Friday 10 August 2018

Brett Anderson: Coal Black Mornings

I recently finished reading Brett Anderson's autobiography 'Coal Black Mornings'.  Lucky me, I was given it for my birthday, back in July.  I loved it. 

 "I now feel an urgent need to impart," Brett writes of his decision to finally put something out there.  "I suppose I have come to a stage in my life where I want to come to terms with who I am, and exploring my past on my own terms like this is a way to achieve that".

And that's just how it comes across.  Brett writes so engagingly, it's rather like reading a lovely, personal blog - very real, very natural - in touch with his feelings, free flowing, idiosyncratic.

He also makes it clear from the outset that this was never intended to be a Suede memoir.  "I've limited this strictly to the early years," he explains, "before anyone really knew, or really cared..."

At the time of writing it he had no book deal and this, I think, lends great validity to his words and motive.  He isn't relaying clich├ęd rock'n'roll stories of drugs and debauchery to satisfy the appetites of editors or journalists or even fans; he writes this, the story of growing up and his life pre-fame, honestly and tenderly, for his son.

Even aesthetically the book doesn't seem like a traditional musician/artist autobiography.  There are no old photos from his childhood or college days and, whilst they would have been interesting to see, that might somehow have changed the tone.  Whereas the resultant product, with its broad white margins and spacious type, lacking the stereotypical orange-brown Polaroids of the 8-year old author on a Spacehopper, is tastefully, perfectly understated.

This understated visual approach complements one of the main things that struck me as I raced through the pages (it was hard to put down)  - Brett's modesty.  There's no ego.  Another thing that really stood out to his credit is the great respect he shows towards other people mentioned within.  It's easy to think of Brett in relation to Justine, to Bernard - and then naturally to the things we've read in the past - the sensationalist stuff, the conflicts.   But there's no bitchiness, no cynical slagging off or melodrama, instead yes, the lovely and very endearing qualities of modesty and respect.  He writes with warmth and dignity.

Brett's early life and family was not what you might call 'ordinary', but the longer I live the more I question what 'ordinary' actually is and whether it exists.   It doesn't matter whether you end up in a famous band or not.  Most of us, I'm sure, could tell tales about our upbringings, our families or friends and our youthful exploits which might challenge the definition of 'ordinary' to the listener, purely because it's different to theirs.

I also found it to be tremendously relatable.  Anyone born in the '60s, growing up in Britain with an interest in the music scene a little outside of the mainstream is bound to find themselves smiling and nodding on reading the many references to records bought, clothes worn and those teenage feelings that preoccupied us. Talking of his friend Simon Holdbrook, Brett writes, "Simon....with whom I felt the thrill of mutual outsiderdom; two small-town dreamers, trapped in a dreary suburban cell, yearning for the thrill and promise beyond. Like a thousand other dreamers in a thousand other suburban towns we were convinced that our experience was unique, but it made it no less special that it wasn't."

I could go on - I keep flicking back through the pages and finding sentences I want to share - so many moments that struck a chord, feelings expressed that demonstrate so beautifully a character with whom I find a surprising affinity - but that would only be my experience of this book.  If you're remotely interested in the man and not just the band, I'd really urge you to make it yours too.

With special thanks also to Monkey at Monkey Picks blog who first brought this book to my attention.

Thursday 2 August 2018

Lost for words - part two

“Once upon a time, words began to vanish from the language of children.  They disappeared so quietly that at first almost no-one noticed….”

So begins a beautiful book called ‘The Lost Words’, written by Robert MacFarlane and illustrated by Jackie Morris.

I treated myself to it, as a lover of language and nature and illustration – a large, heavy hardback, tinted liberally with gold, flooded with watercolour washes on some spreads and unafraid of the boldness of white space on others - a work of art in the truest sense.  Birds and letters of the alphabet flit and fly through its pages as the author casts magic spells to reinvoke the ‘lost words’ of the title.  What lost words are these?  Words like rapscallion and farthingale?  Erm, no - but tell you in a minute. 

Although categorised as a children’s book, it’s far more than that - not a story book but poetic and playful, written to be read aloud - like incantations.  But the story behind the book’s existence is also really worth telling.

Once upon a time (in 2007), the editors of the latest version of the Oxford Junior Dictionary faced a dilemma when they needed to find room for contemporary words like ‘analogue’, ‘broadband’ and ‘celebrity’, meaning that several others previously included would have to go.

I’ve no idea how I'd make decisions about which words to replace, and I realise it’d need a lot of thought, but I’d have difficulty culling any connected to nature, I know that.  The natural world is under threat from so many different corners and yet so vital to our well-being, I feel its vocabulary is at least one thing we can easily protect and ensure it stays alive in the minds of its future inheritors.

Still, unfortunately, several words I was really surprised about lost their place in the new edition.  Nature words, like these ones….


That's just a small example.  Maybe I'm being sentimental and old-fashioned, but I feel quite sad about this - I don't ever want a celebrity to have priority over a conker, in any form.

If you feel the same, at least know we’re not alone - when news of these changes came to light, there was quite an outcry.  (Read more here if you’re interested...)

And what better motivation could there be than that to create a sumptuous tribute to these newly 'lost' words, something thought-provoking and exquisite, both literally and visually, to be lingered over and treasured?  Indeed, the depth of feeling led to a collaboration between this hugely talented author and illustrator, and then to this remarkable book.   Not only that, but a proportion of the profits is also being donated to the Action For Conservation charity.  I guess that must be our happy ending.

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