March 8th, 2013
An autobiography that was really finished in 2007, but has dragged along somewhat. Not plotting, just being relevant and to-the-point just like Tracey Thorn’s music. No fiddling around, really.
Violent lifestyle swings from luxury to squalor and back again ““ sometimes within minutes. If you like those kinds of stories, stories where the lead characters seem to blunder through life, much as you do through your own, then you might like this one. The experience of writing it has sometimes been very like drowning, except that I’ve spent months, instead of seconds, with my past life flashing before my eyes. It’s been strange, and disconcerting; it has made me confront what I’ve done with my life, take a close look at who I once was and how that has a bearing on who I am now. And so often I’ve heard David Byrne singing just over my shoulder, “˜How did I get here?’ Or even, on occasion, “˜My God, what have I done?’
It covers her life in chronological order, being mostly about music. Listening to it, delving into it. Becoming and being a fan of The Smiths and Morrissey – including her and Ben Watt’s correspondence with the man – and becoming bigger and bigger, up to getting dropped by WEA just before “Missing” sold 3 million copies, and the life thereafter.
From the start, Thorn covers her punk beginnings in laudable style, basically telling stuff, e.g. what she did after acquiring an electric guitar:
I don’t have an amp, or even a lead, and if I’m going to be really honest, I’m not certain I even realised you needed one. I had never paid any attention to what happened behind and around guitar players in bands, and so I think I imagined that the point of an electric guitar was that you plugged it into the electricity socket in the wall and somehow a loud noise came out. I still have a lot to learn.
There is a lot of internal thoughts, but none are really ranting nor boring. At times, I wished Thorn had actually delved more into detail, which I rarely think is the case with music autobiographies.
And, upon meeting her love and ETBTG 50%-er:
“˜D’you know who I am?’
“˜I think you’re probably Ben Watt.’
“˜That’s right. Have you got your guitar with you?’
After that first evening in Ben’s room, we spent most of our waking hours together. After playing Solid Air to me, he turned up a couple of nights later on my doorstep with a bottle of wine and a Bill Evans record and that was that, really.
And with Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain:
The unlikely nature of this enduring aftershock of ours was brought home to me some fourteen years after our split, when I was appearing on Later “¦ with jools Holland, performing with Massive Attack. Also on the show that night was Courtney Love with her band Hole. Widely regarded at the time as something of a loose cannon, she was the focus of all attention in the studio that day, and when the bands gathered on their respective sets for the filming there was a sense that all eyes were on her, mine included. Just before the cameras started rolling she looked across to our stage, put down her guitar and strode across the empty central area to crouch down next to me where I was sitting. “˜Hey,’ she said, “˜you’re Tracey from the Marine Girls! Kurt and I were both huge fans of your band.’ (Kurt was not long dead at this point.) “˜Y’know, my band, Hole, we do a cover of one of your songs, called “In Love“.’ More or less speechless, I managed to mumble something polite in return, before she strode back and the show began. Fast-forward to May 2010, a full twenty-seven years after the demise of the Marine Girls. I was back on Later “¦ with jools Holland, this time performing as a solo artist. Also appearing on the show were the current incarnation of all things hip and New York, LCD Soundsystem. I was sitting at the side of their stage, watching them set up to do their song, when a member of the band looked up and saw me, made his way over to where I was sitting and said ““ yeah, you guessed it ““ “˜I just have to tell you, I have always been such a huge fan of the Marine Girls.’
The whole unlikely story only finally became real for me when Kurt Cobain’s Journals were published in 2002 and I was able to see for myself, in his own handwriting, our appearance in his many lists of favourite bands. There are the Marine Girls on page 128 and page 241, while on page 77, in a list of his all-time favourite songs, are two of mine, “˜Honey’ and “˜In Love’. Most incredibly, on page 271 Beach Party is listed as one of Nirvana’s Top Fifty albums, along with the Sex Pistols, The Clash and Public Enemy.
Funny on record sales, gold discs:
Selling 100,000 records means you get a gold disc, those trophies so beloved of the ageing rock star with acres of Cotswolds wall space to fill. The discs themselves were huge, framed artefacts ““ a piece of twelve-inch vinyl sprayed either gold or silver according to how many you’d sold ““ but here’s the hilarious bit: it wouldn’t necessarily be your own actual record that had been sprayed gold ““ just any old piece of vinyl. You would know, for instance, that your album had five tracks on side one, but there it was, a piece of “˜gold’ vinyl, with seven clearly separated sets of grooves on that side. You might have earned the prize for selling an admirable number of copies of a fairly quirky, uncommercial British pop record, but there on your wall you might well have a framed and gilded copy of The Number of the Beast by Iron Maiden.
On the start of describing Ben Watt’s all-consuming illness:
We were at the lowest point of our entire career, the point at which it may have looked as if it was all over. We’d had a reasonable run at it, all told. The band had lasted eight years and made six albums. The last one had been a bit rubbish, and we were running out of steam. Luckily, Ben decided to contract a life-threatening illness, and in doing so, saved us.
After having children at first:
We tried to come up with a compromise: play festivals instead of touring. That way we could reach a large audience in a short space of time, reducing the travelling and the time away from home. So we played at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark, and then the Montreux Jazz Festival, taking the girls with us and staying in a beautiful hotel overlooking the lake. That little trip was actually quite enjoyable. It was only spoiled by the fact that I began to feel sick the morning after the gig. On the way home, at the airport, I felt worse ““ sick and faint. It passed as the day wore on, but the next morning I woke up and felt sick again. Eight months later, our son Blake was born, and that gig at Montreux in July 2000 became the last gig I did.
All in all, highly recommendable.