Friday, 15 May 2009

What happened in the cubicle

One day a few years ago a friend of mine who used to work at Warners went into the Gents. He walks up to the urinal and starts weeing. From the stalls behind him he hears a slight moan. Fair enough, he thinks, it's a toilet stall, people make sounds in them . As he finishes and zips up his fly, he hears a louder sound from the same stall. This throws a new and disturbing light on the previous sound. Christ, he thinks, that's the clatter and bang of some serious diarrhoea - and just as he's finishing this thought, he's greeted with a third and almost deafening retort which seemingly ricochets off the tiled walls. Inside that stall, there is someone in serious trouble...

Why am I telling you this? OK, I admit it. For the last week and a bit I have been less than attentive of the music scene. All I've done is written one thing about the comical Coldplay plagiarism story and lorded it up a couple of times at the theatre (Opera? Got it: l'elisier d'amore; 19th century Danish business? Sorted: Peer Gynt) And what have I been doing the rest of the time? Looking after my 1 year old daughter. And I'm doing it for the rest of May, my pop-picking friends.

Relax I'm not going to start regaling you with 'amusing' accounts of what a wake-up call house-husbandry is compared to normal life and how comically inept I am at it. Ho ho ho - wouldn't that be ironic and hilarious? But listen, that's the point of mentioning it here - because just as there always seem to be a bunch of new books about how crazy fun-loving guys have managed to learn to knuckle under and become great dads, there now also seem to be a swelling mass of books written by former music industry employees - the most high profile of recent months is of course Luke Haines' Bad Vibes.

Now clearly I am always going to be biased in matters of books about the music business. It would be lovely to tell you that my book on the music business is about to come out but I think perhaps that that is a way off. Besides, I'd like to get some of my stories published - it does look as though the Pink Flag collection is going to emerge at some point which is exciting. I'll keep you posted.

But anyway, back to Haines. Firstly, unlike my Kill Your Friends blog last year (which I anticipated not liking, but then found myself surprised and impressed with) I imagine I am really going to enjoy Haines' book. I know a few folks whose opinion I trust and they've all had fun with it and it covers a time in the business that I know well and having read one or two extracts it is clear that he writes engagingly. But one thing bothers me about the Haines book - how am I going to enjoy it when I never liked his band?

Let's be honest, The Auteurs weren't all that great were they? Their demo emerged around the same time as Suede's and they were vaguely in the same musical glam camp (at least at first) but it was a thin voiced, jangly textbook indie. They got a deal with Virgin imprint Hut, after everyone who failed to get Suede checked them out. And after that, well, nothing really happened. Over a long period of time. And the book appears to be about how annoyed LH was with the way things went and how terrible all the other artists were and undeserving of their success. I know I'm doing it again and writing about a book I haven't read but as far as I can tell, Haines sticks to his schtick despite the evidence being plain to anyone who has heard The Auteurs. I'm listening to the first album New Wave now and it's OK but... oh, you know, it's just not that great.

This argument didn't stop me loving The Dirt about Motley Crue without really being able to name a single Crue song but somehow because the Haines book is one man's very personal vision it seems to me that you have to buy into his music to immerse yourself in the prose. Or not? You've probably read it haven't you and you're stroking your chin and shaking your head at my idiocy. Anyway, David Peace liked it so it must be good, right kids?

Another book on the music business (which you'll be happy to hear I have read) is Dan Kennedy's Rock On: How I Tried to Stop Caring About Music and Learn to Love Corporate Rock and, should you wondering what your next read is, this is the business. It's by a fella who contributes to Dave Eggers' McSweeney magazine and who in a former life was a senior marketing exec at Warners. The book tells the tale of how he got the job and managed to keep it until he was, along with many others, made redundant.

There are many reasons why Rock On is good (the title isn't one of them by the way) the main one being it's hilarious. Kennedy writes from the perspective of someone who can't believe he has managed to bag a job inside a record company - surely how everyone feels - or felt. And because he wasn't long in the job, he retains a crtical distance - or at least his writing has the authentic ring of someone who never got absorbed into the system. Plus he's writing about relatively recent history so all the horrors of the industry meltdown which the US felt before the UK are covered.

But mostly I love it because it's about office life. I'm obsessed with books about office life, the nonsense of corporate structures and the idiotic way people behave within it. So music and this combined - it's a winner, frankly. Not wanting to spoil it for you, there is one bit which I sincerely hope is true:

Kennedy has just learned from HR along with a senior executive who doesn't even know his name or what he did ("thanks for all the, uh, marketing...") that he's been made redundant. He emerges from the office outside of which two male assistants sit typing and avoiding eye contact with him. They know that everyone going in and out of the office that day is being laid off. Instead of sheepishly walking off, Kennedy proclaims (I'm paraphrasing here so forgive me if I'm not doing it justice) "Well that was a surprise!" The guys look up. "Yes," he goes on, "Apparently, you two now work for me!" The blokes look at each other dumbstruck and horrified. "Just kidding!" he beams and strolls off.

Oh yes, I never finished my Warners story. So my friend is washing his hands and waiting for the next painful rear end explosion to come from the stall. But instead, there is an eery silence, broken only by the reassuring noise of a squeaking toilet roll dispenser. As he drys his hands the stall door opens slowly and a completely relaxed and fresh faced person emerges - as if end-of-the-world cacophony was standard lavatorial procedure. And who was this person? Well, let's just say I hope his aim was true.


  1. HAHA HAHA I have no comment, (well i was an a&r person, yeah yours are wonderful. Let you know when my childrens book is out. x I Liked Kill My friends my step daughter gave it to me. It's now residing in a studio for all band wild life consumption...chained to the desk...true...x

  2. Accident's will happen ; )

  3. Mention of Motley Crue drives me to recommend Nikki Sixx's 'Heroin Diaries'. For reasons I didn't want to explore, the family gave this to me as a Christmas present and grateful I was. However much excess we've indulged in or seen, nothing is like life in Motley Crue. By turns mind boggling, repulsive, alluring, and funny.

  4. it's Luke HAINES btw!

    Black Box Recorder were MUCH better than The Auteurs.

    Like you I love books on the biz and devour every one of them. The Yanks have tended to do it rather better than the Brits - probably because they knew excess better than we did!!

    Maybe after his big dump he went off and wrote 'I Want You'. There was plenty of bile in that!!

  5. Books set in offices, have you tried 'And Then We Came to the End', Joshua Ferris?

    Many amazon reviewers hate it. Always a good sign...


  6. John - have I got enough time in my shortening life to read two books about Motely Crue? Well, if you say so...

    Dave - thanks for spelling advice. It's always name that I cock up - I got much short shrift from folks on the Word messageboards for misspelling Burt Jansch and Jake Thackray a few months ago

    Rob - I do have the Ferris but am hovering over whether to read as I have seen those reviews and others which say it's not great. My fave literary office scenario is the one is Revolutionary Road

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