Category Archives: Autobiography

So Here It Is


So Here It Is – The Autobiography
By Dave Hill
Unbound – £20.00

There’s something exquisitely humbling about this book.
Tender even, which in all honesty, I found somewhat surprising.

Reason being, when one thinks of Slade’s idiosyncratically incongruous guitar player, Dave Hill, one cannot help but think of he with the rather elongated, beaming smile. He with the ludicrous outfits – all colourfully fraught and undeniably flippant – replete with a seemingly inadvertent ideology which subscribed to that of water off a duck’s back.

So to read about Hill’s recent struggles with depression, not to mention the altogether poignant openness with which he writes about his mother, is both endearing and commendable.
Endearing and commendable for all the right reasons might I add.
Primarily, that of the degree to which he doesn’t hold back throughout So Here It Is – The Autobiography, the following being a prime example: ”Looking back on it, it seems to me that she was controlled by guilt, and anything that disturbed her life, however trivial it might have been, she saw as a punishment. It was like the world only existed to get her back. She didn’t feel as if she could enjoy anything because she felt she didn’t deserve it.”

Such words, really aren’t the sort one would expect to read by someone who regularly shook their arse in front of millions of viewers on TV. Could you imagine Sting being anywhere near as frank or as open?

The likes of Shane McGowan would undoubtedly be as open out of sheer necessity. As would the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Nick Cave. But these are all terrific songwriters. Songwriters, with a story to tell.

But Dave Hill? The Super Yob?
Surely not?

Surely indeed.
Each of these twenty-two chapters are written in such a way that one cannot help but want to delve further and continue reading; a facet, which, so far as rock’n’roll (auto)biographies are concerned, is exceedingly slim on the ground.

For instance, I found Rod Stewart’s Rod – The Autobiography (2012) embarrassingly heinous. Other than inexorable bravado, it contained nothing along such regal lines as: ”Just as my life has been a journey that’s unfolded in these pages, so writing this book was a journey of its own. I approached it by wanting to answer a few questions I had about my life, my parents, my health, Slade, about how I got where I am now. What was the real story of my mom and dad?Why were Slade such a huge success and why didn’t we emulate that in the States? Where did my depression come from, and how did I survive that and my stroke? Those were all things I wanted to think more deeply about and, in doing that, in researching, in talking to people who have been involved in my life along the way, things have become clearer. As you’ll have discovered by reading this book, I haven’t got all the answers – I don’t think anybody ever has – but a lot of things have come into sharper focus for me” (‘So Far, So Good’).

He’s right, in that nobody ever has all the answers – unless of course, you’re Bono – which, when aligned with much of Dave Hill’s reflection throughout these 253 pages (excluding a Foreword by Noddy Holder, Acknowledgements, Index and a List of Supporters), accounts for So Here It Is – The Autobiography being such a candid and top-quality read.

David Marx

Don’t You Leave Me Here


Don’t You Leave Me Here – My Life
By Wilko Johnson
Little, Brown – £18.99

‘I want her back.’ I could not speak or even think these words without breaking down. I would break down in tears in the street and have to find some corner to hide. A song on the radio would hit me like a blow. I walked through crowded places feeling like a ghost in an unreal world, lost to everything but my sorrow. I thought of her every waking moment and of course she haunted my dreams – sometimes those lucid dreams where you know you are dreaming; then I could really be with her and hold her in my arms for precious moments before

     I waked, she fled and day brought back my night.

There are times throughout this provocative and occasionally heartbreaking book, in which Wilko Johnson writes with the most penetrating tenderness (as that depicted above from the book’s seventeenth chapter). The sort of which invariably grips the reader and just won’t let go – because we’ve all been there.

We’ve all broken down in tears on the street; somehow caught in the harrowing slipstream of no longer wanting to continue with this cruel and complex thing we endeavour to call life.

And for such a morass of fraught feeling to be so delicately and densely captured within a book, is wholly commendable; simply because it falls within such (a humanistic) place.

The sort of which, warrants appreciative applause. And respect.

As such, I cannot recommend Wilko Johnson’s Don’t You Leave Me Here – My Life, more highly. It’s real, it’s invigorating, and I should imagine the following excerpt on Glastonbury (on page 207) is excruciatingly spot-on:

”The atmosphere backstage was wretched – the food was as bad as a microwave can warm up, and I swear I waited twenty minutes for a cup of lukewarm coffee that tasted like cardboard. You couldn’t take two paces without somebody hassling you for a pass (Your papers! Your papers!). Two of the festival staff approached me. They said they wanted to deal with my complaint, since I had given the stage manager ‘an emotional mauling.’ They explained how difficult a problem security was, how the vast area of the festival site was a ‘state within a state’ (they got their own Gestapo too), and how it was necessary to do these things to keep order. I listened in disbelief as they expounded this proto-fascism. They were quite unaware of the implications of what they were saying. Did they really believe that I should abandon my civil liberties – liberties that millions had laid down their lives to secure – just for the honour of appearing at this grotesque, overpriced fairground?

Whale-saving Green fascists! I hope they all get eaten by Moby Dick.”

I very much like the fact that Wilko Johnson tells it as it very much needs to be told. Admittedly, I could’ve done with a whole lot more about his former band Doctor Feelgood – his relationship with singer Lee Brilleaux especially – but this book is what it is: tough, heartbreaking, real.

What more could you ask for?

David Marx

The Stranger in the Mirror


The Stranger in the Mirror – A Memoir of Middle Age
By Jane Shilling
Vintage Books – £9.99

The Independent referred to this book as ‘dashingly cavalier and artfully artless,’ which I guess it is. It then went on to say it ”bubbles with wit and brio,’ which again, I can’t help but agree with. But there’s something about The Stranger in the Mirror – A Memoir of Middle Age that essentially comes across as being just a little too coquettish for its own good.

There’s absolutely no doubting the fact that Jane Shilling is an altogether magnificent writer. That she regularly writes about books for The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph and The Daily Mail, clearly corroborates as much. Although mid-way through this thought provoking, and on occasion, eloquently written, semi-autobiographical memoir; I found myself reading from that of the subliminal persuasion as opposed to the ultimatum of the here-and-now.

This was particularly the case during the sixth chapter (of twelve) ‘The Body’s Body,’ where, credit due, the authoress makes no bones about being steeped in fashion: ”One day I bought a fashion magazine: ‘The Don’t Miss List – Vogue’s need-to-know guide to autumn,’ said the coverline. I hoped it might point me in the right direction. Inside were pictures of Kate Moss wearing trousers sewn from a Union flag; a grey chiffon top with a fringe of silver and sulphur yellow beads. In a derelict room with shattered floorboards and walls of ruined azure she stood between a chipped metal chair and an electric kettle, wearing a ballgown of pleated platinum satin; a short dress of white ostrich feathers and another of white organza roses with a studded black leather motorcycle jacket; a ruffled rag of rose and peach-coloured chiffon beneath a frogged military jacket […]. A paragraph of text explained the purpose behind the apparently random juxtapositions of silk fringing and metal chain; embroidered tulle with goat-hair and horsehair, studded leather and old metal badges. ‘Who wants to look like a fashion robot when the joy is adding the you, the me?”’

In and of itself, such Vogue induced writing is for me at least, a dive unto the relatively unknown. So why read the book in the first place eh?

Well, it’s good to venture unto new territory, although I was initially attracted to The Stranger in the Mirror, due to Shilling’s seemingly acute analysis of ageing – and the (nigh hopeless/never ending) coming to terms thereof. On the very first page, she already writes: ”Fashion journalists and doctors would place the onset of middle age well before the end of fertility, at the point at which one’s rate of egg production and cellular renewal begins to slow, and one’s ability to wear hot pants and biker jackets with conviction to diminish.”

Egg production and hot pants aside, there were moments that I found myself teetering upon the near precipice of rapprochement whilst reading some of what the authoress had to say. Especially such a line as the all prevailing: ”All that narrative, and not a syllable of it left written on the body.”

Whether or not such thinking was triggered by Jeanette Winterson’s excellent 1993 novel of the same name (Written on the Body) is of course, open to oodles of conjecture. Either way, this overtly self-introspective book will most certainly make you think.

David Marx

Only When I Laugh

paul merton

Only When I Laugh
By Paul Merton
Ebury Press – £20.00

Paul Merton is without doubt, the funniest man on radio and television at the moment. Also the wittiest – and has been so for a number of years.

The rate at which something inventive and hilarious will suddenly leap forth into his most colourful, idiosyncratic imagination, is astonishing, inspiring and more often than not, absolutely nothing short of simply brilliant.

In other words, Merton is a modern day Groucho Marx – a comparison I’m sure the south-London comic will embrace with all the acute, gazelle like speed of cathartic wonderment – which says a lot considering generational difference and the fact that the former was born on the Upper East Side of Manhattan the latter in Parson’s Green.

But that’s comedy for you, a place where there are no rules and there are no parameters.

A place where only the resonance of laughter, and the all resounding connection of which that fundamentally entails, matters: ”That night in the big top I heard the sound of massed laughter, and that buzz, once tasted, is forever with you. From that night on I wanted desperately to be part of it all. To be in the ring, to be in the middle, to be part of the creative spirit that sparks people into laughter. This is where I wanted to live.”

This is why I wanted to read Paul Merton: My Autobiography – Only When I Laugh; as I’ve always been compelled to find out more about what essentially makes comedians tick. And I don’t mean the vast array of five-minute wonders; the totally unfunny toss-pots, that have always (and continue to) litter the comedic terrain with all the smug and pointless gallantry that’s comparable to cement.

I mean the true geniuses like the aforementioned Marx, Charlie Chaplin, Tony Hancock, Peter Sellers and Peter Cook – of which Merton is clearly one.

As for this book, well its 334 pages are written in chronological order and they touch on varying facets of Merton’s life. From his early years in Fulham to what sounds like a resoundingly strong work ethic; from both romantic and professional relationships to his all round approach to comedy writing.

It’s twenty-three chapters bequeath a flavour of what it’s like to be Mr. Merton.

Admittedly, there are times when certain areas of the writing appears to merely skim the surface of what really transpired, but then that’s Mr. Merton’s prerogative. The degree to which he wants to regale readers with personal or work orientated information, is for him, and him alone to decide. Although in chapter 13 (‘Woof Woof Boom’), he translucently shoots from the hip so far as the execution of stand-up comedy is concerned:

”I had full houses every night and always strove to be at my best for the people who had paid to see me. And yet. I didn’t enjoy any of it. Listening to myself onstage talking for an hour was boring to me. I used to pray for somebody else to walk on. A comedy butler played by a Comedy Store Player. A bit of human interaction.

I loved the impro shows with The Comedy Store Players. In comparison, stand-up felt like I was drawing in pencil compared to the lush Technicolor pastures of group work. After all my effort, all the dreams I’d had, the awful truth started to dawn on me – I didn’t want to be a stand-up comic anymore.

It’s not that I didn’t like stand-up. I love it, it’s a true art and one I’d spent a lot of time getting good at. But when I thought back about the moments I’d enjoyed, most of them were more about the camaraderie than comedy.”

In itself, this is somewhat revelatory. Although given Merton’s particular brand of comedy, utterly understandable – as are many other segments of Only When I Laugh.

An altogether terrific book, which I have to say is (on occasion) candid, poignant, and rather lovely.

David Marx

Muhammad Ali – His Life and Times


Muhammad Ali – His Life and Times
By Thomas Hauser
Portico/Anova Books – £11.99

”I’m expected to go overseas to help free people in South Vietnam, and at the same time my people here are being brutalized and mistreated, and this is really the same thing that’s happening over in Vietnam. So I’m going to fight it legally, and if I lose, I’m just going to jail. Whatever the punishment, whatever the prosecution is for standing up for my beliefs […].”

Never short of a suave, sparkling sentence or two, it goes without saying that the greatest fighter ever, Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali, wowed audiences in a plethora of arenas – both inside as well as outside the ring. For apart from being a stupendous boxer, he was nigh irresistible to (obviously) watch and (curiously) listen to.

The above quotation being not only a perfect example, but a mere tiny tip of the literary iceberg contained within these 516 pages.

To be sure, Muhammad Ali – His Life and Times – which has been described by The Times as: ”A superb book; hilarious, sad, moving and hopeful” – ticks an array of boxes so far as a really good and fulfilling read is concerned. As it is indeed, sad, moving and hopeful. But like Ali himself, the book is also in your face, somewhat monumental and rather provocative; much to the credit of its author, Thomas Hauser, which ought hardly be surprising, as apart from being a Pulitzer Prize nominee, Hauser has written a number of books (among them: The Black Lights: Inside the World of Professional Boxing, Brutal Artistry and Mark Twain Remembers).

Admittedly however, some of the more idiosyncratically entertaining writing, was already written for him by Clay himself. All the author had to do was chronologically indulge his labour of love, and capture the full essence of a man to whom the title, ‘bigger than life,’ surely belongs and was surely never more warranted.

For instance, I found the opening gambit of this review in the seventh chapter, ‘Exile,’ which alone, is far more stimulating than a menagerie of entire books I’ve recently read. Reason being, a mere seven paragraphs later, Hausen once again quotes Ali on the subject of hate: ”I don’t hate nobody and I ain’t lynched nobody. We Muslims don’t hate the white man. It’s like we don’t hate a tiger; but we know that a tiger’s nature is not compatible with people’s nature since tigers love to eat people. So we don’t want to live with the tigers. It’s the same with the white man. The white race attacks black people. They don’t ask what’s our religion, what’s our belief? They just start whupping heads. They don’t ask you, are you Catholic, are you a Baptist, are you a Black Muslim, are you a Martin Luther King follower, are you with Whitney Young? They just go whoop, whoop, whoop! So we don’t want to live with the white man; that’s all.”

Muhammad Ali – His Life and Times will undoubtedly appeal to the entire boxing fraternity; although there’s absolutely no reason whatsoever, why it ought not also appeal to those to whom boxing means very little. Or next to nothing.

Just one reason being, the subject’s outspoken humanity.  What John Lennon endeavoured to attain for world peace, Muhammad Ali at least tried to attain for Black Human Rights (alongside many other issues).

If nothing else, Ali believed – which to my mind, surely places him alongside the likes of Martin Luther King and South Africa’s Archbishop Desmod Tutu.

David Marx

Bedsit Disco Queen


Bedsit Disco Queen –
How I grew up and tried to be a pop star
By Tracey Thorn
Virago/Little, Brown – £16.99

Along with the likes of Paul Weller, Jeff Buckley, Morrissey and obviously countless others, I’ve always been somewhat drawn to the music of Everything But The Girl. The British duo of Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt, formed at Hull University in 1982, and whose name derives from a furniture shop in the city called Turner’s – who at the time, had a sign in the window that read: ‘’for your bedroom needs, we sell everything but the girl.’’

Having always been rather understated in their music (which I believe is part of the attraction) and inexorably silent with regards their private lives (it was never publicised that they were a couple, let alone married, let alone had three children), I couldn’t help but be instantly drawn to Thorn’s memoir, Bedsit Disco Queen – How I grew up and tried to be a pop star.

True to the music and, I should imagine, the personality of the authoress herself, the book is an exceedingly pleasant, mild-mannered and persuasive and read, which never ever ventures into a slight imprint of shall we say, Keith Moon territory. But then it was never going to. EBTG did after all, have about as much in common with the rock’n’roll lifestyle of The Who and the Stones et al, as perhaps George Osborne.

So if you’re expecting a titillating and tempestuous read, punctuated with tales of mayhem and madness, this isn’t it.

These 360 pages are a chronological overview of Tracey Thorn’s – and to a certain degree, Benn Watt’s – professional life, viewed through the prism of the relative limelight. As The Guardian’s Alexis Petridis has been quoted as saying: ‘’As distinctive and lovely as its author’s singing voice, Bedsit Disco Queen isn’t just a wry and wise memoir of a unique career; it acts as a kind of eulogy for a forgotten era of British pop.’’

I know what he means.

Could you imagine any of today’s current assembly line of charmless, faceless, gormless, talentless, witless, Botox induced slappers in heels, admitting to – let alone actually writing – any the following (from the chapter ‘Popstar Trace’):

‘’The lyrics I wrote now were almost exclusively personal, and given that every second of my life seemed so vivid and rich with detail and event, there was no shortage of subject matter. The smallest, most ‘trivial’ things could provide inspiration or an opportunity for reflection. I had no worries about whether or not these stories were too private to be of interest to an audience; I never even really considered any particular audience. I felt entirely connected to the time and place in which I was writing the songs, and so believed that those around me would feel the same as me and would understand them. Like every other new band who find themselves taken up by the press, we took the attention for granted, having no idea how precious it was, how hard to come by and how impossible to recapture once lost.’’

Somehow I think not.
Regardless of how psychologically well groomed ye current onslaught of (so-called) talent-show contestants will continue to bow down at the alter of fame and fortune.

To be sure, Thorne touches on as much later on in the book (in the chapter ‘Express Yourself’), wherein she writes of her own loss of role model: ‘’But the 1980s had become a very much more conservative decade. The female icon you were supposed to revere above all others was, of course, Madonna, and no one could have seemed more alien to me. A shiny, brash, Teflon-coated embodiment of AMBITION, she was absolutely a version of feminism but not the one I felt I’d signed up for, and the pouting and flirting of songs and more particularly videos like ‘Material Girl’ and ‘Like A Virgin’ left me cold. Manipulating men, using your feminine wiles ‘to your own advantage,’ above all exploiting a simplified version of your own sexuality was suddenly the name of the game.’’

Unfortunately, it still is the name of the game – which is why I wholeheartedly agree with the aforementioned Petridis, that Bedsit Disco Queen ‘’acts as a kind of eulogy for a forgotten era of British pop.’’

It absolutely does, which is just one of the reasons that makes it so very readable, valuable and worthwhile.

David Marx

Who I Am


Who I Am
By Pete Townshend
Harper Collins – £20.00

‘’Historically, The Who’s stage act had revolved around a kind of childish look-at-me competitiveness that had worked well from 1964 to 1968, as the four of us, boys still, tried to get the attention of the audience in our own eccentric way. I jumped around, posed like a Mod fop, squiggled sideways, swung my arm and battled my Marshall stack. Roger swung his long golden hair and twirled tassels on his shawl or his chamois leather jacket, as he sang and produced white noise or explosions by pushing his microphone against Keith’s cymbals. Keith played too many notes and made too many faces, throwing too many sticks and falling off his stool too often, but never lost the beat. John got attention simply because he stood so still, his fingers flying like a stenographer’s, the notes a machine-gun chatter.’’

So bequeaths Pete Townshend in Chapter Twelve (‘Tommy: The Myths, The Music, The Mud’) of this outstandingly compelling and beguiling book, Who I Am. A musically idiosyncratic insight, that in and of itself, many a fan of the semi-solipsistic songsmith, may – one way or another – have surmised for themselves many moons ago. To read The Who’s prime, powerhouse protagonist and fundamental, literary beating-heart; writing and admitting as such, is not only sonorous in the extreme, but also regal and revelatory.

Perhaps poignant is the word I’m looking for?

We are after all talking about Pete Townshend, who, along with John Lennon, has always machine-gunned straight from the nigh sacrosanct hip of socially iconographic honesty. A sometimes-fraught yet more than commendable and valuable if not pristine facet, which in this day and rather unfortunate age of Simon Cowell’s pre-ordained, uber wank fodder of cancerous, ideological persuasion, has become almost extinct.

Indeed, an all-circumnavigating facet, which, if not extinct, then increasingly impossible to find. This then, is just one of the reasons (and there are many) that accounts for this book being something of a refreshing reminder that a very substantial semblance of the musical truth, did actually once exist.

For if there’s one thing that Pete Townshend has executed exceedingly well throughout his long, pre-eminent and altogether varied career, it’s always been extolling things as they really are. And what he’s ultimately chosen to include amid these 507 pages is absolutely no exception.

Very early on in Who I Am, we encounter just one of the author’s countless reflections upon his childhood: ‘’When Mum paid the occasional visit to Denny and me […], she gave off an aura of London glamour and of being in a hurry, but also of being unreliable. Meanwhile Denny was running after bus drivers and airmen, and I was miserable. I had lost my beautiful young parents to a life of Spartan discipline with a pathetic woman desperately watching her youth slip away. Denny’s feelings for me seemed vengeful (…), as did Mum’s abandonment […]. At the age of seven, love and leadership both felt bankrupt’’ (‘It’s A Boy!’). While eleven chapters (and a mere eighteen years) later, Townshend is more than just a little introspective with regards his own familial responsibility: ‘’I was 25 – a young man still beset by anxieties and insecurities, who had no idea how to reconcile a growing family with the new pressures presented by The Who. As a result I found myself living in a bubble of denial: I would tell the band they came first, and I’d tell my family the same thing. I didn’t except that if I served one well I would probably fail the other’’ (‘Lifehouse And Loneliness’).

Replete with a keen eye for almost exceptional detail, these thirty-two chapters cover most, if not all aspects of Townshend’s career as a sublime, yet restless, curious, chameleonic artist. An artist, whose interviews I’ve always, always made a point of reading. Reason being, not only does he sting with all the gravitas that an exceptionally shrewd, intelligent and gifted talent entails, but he does so with a resounding, contemplative uncorruptibility, that is simply beyond compare.

Towards the back of the back, in a chapter touchingly entitled ‘Letter To My Eight-Year-Old Self,’ he writes: ‘’Julia Cameron also suggested writing letters to oneself, and during this period I wrote one to Pete Townshend, aged eight. It proved to be a crucial act of affirmation that eventually helped to heal the pain and hurt I had been harbouring all my life: it started me on the path of becoming more at peace with myself over the next decade, and of forgiving myself for whatever it was that still intermittently caused me anxiety, guilt and shame.’’

Who else might have the sheer strength of character and conviction to write such open-ended, high-octane, revelatory, self-rumination and analysis? Robbie Williams? Katie Price? Liam Gallagher? The closest Rod Stewart came – whose hugely disappointing biography I recently reviewed – was admitting: ‘‘You’re a 45-year old man and you’re flying in shags. Is this what you now amount to? Is that all you’ve got?’’

Like The Who itself, Who I Am is something of an exhilarating read.

More importantly, it sets the benchmark for which surely all future (rock’n’roll) biographies will have to undoubtedly be written.

As is written on the sleeve, this book really is: ‘’a chronicle of ambition, controversy, relentless perfectionism, rock’n’roll excess, emotional and spiritual turmoil, and ultimate redemption.’’ Resulting in it perhaps being the most poignant and powerful, honest (and in parts) harrowing biography I’ve ever read by anyone.

So in short, worth every penny; even if just to read and ultimately digest the wit and grit of either of the following: ‘’Musicians have to learn to listen before they can begin to learn to play. I think it’s the hardest part, the listening part’’ […]. ‘’I believe rock can do anything, it’s the ultimate vehicle for everything. It’s the ultimate vehicle for saying anything, for putting down anything, for building up anything, for killing and creating. It’s the absolute ultimate vehicle for self-destruction, which is the most incredible thing, because there’s nothing as effective as that, not in terms of art, anyway, or what we call art.’’

David Marx