener's writing about her few years of fame is often much better, more alive and wiser than the by-numbers schooldays stuff (not entirely free of cliches, but there's a vivid urgency that makes them easier to disregard). I couldn't quite believe it after the disappointment of the first half. She makes me realise stuff I should have worked out years ago: the extent to which bands aren't in control of their own budget, that labels can piss them off by spending stupid amounts of royalties on promo stuff . Or (one that was more between the lines) that the stress of being cooped up with other people and their noise and smells and unending presence on tour buses can make temperamental types who need their space tip from drug use into addiction as they try to cope. I know I would have to be out of it to live with some of that stuff 24 hours a day for weeks on end. Louise Wener feels lucky not to have an addictive personality: ”you can happily regress to a sort of dirty, corrupt state of extended childhood if you want to. Other people will make your decisions for you. Other people will endlessly spin your mistakes. You see it all the time, bands laying down in the chaos and getting comfortable, forgetting to get back up again.” (p.263) I was only ever dimly aware that whilst Louise was in the band she'd been the partner of one of them for seven years, split up with him, and shortly afterwards started going out with one of the others (who she's still with now). And they managed to keep the band functioning reasonably well for about three years, including being in each others' pockets on tour, after that which is pretty impressive. You have to be a pretty solid, non-temperamental personality to pull that off. And it must have been well-managed for it not to become the defining thing about the band to someone who read as much music press as I did. (It's a bit of a shame that she wants to discourage her children from getting involved in music, but I'm not sure quite how serious she was about that bit.)
After the annoyance about pretty guitars above, I was absolutely delighted to read this: “Six hours working out the exact guitar line that fits the newly-crafted chorus. I'm getting geeky about sonics. I'm getting particular about amps and snare drum sounds. I'm not so bothered if my guitar is green or not...Music is slippery and elusive and chasing it, taming it, making it fit together is where the good stuff is. What I love most about all of this, I'm beginning to realise, is the process”. (p.245)
Sleeper may not have been as good as Blur and Pulp, but they did have some decent songs. There were yer classic Britpop character songs ….back in the early 80s one of the seeds was sown: “the [Jam] album I fall in love with is Setting Sons. It's less Vespa and Parka than All Mod Cons, more crafted, satirical and Kinks-ish. It's crammed full of narratives about wasted lives and class rivalries... council houses, rusting bicycles and holy Coca-Cola tins... 'Smithers-Jones': I don't think I've ever heard a pop song with lyrics about a ground-down, pinstripe-suit-wearing middle-aged man before.” (p.54) But it was the songs about love and sex which stuck in my memory most. 'What Do I Do Now?', even before I'd experienced a moribund relationship, was almost too real and painful to listen to, and there's something great about the way it's so simple, so poignant and catchy and jaunty. It wasn't for years, till I'd realised about my own Inbetweeners and my dismissiveness of them that I really heard what she'd been on about in that track. Or 'Delicious', “a frank, gorgeous, throwaway, punky pop gem about the pure lustful joy of having it off with someone [you] really really like”. And which enshrined that word for me; it's rare I use it without thinking of the song. Though I always had to block out the line that created the unattractive image of some hulk of a rugby player gone to seed (“you're a big man but you're out of shape” … her type isn't mine). I never bought the second album – it didn't seem cool and I'd probably disagreed with too many of Louise's interviews – though I've heard a few friends praise it since. Sleeper are maybe a band where you'd recommend a few tracks – likewise I'd like to recommend bits of Just For One Day rather than the whole thing, though books don't really work that way. (less)
I had pretty low expectations by the time I started reading this. It was the first book I was drawn to on Goodreads which I hadn't heard of elsewhere....moreI had pretty low expectations by the time I started reading this. It was the first book I was drawn to on Goodreads which I hadn't heard of elsewhere. (Still a rare thing – I mostly use the site to record reading of books I knew about before it began, or those recommended by people I got to know elsewhere). Later I saw a few bad reviews of a sort I generally have sympathy with: reads like a creative writing exercise, yet more generic American litfic. Etc.
I was still interested in this “Is it a novel? Is it a collection of short stories?” episodic ficion about a middle-aged music mogul, his thirtysomething female PA and people connected to them, spanning time from the 1970s to the quite realistically mildly-dystopian late 2020s. Even though one negative review stuck with me for saying it wasn't that much about music at all. Hmmm....well, it's more about it than I expected after reading that. In the middle third the stories concentrate more on the slightly- or formerly- famous in general, not specifically the music industry, but throughout, youth - gilded, rebellious, romanticised - loss, compromise and ageing are understood in the modes of rock and pop in the second half of the twentieth century. Part of the idiom of music which feels like home to me in the way those of other mediums don't quite. And if I'd recommend this book to anyone, it would be people who also feel the resonance of those ideas around music and age. (Acting and sport have something of that idealised attachment to youth, but not quite in the same way...) I've been watching a lot of music documentaries on BBC4 lately and it's the same feeling in this book as from the interviewees there.
The title and theme seem to be a conflation of Bowie lyrics. A sickly, washed up guitarist at one point says "time is a goon" as if it were a stock phrase, which others in conversation with him briefly question. It's a recipe for the underlying theme of the book, blending the ideas in Bowie's 'Time' with "we are the goon squad and we're coming to town".
A Visit From the Goon Squad certainly has its litfic-blah moments – the first two stories/chapters are the least surprising in their perspective and contents; throughout some ideas and writing are more successful than others. A device which used to send shivers down my spine, the use of brief summaries of what would happen to minor characters in the future, started to become dulled by overuse, though at least a few mysteries were left. Sometimes the American-ness of everything bored me; if a book about similar people had been British or European I would have loved it more and possibly given it five stars.
Multiple, interconnected viewpoints are a big trend in fiction at the moment; I was reminded of The Spinning Heart though here the characters are distributed much further in time and geography; and like The Spinning Heart the book sometimes genuinely surprised me with who the next narrative was by or about, going left-field without losing the thread, weaving something cumulatively very interesting. Given that Goon Squad used first, second and third persons, plus a Powerpoint structure, at various points I quite understand the cynic who compares this to a writing course exercise, but I enjoyed the variety, there are too many other redeeming features, and I was too interested in the characters and their world to be so dismissive myself. It's also funnier than the average book of New York-set litfic, which helped it a lot. Chapter nine was especially witty, a send-up of the DFW-inspired trend for voluminously footnoted, excessively introspective journalism (and in the light of some comments, which I read three weeks after finishing Goon Squad, about Wallace's predatory past, the piece looks even cleverer). I also think the Powerpoint structure worked very well for some things - p.244 was my favourite in the whole book, about the idea of what someone's trying to say v. what they're actually saying, which traditional narrative paragraphs are never great at doing.) Goon Squad is experimental-lite, but that's fine really; most people don't want to read a neo-Finnegan's Wake on the train home from work, nor do they want to have to dumb down to Dan Brown as the next alternative.
Even if I didn't like most of the characters to the extent of I-wish-I-was-their-best-friend as happens with a few books, I usually shared their concerns, and where I didn't, they were interesting because it was harder work to understand them. I don't often get exasperated with characters the way many posters do – it's not like I have to talk to these fictional people all the time and it's interesting trying to understand almost anyone when there's no irritation from unending proximity. But here Sasha almost managed to annoy me into empathy-failure with her kleptomania. (After a while I tried to understand it in the same way as alcoholism, as she's a fairly aware person who doesn't actually aim to cause other people frantic confusion over needed items suddenly going missing.) Egan didn't lay it on with a trowel about characters' backgrounds as a cause of their troubles (thinking particularly of Sasha and Rob) … past and family were definitely alluded to but these characters were more like real and complicated people you meet, and who don't explain absolutely everything to you, than like examples in psychology textbooks - and I started to warm to Sasha as a person rather than because a detailed justification had been set out for her.
Goon Squad has a similarly lightish touch on contemporary concerns about the internet (sometimes, I think, with tongue surreptitiously in cheek): reconnection, the alleged demise of long-form writing, the ubiquity of the web, whose opinion to trust, the anxieties of exerting influence. The environmental stuff isn't overdone either, and if you presume the vague mentions of wars include the Iraq farrago the whole thing simply sounds weary, rather than something which everyone would take to be hell-in-a-handcart.
The finale had a little too much of the big triumphant Hollywood ending; a couple of days ago I'd finished Midnight's Children, another award-winner which had the same bombast at the end. Here again, whilst enjoying it, I was also conscious of manipulation, something to leave the reader or critic or judging panel on a very high note, having found a book with some merit which also turns out to be feelgood. However, what with the rock music theme ... a final flourish is a good way to end a gig. (less)
A highly competent and interesting book about an album I have little passion for.
I started reading the 33 1/3 books in order - the ones about albums I...moreA highly competent and interesting book about an album I have little passion for.
I started reading the 33 1/3 books in order - the ones about albums I know, any road. Looked back at the list, and I'd missed out Harvest. It beigeness makes it easy to overlook ... an album I listened to a lot at a barren time in my life, 2002-05, and which feels relatively unconnected to my friends or the aesthetic world I favour/ed when younger and older. As several reviewers mention, Inglis likes, but doesn't absolutely love the record; for me it was easier to get on with this book than it would have been if it had been written by a fan who was head-over-heels with Harvest.
The author appears to have a wide-ranging knowledge of Neil Young's career; I certainly don't. Over the years I know I've heard plenty of his songs, but aside from this album, I can only remember 'Harvest Moon'. Perhaps I should investigate further, but my heart isn't in it. (I just want to hear lots more Kinks records after reading The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society). And in male singers my preferences are for a deep voice, clever cultural allusion and wordplay ... that's 0 out of 3 then Neil ... sorry mate.
Though I do have a weakness for steel guitars; that must have been it. (It's a pretty big weakness; busk near me with a steel guitar when I have coins in pockets, and you will get money.)
The other appeal of Harvest is that it's good, but not stretching, singing practice for my contralto-of-limited-range. (I mean, have you tried singing along to many of these deeper-voiced female vocalists? Their voice gymnastics can be very hard work to keep up with, and sometimes just plain impossible, Amy.) But with a small range of notes, it's not easy getting depth of feeling into lyrics that really need it, like 'The Needle and the Damage Done', which increases my respect for Young as a singer, even if he's not exactly my favourite voice to listen to.
The most interesting bits of the book for me are the ones that aren't about Neil Young - about the differences in recording techniques in 60's and 70's Nashville, compared with London, New York and L.A., and the tightly-controlled world of country music, a sizeable island apart from the rest of the popular music business. Inglis seems like a guy who knows his stuff, even if his lack of enthusiasm for Harvest may make this book a bit frustrating for the album's biggest fans.(less)
An album with the strange familiarity of music fallen asleep to dozens of times, but when, or where, with who (or none) I cannot remember. And in the...moreAn album with the strange familiarity of music fallen asleep to dozens of times, but when, or where, with who (or none) I cannot remember. And in the past couple of weeks in appropriately semi-mystical fashion I've been pointed back toward this record on seeing that three otherwise unconnected friends - who usually listen to little pre-1990 - have been playing this on Spotify.
I listened intently on repeat to 'Alone Again Or' after (re?) discovering it in 2009 in the uniquely unlikely source of a piece of Severus Snape fanfiction. [Not something I've ever been in the habit of reading except for one brief phase. Srsly man.] Of the other songs I know the sound but not all the lyrics, perhaps never having listened through headphones. The psychedelic guitars meander and roll outside time and space, transporting me to a mood not unlike The Stone Roses eponymous effort. But wherever Forever Changes stirs from the trip to look out of the window into the troubled political world it feels jaded fear and slips it under your skin so subtly you can't be sure it wasn't there before, mingled as it is with the otherworldly comfort of the melodies. Brown and Squires would stick their heads out, yelling in cheek and anger to encourage the (Poll Tax) rioters, and with considerably less lyrical and sonic richness than Arthur Lee & co.
Both albums have on the surface a sense of being out of time, but contain some songs suffused with the political and social mood of their eras. And it's the west coast Sixties going sour which this book is about, Arthur Lee's reclusion foreshadowing the more widespread retreats that would follow the Manson murders and Altamont. Here I confess to parochialism: I'd love to hear more about the late sixties in Britain and Europe but as far as the USA goes, I'm still all Tom Wolfed and Hunter Thompsoned out from my late teens and early twenties; more than a page on the dodgy realities of the Haight Ashbury dream and I'm snoozing like a hippie chick who's been spiked. At least, though, we get a couple of pages on Performance*
The tricky thing about 33 1/3 books seems, as a British reader, that so many of them are by American music journalists with whom we don't have any existing rapport. It's not as easy to warm to their personal relationship with the music as it would be with someone who you've read on and off since NME and Melody Maker at 14. But Hultkrans manages it; he mentions identification with the music and the artists but not at great length, and perhaps because of the particular themes of depression and eccentric retreat from the world, ones I know a little from myself, but more so from more definitively introverted friends and lovers, I found it easy to feel at home.
His ten-page digression tenuously relating the album to the gnostic gospels - perhaps a personal interest - I could have done without, however. He admits that he can't be sure Lee read them, and as a previous reviewer also stated, the linked themes are just as easily found in Buddhism and occultism which were more surely in vogue at the time.
And I am grateful for the author's copious quotes from On Illness by Virginia Woolf and from A rebours which point me back to texts I mean to read and finish.
* You can watch it here. After having it on my list for over 15 years, I saw it this spring and the ensuing years had not been kind. Rather than a masterpiece of late-sixties decadence, in 2012 it can look like a Guy Ritchie parody starring Noel Fielding. (And if you'd ever thought Fielding was original, you won't after seeing Performance)(less)
All The Madmen is billed as an exploration of the influence of mental illness - and to a lesser extent, drugs - on...moreGreat idea; shame about the writer.
All The Madmen is billed as an exploration of the influence of mental illness - and to a lesser extent, drugs - on the British music scene c.1968-75. Though in practice, what we get is an entwined biography of the musicians mentioned in the sub-title, with an emphasis on nervous breakdowns, plus a few digressions about R.D. Laing and a couple of short chapters on the history of madness in England at the end.
As he's a very experienced rock biographer, I would tend to assume that Clinton Heylin has mostly got his facts right, and so I did learn a bit from this book. (And also spent longer reading about Fleetwood Mac and The Who than I ever thought I would in my life.) What I will mostly take away from it is the understanding that Ray Davies had his fair share of demons, which wasn't terribly obvious from the lovely pop tunes of The Kinks; how serious and frightening Nick Drake's near-catatonic depressive state evidently was, when you read about it as an adult, not a naive 15-year-old with a stack of music papers; and what a bastard Roger Waters was. According to some, still is. I'd long found the classic 70's Pink Floyd albums to be rather chilly, detached and alien; and knowing that their guiding force was this cold-blooded, unempathic, exploitative man, it seems to make so much sense now. *shiver*
Heylin drives the narrative like a competent Mojo reporter. Or "journo"; his overuse of the latter word set my teeth on edge. He enjoys his alliterative stylistic flourishes, but half the time they turn into pratfalls. I cringed plenty of times, in the same way as I often do in looking at a review or blog post I wrote a few days earlier; it sounded potentially clever at the time, but it's actually just bad and embarrassing and needs to be edited. Given the number of typos in the book, style isn't the only thing which could have done with better subbing.
He clearly likes the music itself, but doesn't have a lot of praise for many of the people involved, which makes for an uninspiring read; surely a book like this should fill you with fascination and enthusiasm. There's quite a bit of subtle denigration of the states musicians got themselves into with drugs, for the ways their mental health issues made them a bit annoying. He too-rarely looks into what they were suffering and why, whether it's from an emotional point of view - or the reductive pathologising stance; but perhaps we should be glad he doesn't dehumanise his subjects further by labelling.
I know a few people who are passionate and knowledgeable both about the music of this era and about mental health. I expected to be recommending this book to them, but I shan't embarrass myself or bore them because they are better writers than Heylin and would have a wiser and more sympathetic approach to the psychological topics.
Rightly or wrongly, I get a whiff of stale-bedsheets laziness about this book. It's like the reasonably competent end-of-term essay dashed off overnight for a low 2:1 when more effort - or simply a different student - could have produced something of far higher, shinier quality. So frustrating because there must be people out there who could write an amazing book about this. Heylin seems to rest on the laurels of his classic rock knowledge whilst not doing anywhere enough research and thinking about psychology and mental health. He probably thought this was a clever idea for a twentieth book to churn out to his publishers, without it being a topic for which he feels deep affinity.
His brief history of madness in England alludes repeatedly to an archaic idea (mooted especially in the eighteenth century) that "too much" political liberty leads to a greater incidence of mental health problems in the population. In implying we should be glad to have put the libertine excesses of the 60's and early 70's behind us - also stopping off to criticise the excesses of punk - and that drugs were too freely available and destroyed or impeded a lot of talented musicians, he seems to be essentially agreeing with this ancient thesis without thorough and sensible discussion. Whilst I have a bit of a libertarian slant politically, I am definitely no fan of drugs on a personal level and have seen how they can mess up great people; I don't think you should write a 400 page book on a topic like this and conclude it without nuance and qualification though. Rock, as it ages, too often seems to become conservative and almost opposed to its spirit of origin, and the author of this book seems to be a case in point. More sympathetic understanding of human complexity is needed here; it shouldn't have been just another mildly snarky rock bio. (less)
Unlike most people who've reviewed this book online, I haven't already read five other David Bowie biographies. Till recently I didn't know a whole lo...moreUnlike most people who've reviewed this book online, I haven't already read five other David Bowie biographies. Till recently I didn't know a whole lot about the man, and had heard shockingly little of his work, especially considering that I first listened to a whole Bowie album in 1993 and I've always considered him inspiring and iconic ... in a somewhat abstract sense ... as well as hot.
So whilst I can't compare this with other books about David Bowie, nor nitpick at the veracity of anecdotes, what I can say is that this is a bloody good read, never ostensibly dumbed-down, and never drudgery, as most books of this length are at times; I got through 350+ pages of it in two days. Trynka is usually a good, but not obtrusively witty or stylish, writer: he creates focus on his subject and story, not the words. What you generally want in a biography, then.
I grew up with the idea of 1980's plastic corporate Bowie, and then his 1990's avuncular re-canonisation in the wake of Suede and the early Manics - and prior to the last few weeks had no idea of Bowie the mid-70's occultist, or of Davie Jones' long apprenticeship before he appeared perfectly formed in albums such as Hunky Dory.
Though most notably confounding here is the character of Bowie himself, hero to outcasts and weirdos, as a consistently punctual, hardworking, smooth-talking, bouncing back, positive visualisation, in-control kinda guy. Trynka deftly meshes the contradictions into perfect sense: "David was a pro, a man who knew how to work the system, but had an instinctive sympathy for those who couldn’t, those practitioners of what writer Irwin Chusid terms Outsider Music; erratic people like Syd Barrett, Iggy Pop ... David would follow their star-crossed careers, and their fate infuses songs like the gorgeous ‘Lady Stardust’." Trynka's Bowie is a real , multi-dimensional character: understanding, caring and supportive, ruthless, cold and calculating.
It may be a good book, but all you really need to appreciate why Bowie drew generations into his orbit is here in this three and a half minute version of Starman, from Top of the Pops in 1972.(less)
Why only 4 stars from a big fan of Pulp and Jarvis, and who likes the design of the book?
I would have liked more explanatory notes and background stor...moreWhy only 4 stars from a big fan of Pulp and Jarvis, and who likes the design of the book?
I would have liked more explanatory notes and background stories, mostly. There are some of course, but far more about a few songs than about most of them - 38 pages of notes for 70 songs (including several pages of a story Jarvis wrote for Time Out).
Also, the lyric selection, whilst generally good, sometimes misses the mark. Apparently Jarvis doesn't like a lot of his earlier material even though many others - collaborators and fans - disagree; perhaps this is why some fantastic older Pulp lyrics aren't here, such as Death II, Death Goes to the Disco, Live On and Styloroc: Nites of Suburbia. And there are a few very weak later ones, such as Help The Aged, which really shouldn't be in this collection.
In the introduction, Jarvis describes his own relevatory experience, listening to Pink Floyd as a teenager, of the way in which reading lyrics can diminish a song. Occasionally this happens here, for example with This Is Hardcore a song much of whose sense of dread and deadness comes from the music and the delivery of the words.
But more often than not, I've found that reading these lyrics added to the songs. The dense story of the Inside Susan trilogy comes into its own on paper, for one.
Unlike everyone else of my age in Britain, I've never been that keen on most of the Different Class album (nor am I that into Pulp's subsequent work). But, wow. The lyrics from that album stand alone as poetry. They are serious five-star stuff. Common People has an insight and almost painful bite which is easily concealed in the poppy tune that became an indie-disco cliche. I prefer the Different Class lyrics without the melodies. The lack of sound - of the singer's own voice - also makes Jarvis' character songs from throughout his career easier to discern and understand.
The era of His N Hers (and its B-sides) and Different Class still read like the artistic high watermark, with most great lyrics uninterrupted by lesser ones - but the development and change of Jarvis' artistic voice as he grows older is still very interesting. There is a dark and self-deprecating awareness that comes in from This Is Hardcore onwards. A commentary on the id underlying the public persona of Jarvis Cocker the national treasure. (The nation's favourite ... dirty old man?). And perfectly encapsulating facets of pop music and entertainment media itself, Fuckingsong: "every time you play it I will perform the best I can. Press repeat and there I am, and there I am, always glad to be your man. And this way, oh well there won't be any mess, As I assure you that there would be in the flesh". (less)
How did TV on the Radio get on to the no-boy-singers playlist, anyway?
After two readings - one skim-read on the day it fell through the letterbox, an...moreHow did TV on the Radio get on to the no-boy-singers playlist, anyway?
After two readings - one skim-read on the day it fell through the letterbox, and one closer reading after an online conversation in which it was mentioned - I still can't quite rate this book. Things from the past get in the way of seeing the now, as for Emily staring into the mirror at Clare.
However The Singles Club is more accessible to those less familiar with Britpop, unlike Rue Britannia: the story is driven more by the characters than by details about the music. It's a more sophisticated narrative too: Lloyd's word-filled fanzine-style pieces he writes at home after the event are a wonderful reboot after the visual drama of the club, and this isn't just about middle-class music snobs: Kid With Knife dabbles in phonomancery in his own chapter.
For the oxygen, the light, is the stories of different people, being able to climb into different perspectives of the same night, opening up other ways of being and seeing.
This time I don't just have to be Laura, with almost that same hair, trying absurdly to live through lyrics because she hasn't found her own words yet, getting ready at her more popular friends' place. (Though I was never a cutter, and some of the coolest kids were ex-cutters, having wisely got their angst out of the way before uni.) Then at the club which, if the same furniture were shuffled around the same room, would look even more exactly like the student union room where they held the indie disco I was 19. And ending the evening by wandering off into the night when it made little sense to do so. "Won't be having the time of my life tonight" at what should have been one of the best times for it.
There were those people whose lives seemed easy and happy and the right shape, people who were somehow able to fill their heads with interesting projects, the older ones who seemed to have graduated impossibly poised, the punk barmaid with limitless confidence, the rough local guys who were an easy pull for a student girl desperate for attention. All here. Rendered understandable and given interiority by the magic of fiction and the passing of time. Including the time when I became a beret-wearing Long Blondes fan.
Part of me says "How the hell do they [the authors] do it? How do they know?" But these evidently must have been common experiences, common characters in other places too. You may have been alone but you weren't the only one.(less)