I bought this book brand new and in hardback in a book-tokened splurge back last summer (the Iris Murdoch letters and “Eat, Sweat Play” were bought at the same time). Although I’d been aware of its publication, I was inspired to buy it by transcribing an interview with the author done by one of my music journalist clients. As this is the autobiography of a music journalist, you’ll see why I was interested in it, and I did have more of an insider’s interest, always keen to know what goes on around the taped conversations I get sent to type up.
Sylvia Patterson – “I’m Not With the Band: A Writer’s Life Lost in Music”
(2 July 2016)
A fascinating insight into the life of a music journalist – not, in fact, one I’ve worked with – over three decades from local Scottish publications to a staff job on Smash Hits through life at the NME and a precarious freelance life. It’s very interesting to read how the music business has changed over that time, as well as the magazine publishing industry, with journalists now unlikely to be able (or asked) to ask the rather odd but hilarious questions that Smash Hits thrived on in what were indeed clearly more innocent times. While people like Prince and Beyoncé have been very guarded throughout their careers, all musicians on all levels now seem to be protected and censored themselves, and those who write about them forced to follow a line they might not even agree with (when Patterson has to do this, she works very hard against it, and given the financial peril she appears to have been in quite often, this is extremely commendable).
I loved the chapters on her repeated interviews through various musicians’ careers, from Kylie who never gives much away to Eminem threatening violence and worse for no good reason, and the excerpts from transcriptions are excellent, with Paterson often gamely trying to drag the conversation back to where she needs it to go. All the little details are fascinating, and she’s a warts-and-all storyteller, unselfconsciously talking of mistakes, bad judgements, alcohol and tears, which is refreshingly different to the overcontrolled, ghostwritten memoirs that can appear from the people she’s writing about here (this is no judgement on the wonderful ghostwriters I work with, of course: I understand that the parameters given to them by stars and PRs are often very strict and confining). As someone who’s on the other side of all this and just gets the taped conversation and not much of the context, all the details were really engaging.
Patterson’s personal story is also covered, again bravely and openly, with its share of tragedy and poverty but also strong and abiding friendship, something which I’m not sure is written about or celebrated enough, so good on her for talking of those gangs of 20-something flatmates, still friends a few decades on. I did find some of the text a bit hard to read – she uses a Smash Hits style with lots of in-jokes, ‘inverted commas’ and banter, which is really entertaining and well done but can wear slightly over numerous pages. But it’s serious where it needs to be and well-judged on the whole – and it is a long time since I last read ‘ver Hits’ so maybe I’m just out of the habit …
Recommended to those who grew up in the 80s and 90s and love music and music writing. It’ll be interesting to compare Mark Ellen’s book, which is sitting a few along on the TBR.
I’ve just finished Tove Jansson’s “The True Deceiver” – a bit of a contrast there – and I’m working my way through that NetGalley book on living a meaningful life, which is quite interesting. What are you up to with your reading? Enjoying working on a challenge … or NOT working on a challenge? Do tell!