Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Books of the Year, Part 2 - Non-fiction

Some books,
 earlier today.
I used to read nothing but novels. Then I veered in the other direction, until I realised that much as I enjoyed biographies and history books, I could never remember much about them once I’d finished. So now I mostly read fiction again, and the non-fiction I pick up is only stuff that I really, really want to read. And that’s why this list is shorter than the Fiction list. And why I don’t know as much as I should do about important historical events, but I can tell you the names of all the albums that The Raincoats released on Rough Trade records.

Document and Eyewitness – An Intimate History of Rough Trade by Neil Taylor (Orion Books)

Clearly you’d have to be more than interested in British indie-pop in the late 70s and 1980s to get much out of this. But the anecdotal rewards are deep if The History of Rough Trade would be your chosen specialised subject on the fading leather jacketed saddo’s version of Mastermind. Once you’re past the ponderous intro (and I’d rather have had an index than the footnotes), the stories and their characters take you right back to a time when you didn’t have to give a shit about anything besides drinking, music, and appearing to know what you were on about (I gave up on that one in the end).

Sample quote [from Joly MacFie, in-house badge maker]: I went off to Europe selling badges on an Iggy Pop tour and on the day I arrived back I got a visitation from Bob Marley and John Holt. Marley started having this big argument with me about how I had disrespected the Ethiopian royal family. While he is doing this he is looking around the workshop and notices the FORWARD and BUT WAIT badges and starts accusing me of not respecting Rasta. Everything I said in defence he just dismissed as ‘ras-clat, white-man talk’. He was pretty mad and stormed off to the other end of the workshop, where his eye caught the latest job we’d done. It was a backstage pass for Graham Parker’s tour of Australia. It had a black, red, yellow and green background, reggae style, and printed on top were the words I SHOT THE FERRET. Marley was incandescent. We couldn’t help but start laughing. He stormed off, though later Pepe did smooth things over and we did carry on making the Bob Marley badges we had already been making.

Rat Girl: A Memoir by Kristin Hersh (Penguin)

I already lauded this witty Diary of a Screwed-Up Teenage Genius a few weeks back, and that was before I’d even got to the part about how the Throwing Muses, while recording their five-star debut album, were evicted from the studio by Deep Purple (as if I ever needed another reason to further despise Deep Purple). Or to the part where she’s psycho-analysed by the very cool Dr. Seven Syllables, or the flaky way they are signed to 4AD Records by the enigmatic Englishman Ivo. Though one of my favourite passages recounts lavish dinners with old farts from record companies who want to sign and flog the band:

Tonight we’re having dinner with one of the old guys, the coke guys, the VIPs with orange tans and tinted glasses. VIPs are not the reps in the rock club trenches – they’re far removed from everything musical. Oozing out of the moneyed world of limos and palm trees (really!), they personify the tragedy of errors that is the music business. VIPs are always expensively dressed, they are never women and they all have a creepy, fake peacefulness that comes from both feeling safe because you’re rich and wanting people to think you’re self-actualized.
    All VIPs have a stylish, articulate assistant to speak for them and help them do things like move. Because they seem partially dead. As if they’re dying just one piece at a time, their money holding up what’s left of their corpse with various… treatments. They’re fascinating in a yucky way, but you can’t spend too much time with them. It’s like going to Vegas – not funny enough.

Popcorn: 50 Years of Rock ‘n’ Roll Movies by Garry Mulholland (Orion Books)

I haven’t actually read all this, because you’re not supposed to properly read books that are written for reference or dipping in to. Mulholland is the master of the dip-into book, having previously authored the indispensable (for indie-pops at least) This Is Uncool: The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk and Disco and Fear of Music: The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk and Disco. This book is more of a narrative, but no worse for it.

Sample quote: It’s only when you see footage of the Pistols at their best that you realise just how much Johnny Rotten dominated the band visually, how he really was the only unconventional thing about them. See him, in a white dress shirt and bow tie, whippet-thin and beautiful, blurring the lines between rock iconography, cartoon anger and slapstick comedy (from a review of 1978's The Punk Rock Movie).

Small Town England by Tim Bradford (Ebury Press)

As already blogged about here, but I have to mention it again as this book is as much about me as any book that will ever be written. For those who’ve never seen my legs, I am Bandy. It is 1979, and we are 14 years old, going on 15.

Sample quote: We were, of course, a punk band. Punk was the perfect medium for adolescent songs, what with its infantile chord changes and shouty fake aggression. Bandy’s parents were going through a rough patch, so he was much more punkish and angry than I was. This manifested itself particularly in our living-room performances. Bandy was able to push himself to the point where he looked disturbed and absurd. Bandy’s group persona was Arnold Slitgullet, a misanthrope obsessed with VD, slitting wrists, being depressed and committing suicide. At that time I thought it was a great made-up character but, in retrospect, perhaps Bandy was trying to say a little more. My character, Johnny Faeces, was in the more orthodox British music-hall, toilet humour tradition. I spelt the second name wrong on all the artwork, sometimes Fisces, other times Feces. And even then it was on my mind – the fear that I was Paul McCartney and Bandy was John Lennon. I think it must be the primal fear in any close relationship.


No Good Boyo said...

You've been toming away like some London ponce there, Pop. I'll certainly get Tim's book, if only to "bandy" it about and tell my few friends that I know a character in it.

Best book review I ever read was written on the book itself. At college a lecturer said "read these" and gave me and some other idiots a long list of books.

I went to the library and found that one of the books was a massive, thick hardback. Written across the quire, in small letters, was "big book". So true.

Stay-At-Home Indie-Pop said...

"It's very long", uttered in a slightly querulous tone, was a regular critical offering among some of the less devoted literature undergraduates of my ken when asked for their thoughts on a particular work by the course tutor. Which was another way of saying, "You don't expect a busy arts student like me to get through 600 pages in the 14 free study hours I have every day, do you?"