Review: Alex James – “Bit of a Blur: The Autobiography

Bit of a Blur: The AutobiographyBit of a Blur: The Autobiography by Alex James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So Graham and Damon and I met in the studio on the last day of the first term. Damon had the keys, as he was sort of an assistant there. There were a couple of things that Damon and Graham had been working on together that we bashed around for a while. I showed them some chords that I’d been strumming in my room. Graham started to play them on the guitar, there was a drum machine going boom whack and I started grooving along on the bass that was lying around. Damon started jumping up and down and saying, “˜Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant! You’re a natural!’ He got his lyrics book out and started singing, “˜She is so high, she is so high.’ It all happened there and then. It was instantaneous, shockingly so. Graham wrote the lyrics for the verse, over the same chords, and sang a backing vocal on the choruses. I’d never been in a band with backing vocals. The two of them sang really well together, they’d been doing it for years. We made a tape and I went home for Christmas thinking, “˜I’m in the best band in the world.’

Even if you don’t fancy Blur or even if you’ve never heard them, this is a good memoir. Even though James may seem to have his head up his own arse at times because of his wealth and the sheer amount of silly things he’s been up to because of it – whether it be purchasing an aeroplane or wasting thousands of pounds per night getting drunk with models – his style of writing drew me in.

Short sentences telling stuff like it was, according to no-one but himself.

James saw himself as a rock star, and as such, he wanted to live up to the myth, combining alcohol and bad behaviour all over the globe.

I was really drunk by that point and I went down to the bar to have a fight. Bruce Dickinson was at the bar. I hate Iron Maiden. They’re devil-worshipping ponces. I said, “˜The devil can suck my cock and you can kiss his arse, you fucking poodle.’ He got me in a headlock and sucked the end of my nose really hard. I was laughing quite a lot, not really resisting. We left it at that.

Point to Dickinson, there.

I was still enjoying my lack of responsibilities. Being able to have whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, had made me grotesque and self-centred, but there was a huge upside to being cash rich and morally bankrupt.

From an art school background to riches as Blur recorded their first album with Stephen Street producing it, alcohol and deviant behaviour led James to be unfaithful to his then-girlfriend. A lot.

The first time I was unfaithful to Justine was about halfway through the first year at Goldsmiths. I was in London. She was in Bournemouth. I was drunk. It wasn’t premeditated. It was a brief pornographic fantasy scenario with someone I’d never seen before, never saw again. I regretted it terribly and confessed. Justine was devastated, more hurt than angry. We both cried a lot and I knew I’d never do it again. Of course, there were pretty girls at college. I flirted with one or two of them, but I never had any intention of getting involved. I suppose, if I’m brutally honest, if I’d fallen in love with somebody else, I would have been a bit stupid to stay with Justine, but I didn’t. I wanted to be with her. The second time was a real disgrace. I snogged Raych. She wasn’t going out with Adam any more, but he still loved her, I think. He was long gone, but when I thought about it afterwards it seemed like a double whammy of treachery against him and against Justine. It was only a quick affectionate snog, but I definitely fancied Raych, which made it a worse crime. I didn’t tell Jus about that. Andrea, the singer from the Darling Buds, was a pin-up platinum blonde and that was the third time. The world had started to open up to us and it appeared there was no town that didn’t have beautiful women I could have married or interesting people I could have quite happily spent my life with.

…and:

Another one-night stand. It wasn’t like I pursued these women. It was suddenly as simple as not resisting. Still, I was more than willing and it was the same act of betrayal. There were so many reasons to say yes and only one reason to say no, and she was an ocean away.

There are no swan songs re. the bad times, which is very refreshing:

The album had stopped selling and Woolworths returned quite a lot of copies. Then a really big bill came from the VAT man and we couldn’t afford to pay it. It was serious. I had no idea what VAT was. I was good at playing the bass and showing off. That was my job. We trusted our manager to make sure that those kinds of unpleasantnesses were taken care of. It turned out that quite a lot of bills remained unpaid. We owed everybody money. We brought in new accountants, who told us we were staring bankruptcy in the face and facing prison if we couldn’t come up with the cash to pay the VAT. Whenever this happens it’s time to start looking for a new manager.

And there’s always a breath of fresh air when James writes about unusual stuff very up front, e.g.:

There was a bottle of Tabasco on the bar, for Bloody Marys. He said, “˜Watch this!’ and necked the whole thing. Temporarily, he went into convulsions and was sick. Then the hiccups started. They were the biggest hiccups I’ve ever seen. There was an element of sneeze in each hiccup, and each one possessed his entire body. It wasn’t deadly serious, but we were supposed to be onstage in twenty minutes. We went on late. I smashed a guitar and a few drums. Having destroyed backstage, Damon tore into the front of house. Dave swan-dived into the crowd and was devoured, so I finished the drums off. We hadn’t done that for a while. It is very satisfying to make a lot of noise and break stuff.

On fame:

I’d done a fair bit of hobnobbing with famous people by this time. They didn’t seem to have anything in common, particularly. Famous people generally seemed like everybody else, only a bit more famous. Rich people aren’t particularly different from anyone else either. They’ve just got more money. Fame is just another kind of money. It can do things that money can’t, but it’s just a currency. No one ever loved anyone because they were rich. No one ever really loved anyone because they were famous, but it’s an attractive quality.

On what really matters in the end:

On Boxing Day I went back to London to get Tabitha and took her to a hotel where I’d always wanted to stay, in Corfe Castle in rural Dorset. Suddenly we were alone and it was very still and quiet. Immaculate. We walked to Kimmeridge, my favourite place, and I built a big bonfire. There’s absolutely nothing to do there, just fossils and shells and rock pools. It’s where you realise if you love someone or not. I felt a bit bored. It was surprising. She was possibly the most beautiful woman in the world. I thought success would be the answer to everything. I’d climbed a hill and seen a mountain in the distance. I climbed the mountain and I saw the moon. I somehow got to the moon and realised I’d left what I loved behind in another world. I missed Justine. I’d come all this way to realise I really was happiest with what I already had. It was a journey that had to be made. I wanted it all. I’d never felt I wanted to escape from Justine. I’d just lost her. I just wanted to sit and be quiet with her, listen to her thoughts and make her laugh.

There are some reminisces on alcohol and adventures:

When I woke up I was in her bedroom. I was emptying my bladder all over her dressing table. People had told me about this kind of thing. It had never happened to me before, though. She woke up and asked what I was doing. I said it looked like I’d made a big mistake. We cleaned it up. We’d only known each other a couple of hours and I don’t think anyone could have been any more drunk than I was. Usually being that drunk would make you unconscious, but with absinthe you go on expeditions. I did see her again. Some people you try and make a good impression on and nothing works, others you piss all over their make-up and they’ve decided they like you and it doesn’t seem to matter. Anyway, that was the only time I ever went to Richmond.

On being a tourist:

We live in a climate of fear, but the world is a safe place as long as you know how to behave like everybody else does. If you stand around holding a map waving a video camera with your shirt tucked into your waist-high trousers, you’re in trouble wherever you go. Millions of people live in Rio, after all, and they eat salad and have ice in their drinks and they don’t get murdered very often.

Wealth and no morale:

I’d spent about a million pounds on champagne and cocaine. It sounds ridiculous but, looking back, I don’t regret it. It was definitely the right thing to do. It was completely decadent, but I was a rock star, after all, a proper one, with a public duty to perform.

Claire was worried about me starting my new drinking campaign in January. She’d only known me sober. I assured her that I was very good at it. It was February and a nice man called Bill was saying, “˜And tell me what you remember about the party.’ “˜Well, I remember swapping shirts with the principal dancer of the Royal Ballet Company.’ “˜OK. Good. What next?’ “˜I think I snogged the dog.’ “˜Right. OK. Then what happened?’ “˜Well, I had a row with Claire and went home. I locked her out, and when she was banging on the door, I pissed on her head from the fourth-storey window.’ “˜Why did you do that?’ “˜Well, that’s what she wants to know.’ “˜Anything else happen?’ “˜No, not that night, anyway.’ Bill was kind and he listened and he helped me and I stopped drinking altogether after that and tried yoga.

And somehow, the feel of the book is stashed in a single sentence:

I sometimes found it excruciatingly funny and begged them to stop, and sometimes I just begged them to stop.

All in all: a really interesting tale of the love for music, but mainly on friendship, the loss of ethics and love due to alcohol and drugs, and little thoughts on life and what matters and not.

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2 Responses to “Review: Alex James – “Bit of a Blur: The Autobiography“”

  1. Zak Says:

    Yo G, how about swapping A bit of a blur with Hellraisers, sounds like a good deal doesn't it, basically the same book!:D

  2. Niklas Pivic Says:

    Haha you funnyman! While reading the book I nearly barfed at times because it was just too alcoholic and wasteful to remember, with James at times mentioning "oh that was me then, not now" but a second later just going "aaaah! loved them times, yup". Sort of.

    I'm only gonna read religious books from now on, like this one: http://www.amazon.com/Control-Christian-Marriages

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