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Friday, 3 July 2015

Lost in Lost In Music

Like quite a few books before it (also films, records, TV programmes, places, people ...), I picked up Giles Smith's Lost In Music unsure whether I'd already read it. Twenty pages in I still wasn't sure. By the end: er, still not sure. Oh dear. My memory's obviously shot to pieces - or the book is utterly unmemorable and in about three years' time I'll read it all over again, saying "I picked up this book unsure whether I'd already read it ..."

Anyway, it's a nice enough romp through the writer's musical life - his childish infatuation with T. Rex, the yearning for pop-music-related fame and excitement, the desire to be cool and in a rock band (the two being coterminous), his bizarre musical obsessions (10cc, Stevie Wonder, XTC, Blue Nile). See - they are bizarre.

Lost In Music is ostensibly all about the deep pangs of nostalgia and longing that pop music supposedly generates in the receptive listener. And yeah, I can relate to that. The Buzzcocks' Ever Fallen In Love With (a song mentioned by Smith) kind of does that for me, as do about 500 other songs, each in different ways, depending on numerous factors - when I first heard them, how old I was, how they sound now after several years/decades, what the musicians have come to mean to me more generally over the years etc, etc. Smith's book starts out as if it's going to be pretty good on all this ... but, but ...

 ... but, he too often uses it all as the set-up before the mock-heroic punchline. He clearly loves the music he loves (or at least used to love it), but he just can't resist the pay-off joke. Sample: "This book is the story of ... one man's journey into the world of rock and then back to his mum's." Colchester is deemed funny because rock bands don't emanate form there and you don't see famous musicians in the street. And so on (and on).

He's Mr Self-Deprecation to a tee, but in bringing himself down  - however amusingly - everyone else has to come down with him. He used to be in a band called The Cleaners From Venus with a principled-sounding songwriter bloke called Martin Newell, but Smith being Smith has to joke about the compromises Newell makes under pressure from their record company (RCA).

For Smith everything's a joke in the end because he doesn't seem to want to take music seriously. He wants to be a comic writer instead - he's far more Nick Hornby than he is Nik Cohn. (Staying with the Niks, he positively loves making fun of his own slight association with pop-idol-to-be Nik Kershaw, but says hardly anything about his much more meaningful time hanging out with The Damned's Captain Sensible).


I dunno. It's undeniably amusing to mock teenage (and 20-something) rock pretentions, but ... is that all there is to it? Smith admits to having big musical blindposts (deafspots?): Neil Young and Bob Dylan being two of the biggest. Isn't this part of his problem in the end? A lack of affinity with what isn't pop music and what isn't naff? If he can genuinely say he likes stuff such as Crowded House and connect with punk and new wave only to the extent of admiring XTC, Elvis Costello and a few poppier things like The Jam, then ... well, maybe he was always failing to take music seriously enough in the first place.

It's all very well making some nicely-crafted jokes about pretending your first-ever single purchase was a Beatles record and not a Ronnie Hilton one (!), but if 20 years later you're still praising The Beatles and ignoring The Velvet Underground then ... well, you are lost in music. The wrong kind!

So that's the trap that Giles Smith is in if you ask me. The trap of the joke-meister. I've definitely read the book this time and I'm not really laughing any more ...




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