Sunday, July 16, 2017

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Bedsit Disco Queen

Anthony McIntyre enjoyed Tracy Thorn's book on life in the music industry.

There seemed nothing like it since Judy Tzuke’s Stay With Me Till Dawn which was released almost two decades earlier: an enchanting piece of music with lyrics to match that required no Jennifer Warnes type lung power to achieve maximum lift.

Sultry but different, on a par with Terri Nunn rendering Take My Breath Away or Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush, there was  enchanting seductiveness in how the lyrics were powered by the dulcet voice of a female vocalist. Missing must be one of the defining songs of the 90s. I can still recall the bar I was in on first hearing it. I have very poignant memories of the occasion. Not many songs that can be said about.

Everything But The Girl seemed more like the title of a song than the name of a music band. Up until Missing burrowed deep into our existential need for pleasure I had never heard of Tracy Thorn, knowing nothing about her career in the Marine Girls, a part of her musical existence this book brings to life. Even the other day when talking to a friend about the book, she recalled EBTG as a one hit wonder band. Which is something the group most definitely was not. Its eighth album Walking Wounded sold 1.2 million copies.

Rarely do celeb books elevate themselves to the point where they might comfortably be described as literature. This is one that got away from the mundane dross that often appears written with a crayon and not a pen. The genre is better known for mass producing to satiate the adoring faithful. There is little in them that would interest an outside reader unless the celeb is controversial to the point where they simply cannot be ignored. Mediocre, at times moronic, they set in the motion the Ambrose Bierce thought that “the covers of this book are too far apart.” They gather dust as their buyer gathers years, wondering if their decision not to donate them to a charity outlet, is sentimental or silly, or even a bit of both.

The bit of both that Bedsit Disco Queen: How I Grew Up and Tried to Be a Pop Star proffers is very different. From "Pop Star Trace" to accomplished author and columnist, this book spans the lot in between, including the “grubby grottiness” of the 70s where she took part in Anti Nazi League demos. Its core strength lies in a narration of the fused outcome of the hugely creative talents of the author and her husband, Ben Watt. Tracy Thorn, one half of EBTG, is a very perceptive woman who just does not have ideas but knows how to convey them. A student at Hull University where she began to take music seriously outside of her academic day, she remained sufficiently focused to obtain a first before going on to write a Master’s on Beckett.

Often it is her relationship with Watt that stands out. The time he spent in hospital from a serious illness did not ground Thorn as such. She never had her head in the clouds to begin with. A thorn in the side of the musically pretentious, no effort is made to conceal the contempt for groups like Duran Duran, told in a casual drama-free manner. Still, surely she had to have a modicum of forgiveness in her heart if for no other reason than the brilliant View To A Kill track.

Then there is the awful moment when at a major awards ceremony she asked the penguin suited senior exec of her record company for a glass of wine, mistaking him as a waiter.

For Thorn, it was a Journey from Everything But The Girl to Everything But The Children. She felt her biological clock ticking away until the point that the yearning for motherhood would win out. A set of girl twins followed, who were shortly after joined by a boy. The vignette where she pushes the pram into a shop where Missing is being played and her daughter says “Mummy you are singing” is heartwarming. The child knew it from her mum singing about the house.

Non-pretentious, seemingly effortless prose, makes this a great read that anyone could pick up although, obviously, much better for those familiar with Missing. If books are not your thing, dip into her fortnightly column at the New Statesman. In her most recent outpouring she refer of the two children still at home with here while her husband is off on business: they live in their bedrooms. For other kids in their bedrooms with time on their hands - her own will find it all too familiar by this point - give them something about a girl who once sat in a bedsit. They are unlikely to be disappointed.

Tracey Thorn, 2013. Bedsit Disco Queen: How I Grew Up and Tried to Be a Pop Star. Publisher: Virago. ASIN: B00HTJRB5M

3 comments :

Simon said...

What a wonderful review. Your enthusiasm for the book is contagious. I have a small mountain of books here and wouldn't have added that to it in a million years.

It reminds me of the recommendation I once received for Anthony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential". I wouldn't have dreamt of reading it but ended up doing so, a book that seems apart from my usual fayre and enjoying it.

Niall said...

I can't say I'll read it but remember the tune....not fondly though. As for the 90s....they belonged to Oasis and the Stone Roses...now i remember those days for sure...mad as fuck!
She always came across...image thing may be trying to be super cool...as fuckn depressing!

AM said...

Simon,

yeah, it is one of those celeb books that has a lot to recommend it unlike the bulk of them.

Niall, never how she struck me. Always found her unpretentious.