Self-dep­re­cat­ing mem­oir charts Suede’s rise to a record deal

Irish Examiner - Weekend - - Books -

EVEN be­fore they had re­leased a song, there was a sense of des­tiny about Suede. In 1993, placed the un­signed five­piece on the cover and pro­claimed Suede “the best new band in Bri­tain”.

Fus­ing the glam rock of David Bowie with the wist­ful pop of The Smiths, Suede con­ceived a soar­ing, melan­cholic sen­si­bil­ity that in­flu­enced a gen­er­a­tion of Bri­tish in­die bands.

the mem­oir of the group’s founder and lead singer, Brett An­der­son, is es­sen­tial read­ing for Suede afi­ciona­dos — but it’s much more than that.

As he re­veals the back­ground of early Suede songs, An­der­son re­vis­its cru­cial junc­tures in Suede’s ge­n­e­sis.

Cen­tral are An­der­son’s re­la­tion­ships with orig­i­nal mem­bers Jus­tine Frischmann (“one of the two great loves of my life”), and Bernard But­ler, whom An­der­son re­cruited through an ad for a “no muso” gui­tarist in the

Yet, couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent from the con­ven­tional rock mem­oir. Im­bued with fear­less can­dour and writ­ten with vivid clar­ity, An­der­son in­sists the book is “about fail­ure” and closes his com­pelling narlan­ders ra­tive on the day Suede sign their record deal.

What is most af­fect­ing, how­ever, is the way An­der­son evokes his early life. “I was a snotty, sniffy, slightly maudlin sort of boy raised on Salad Cream and milky tea and cheap meat,” he writes.

Pro­vid­ing the bassline of the book, An­der­son foren­si­cally con­jures the Bri­tain of the 1970s and 1980s: The lino of cramped coun­cil houses and the smell of sour milk.

An­der­son had a com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ship with his ec­cen­tric, con­fronta­tional fa­ther (a “col­lec­tion” of per­son­al­i­ties), who would walk around their house dressed as Lawrence of Ara­bia as he air-con- ducted his favourite clas­si­cal com­posers.

In con­trast, An­der­son nur­tured a “blind, prim­i­tive love” for his mother. Artis­tic and de­voted, she fos­tered An­der­son’s love of books and, to save money, made all her fam­ily’s clothes.

If writ­ing this mem­oir was partly to gain a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of his fa­ther, An­der­son has, in in­ter­views about the book, ac­knowl­edged that retelling his mother’s death (she died when he was 22) force­fully sum­moned the dev­as­ta­tion of her loss.

The search for self-iden­tity and es­cape from sub­ur­bia are salient themes in Suede’s canon and they serve as touch­stones in

Us­ing the money he earned from his pa­per round, An­der­son bought his first al­bum:

Stifled by the con­form­ity of Hay­wards Heath, the teenage An­der­son of­ten walked to the plat­form of the town’s rail­way sta­tion and looked north­wards up the tracks try­ing to glimpse the prom­ise and el­e­gance of Eng­land’s cap­i­tal.

When An­der­son moved to Lon­don, he used the gritty minu­tiae of the city — phrases over­heard on the Tube, graf­fiti scrawled in toi­let cu­bi­cles — as in­spi­ra­tion for his song­writ­ing.

The mu­sic press de­rided Suede as “the most hu­mour­less band since Joy Di­vi­sion”, but a re­frain of An­der­son’s mem­oir is his self­dep­re­ca­tion. He re­mem­bers, in 1984, wear­ing a lemon-yel­low suit bought in Top­man which he liked to think hinted at the glit­ter of David Bowie, but, on re­flec­tion, sug­gested rip-off Cliff Richard.

dares to strip away the mythol­ogy of rock as An­der­son mas­ter­fully dis­tils his and his band’s at­tempts to use their own voice and ac­cent — against a back­drop of bread-line poverty in John Ma­jor’s Bri­tain — to cel­e­brate “our ragged hymn, our howl of frus­tra­tion”.

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