I’ve not posted a whole lot this year, partly because my job involves a ton of looking at computer screens and partly because I thought a break would do us all good
For obvious reasons 2021 has been a bit of a dud for musical events in my life so a yearly round up is going to look a bit like the last turkey in the shop.
Quite whether I’m ever going to embrace the gig experience again, especially if it involves mask wearing remains to be seen. Whether I’ll miss it remains debatable.
There are other things apart from the live music experience however, books for one. I really love a good autobiography. In fact I could argue there’s no such thing as a bad autobiography and I include Phil Collins and DJ Bob Harris in that assertion.
However it’s a high risk, very few are great works of literature (although a couple, Viv Albertine and Julian Cope spring to mind are stunning), usually it’s a fairly bland stroll through a performers career often that leaves more questions than answers . It’s not worth investing much cash so I tend to rely on charity shops and libraries which means I don’t always get what I want but sometimes I get what I need.
So here is what I’ve read this year
Bedsit Disc Queen- Tracey Thorn
Its an indication of how quickly music moved in the 70’s and 80’s that although Thorne is just 4 years younger than me, she occupied a different musical landscape starting with ramshackle indie through jazz and into electronica over the space of a decade.
I was never really a fan although she has an incredible voice (as in distinctive rather than X factor show off) but it was interesting to revisit the early 80’s where everything relating to music was so crucially important that analysis and discussion around the cultural and political ramifications of the ‘art’ (usually held huddled round a 2 bar electric heater) was as important as the actual music itself .
True -Martin Kemp
Kemp’s one of those multi taskers who’s versatility can make you forget he’s also actually a musician. True is clearly aimed at fans of his acting and general nice guy persona as much as Spandau Ballet fans.
As is often the case, the true gold (ha) is his childhood. The early 60’s were not really that different to Edwardian times for a lot of working class people, outside toilets feature heavily. The new romantic years are skated over and the Spandau years fall into a predicable pattern of traveling and drinking, and most events are coloured by the intensity of Kemp’s hangover.
The brain tumour years are quite interesting to medical junkies like me and unlike most male rock stars Kemp is happy to eulogise his relationship with his wife Shirley. He comes across as a perpetual nice guy which is probably what most readers of this book expect.
Bonus points for the fact that he’s happy to point out when people meet him they often think he’s Gary (his brother) or an ex member of Duran Duran
Chapter and Verse -Bernard Sumner
Sumner’s from a similar background to Kemp, the main differences being the difference between Salford Manchester and Islington London. Basically Kemp gets to go to stage school and Sumner Doesn’t . Again he’s at his best describing his childhood and the brutality of 70’s schooling. At one point a teacher locks the Jewish kids in a classroom and turns the gas on which seems an exceptional school day but not that exceptional not Barney.
Like Kemp, Sumner somehow drifts into music forms a band with some mates and the rest is history as they say. Unlike band mate Peter Hook who stopped his own book with the death of Ian Curtis, Sumner ploughs on though the New Order/Hacienda years. Lots of touring, lots of drinking and a bit of a dearth of rock and roll tales to liven the story. Other character are sketchy, band mate Gillian gets a couple of lines, Sumner’s own partner gets a very brief mention. It cant be easy describing people who are known really well to the general public especially when you’ve got to face them the next day but New Order probably aren’t really that interesting anyway.
My Damage,The Story of a Punk Rock Survivor- Keith Morris
Morris was in Black Flag and the Circle Jerks. Bands I’d barely heard of , having listened to their music a bit now I at least know that they weren’t as bad as I feared.
The most interesting thing about Morris’s story for me were the insights into the punk world of Southern California. His upbringing sounds pretty tough but at least he had in an indoor toilet sunshine and a beach, it sounds better than Salford.
Morris comes across as a fairly easy going guy refreshingly free of grudges and blaming others for any misfortunes (if you want that try Ginger Baker or John Lydon). The California hardcore scene sounds more musical despite the nature of the music being played. There’s lots of drugs and alcohol floating about but when, inevitably, the time comes for Morris to pull back from that he becomes sober (and diabetic) without too much fuss or introspection.
Bonus points for avoiding any lurid sex or drugs ‘tales of the road’
Perfect Day- Bettye Kronstad
Lou Reed’s first wife, Kronstad was with him from the break up of the Velvet Underground up to the Berlin Tour.But three years with ‘Lewis’ was enough
Its basically an accident waiting to happen , at her first meting with Reed he slaps her arse which really should have been warning enough, on their first date he gets really drunk but Kronstad falls for him because he is an ‘artist’. This seems to be a New York affliction where going to art galleries and writing poetry singles you out as more than a mere songwriter. In retrospect Reed isn’t exactly delivering the goods in that department relying heavily on cast offs from the Velvets for his first three albums and live recordings of Velvets songs for his fourth record.
Its barely surprising as he’s drinking heavily and using massive amounts of cocaine and suffering from writer’s block. Like most addicts he’s pretty unhappy and seems a bit delusional that his genius isn’t fully appreciated. There’s increasing less of the sensitive person Kronstad fell in love with and eventually she finds herself as the carer of a barely functioning addict.
Despite this there’s a lack of prurient details, in fact theres a lack of details about most things that any reader might be attracted to. The Velvet Underground are barely touched upon beyond a very brief meeting with John Cale which Reed storms out of. Trips to Britain at the hight of glam rock are skimmed over , her insight into Bowie is that he was ‘cold’. The most exciting thing that happens is Angie Bowie tries to get Kronstad involved in a threesome.
On the other hand, their relationship is dealt with in considerable Mills and Boon pages of prose. There are pages dealing with the purchasing of the engagement ring and too much description of a pair of earrings Reed bought her and virtually nothing about Iggy Pop, that seems a wasted opportunity!!
Finally Kronstad’s memory seems a bit suspect, chronology seems a bit wonky. Worst of all however is her assertion that Reed wanted to leave the Velvets because he couldn’t work with John Cale and she describes attending their farewell gig (only Reed knew it was the final performance ) and listening to Cale’s Viola which ignores the well documented fact that that Reed had fired him from the band two years earlier.
However it does put to rest the commonly held conception that the song Perfect Day is about heroin. I always thought it contained too many specifics to be about Reed being smacked of his tits
So 5 autobiographies by people I’m not that interested in but everyone had something to offer so not time wasted. Also all that reading only cost me a pound thanks to the British Library system
My next book will be by Status Quo’s Francis Rossi, I’ve glanced at a few pages and cocaine seems to feature heavily.
Looking forward to it !