16/04/2015

Two Music-Themed Books I Loved Recently




















So far, this has been the year of reading extremely quickly.

When looking at my Goodreads account, I can count no less than nine books read in 2015 - not counting nonfiction books on fashion, sustainability and veganism - can you tell that I'm broke and have no money for magazines? 

All jokes aside, two of my favourite books recently have been centered heavily around music. The first is an autobiography - Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys by Viv Albertine, guitarist in one of the first female punk bands in the world, the Slits. Thoroughly honest and very well written, this book kicks off at Viv's teenage years in a quite depressing part of London, when she falls in love with rock n'roll upon hearing a Beatles song and has no clue how she, as a girl, can be part of that world. It doesn't cross her mind that girls can be punk musicians.

Turns out they can't - until groundbreaking musicians like the Raincoats, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Viv's own band the Slits change the rules. Forming what must have been one of the most influential bands in punk history, Viv and her bandmates were music pioneers, going against the grain in everything from their musical choices to their outfits (most of which were sourced from Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren's legendary punk shop SEX). Reading about how she went from living in a squat to composing songs with Sid Vicious and touring with the Clash, albeit staying in less fancy hotels, I often found myself jealous of Viv's life. Stomping around London (and sometimes LA) in her boots from SEX, which Vivienne Westwood herself advised her to buy (!!) and hanging out with the Sex Pistols, Viv is the ultimate cool girl: creative and unapologetic, but she also appears to be a good friend. She's exactly who I'd want to be if I woke up tomorrow and found myself in the 70s.

Until the band breaks up and Viv morphs into a housewife.

I realise that, as the author of her own autobiography, Viv has to stay true to her own story. But after applauding her transformation from insecure North London teenager to punk queen, it's a bit of a change to find ourselves reading about her battle to have a baby or her quiet life as a housewife in the countryside. It just seems such a far cry from the Viv we've gotten to know in the first part of the book. But again, this is her story and she tells it in a very compelling way. At the end of the book, her return to music has a victorious feel to it: other things in her life might not have lasted, but her love affair with music remains. When the book ended, it felt like saying goodbye to a friend, and, if I may, I now feel like I know Viv a little (and have added the Slits to my Spotify...listen to So Tough, Shoplifting and Instant Hit!).





Book two is a novel - The Love Song of Jonny Valentine by Teddy Wayne.  In the opening paragraphs we make the acquaintance of the narrator, who's trying to get from his Las Vegas hotel room into a woman's, to get hold of a sleeping pill. It subsequently becomes clear that the woman is his mother, that he's wary of leaving his own room because he is a massively famous pop star...and that he's eleven years old. What unfolds is a fascinating story of a pre-teen coping not only with the stress that goes into being a Bieber-calibre superstar, but also a tricky relationship with his mother-slash-manager, ruthless hounding from the press, the onset of puberty and the lingering remnants of his pre-fame life. We follow Jonny on his US tour as he takes on one sold-out show after another, all while secretly trying to find his estranged father.

The book's strength is the stunningly mature, yet innocent voice of its narrator. The world that he lives in, albeit a glitzy one, is a lonely place: his best friend is his bodyguard, Walter, who seems to be the only person in the entire story who has the young singer's best interests in mind. The same cannot be said for his ruthless, fame-obsessed mother Jane, a former supermarket cashier who, upon discovering her son's angelic voice, rebrands herself as his manager. holding the reins to the steely circumstances that dictate Jonny's existence: no ice cream unless followed by thirty minutes on the treadmill, no contact with his childhood best friend who isn't telegenic and no interaction with peers, unless they're screaming fans. Lay on top of that constant reminders of how badly his album is doing and we're all pretty relieved that our childhood dreams of pop stardom never materialised.

Parodies of the music industry are sprinkled all through the story- rapper-gone-pop Mi$ster $mith, spot-popping seventeen-year-old singer Tyler Beats and my favourites, hipster rockers the Latchkeys - I found myself wishing that they actually existed so that I could listen to them. The record label's eyes-on-the-prize attitude is like a chokehold on both Jonny and Jane - particularly chilling is the chapter in which Jonny is paired up with a female teenage singer, Lisa, on a fake date for publicity. When summoning the courage to ask the pretty yet scarily construed, put-together Lisa on a real date, Jonny is dissed with, 'I prefer not to mix my private and professional lives', leaving him with the conclusion that, 'she would make it as an actress because she wasn't a normal kid. She was an adult in a kid's body. If you were just a kid in a kid's body, you might make it as well, as long as you had good management.' 
As Jonny experiments with growing up, he muses on what his life might have been like if his father would never have left, or what might happen if they reconnect. 

On that note, the story culminates in a most beautiful and heartbreaking ending. I found myself reading it over and over again. In some reviews, it was seen as a positive ending, whereas I read it as another harrowing testament to the stone-cold realities of the celebrity industry, and how deeply it seeps into the very being of those involved, leaving them never the same again. I applaud Teddy Wayne for not going the obvious route with his ending, as so many others writing about a presumably desired lifestyle have, always having their character take the easy way at the end. I'm sorry if this is in any way a spoiler, because I really want you to read the book, but I felt it was an important part of why I fell in love with this story.

Next music-themed book on my to-read list is Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon!

What are some books that you loved recently?

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