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A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z Back to main page

Bloody Mary Bloody Mary
Mary Coughlan
(Hachette Books Ireland)

Somewhat curiously given the prevailing end-times ambience, ‘tragic lives’ – or, if you prefer, ‘misery memoirs’ – have proven to be the publishing phenomenon of the last decade, presumably on the basis that one can never have too much pain and suffering. One fears that Bloody Mary – the autobiography of Irish jazz/blues singer Mary Coughlan – could be perceived as being part of this questionable genre, which would be regrettable given the author’s against-all-odds zest for life and total lack of self-pity. The latter is especially admirable given the sexual abuse inflicted by an uncle during her childhood: not surprisingly, this led Coughlan to turn away from her studies and begin to question all authority figures in her life (“By the time I hit secondary school, my philosophy of life had blossomed into: ‘You’re going to get killed anyway, so you might as well do whatever the fuck you like, and then get killed.’”). Later, as her singing career brought other pressures, she would attempt to escape through substance abuse, and the passages in which she details her numerous hospitalisations from drink are especially affecting. Now substance-free and back to her best, Coughlan successfully imbues an often bleak tale with both wit and wisdom.
David Davies

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Strange Things HappenStrange Things Happen Stewart Copeland
(Friday Project/HarperCollins)

Former Police-men have an impressive track record when it comes to autobiographies – Sting’s Broken Music was thoughtful and engaging, whilst Andy Summers’ One Train Later was one of the best rock memoirs of the last ten years – so expectations are high for this effort from the other member of the classic pop-rock trio. A man of seemingly unending drive and determination, Stewart Copeland does not disappoint with this non-chronological assemblage of anecdotes collated from more than 40 years of music-making. Copeland’s latterday incarnation as a respected film and opera composer is the subject of several memorable episodes, but there is little doubt that many purchasers will be laying down their hard-earned poundage in expectation of some Police-related ‘dirt’. This duly arrives in the second half of the book when Copeland devotes many pages to the band’s recent reunion tour and his frequently jaw-dropping love/hate relationship with ‘Stingo’. Strange Things Happen has its drawbacks – there are too many passages about the rigours of live performance, and the polo section is decidedly long-winded – but Copeland writes with flair and energy, and on the whole this is another fine addition to the now-heaving Police bookshelf.
David Davies

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****************************************************************** The Train of Ice & FireThe Train of Ice & Fire
Ramón Chao
(Route)

This skilfully written chronicle of a wildly idealistic 1993 railway journey across Colombia is underpinned by images of dissolution – both of the band at its core, and the nation that provides its backdrop. Spearheaded by French band Mano Negra, the ambitious venture aims to bring free shows that encompass music, tattoo-art and a fire-breathing dragon to locals living alongside a disused railway line that has long since fallen prey to guerillas, paramilitaries, drug dealers and other unsavoury characters. While the narrative relating to Mano Negra’s ill-timed demise half-way through the epic journey is compelling enough, the real emotional matter of the book is provided by Colombia itself. Exploited from within and without, the country has a deeply tragic recent past, but despite this the determination of its people shines through on nearly every page. Indeed, by the time the journey reaches its conclusion in Bogotá, you are likely to feel incensed by the various forces that insist on disrupting normal, peaceful everyday life. The translation from the original Spanish occasionally feels a little awkward, but it’s a minor complaint in the context of a book that is rich in character and imagery
David Davies

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The StoogesThe Stooges: A Journey Through The Michigan Underworld
Brett Callwood (Independent Music Press)

Given that there are any number of books on Iggy Pop, and of course the recent loss of Stooge main man Ron Ashton, it’s certainly about time that The Stooges were afforded a history in their own right, and having also written about their Detroit buddies the MC5 it doubtless seemed Brett Callwood was a good choice to chronicle the events, and to his credit (given that this is an unofficial biog) he does manage to talk to most of the main players, but whereas he seemed quite comfortable with his subject matter in his MC5 book Sonically Speaking, this collection of second and third hand reminiscences doesn’t ever feel like the definitive story. There are some glaring omissions, particularly around the bands messy collapse in 70/71 (before reappearing as Iggy And The Stooges in 1972), Dave Alexander’s sacking is glossed over and both replacement bass players Zeke Zettner and Jimmy Recca are only mentioned in passing – surely the, now sadly demised, Zettner warrants more than one sentence in the Stooges history? That said there is entertainment to be had here, and if you approach the book with a eye to it’s subtitle, ‘A Journey Through The Michigan Underworld’ you shouldn ’t be disappointed.
Ray Harper

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Leonard CohenBook of Longing
Leonard Cohen
(Penguin)

By turns haunting, darkly humorous and playful, Book of Longing marks Leonard Cohen’s long overdue return to the printed page. Written over the course of more than twenty years in various locations, not least during his extended retreat at a Zen Buddhist monastery in California, the book collates ruminations on ageing and memory, simple life sketches and Cohen’s own drawings into an oddly moving whole. While hardly free of melancholy (‘The Darkness Enters’ is particularly affecting), Book of Longing effectively continues the work of his last studio album, Dear Heather, in correcting a long-running and frankly ridiculous misconception of Cohen as the unsmiling prince of misery. A bone-dry wit has always been integral to his work, and it’s in plentiful supply here, whether it be applied to the deficiencies of his mountain-top retreat in ‘The Lovesick Monk’ (“It’s dismal here/The only thing I don’t need is a comb”) or myths about his own past in ‘Titles’ (“My reputation as a Ladies’ Man was a joke/It caused me to laugh bitterly through the ten thousand nights I spent alone”). Dense with acute observations and vivid flashes of imagery, Book of Longing is a wry, wise addition to a formidable body of work.
David Davies

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Trout Mask ReplicaTrout Mask Replica
Kevin Courier
(continuum)

Number 44 in the excellent 33 1/3 series of books by continuum, wherein writers wax lyrical about their favourite album, in this case the magnificently deranged Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, truly one of the few albums one can say came from out of nowhere and, other than encouraging bug-eyed experi-mentalism in all manner of bands since, left little traceable mark on what followed. Courier expertly ties together all of the disparate threads that helped spawn this notoriously difficult album, from Howlin’ Wolf to Ornette Coleman via gospel, do-wop and some of the most demented lyrics ever committed to page (or not in some cases). It’s hard to imagine anyone but a Magic Band fan picking this up but even if you have yet to fathom the delights of Beefheart you will still find much to enjoy here, not least the discovery that the good Captian was in fact a despotic, less than benign dictator (and something of a musical dunce), who hi-jacked the Magic Band and bullied them into recreating his muse, and it’s testament to the band that they were in fact able to actually play this mad noise and to Courier for making sense of it all for us.
Ruby Palmer

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