Coal Black Mornings
It's an awkward truth that, when confronted with an autobiography, many readers tend to skip through the opening chapters about the artists early years and head straight for the chapters dedicated to their fame, fallouts and feuds.
This isn't the case with 'Coal Black Mornings', the remarkable autobiography of Suede's lead singer Brett Anderson. Brett's story is not, as he says, one of 'coke and gold discs' as the book ends appropriately at the moment that they sign their first record deal. The other story, the one where Suede became the most exciting British band since The Smiths, open the door for countless britpop bands and then disintegrate so messily, is detailed elsewhere (primarily in David Barnett's excellent authorized biography 'Love and Poison').
Instead of retelling what we already know great chunks of, this is the tale of failure and struggle, of the indignity of growing up 'dirt poor' on a shabby estate that was 'exiled to the outskirts' of Haywards Heath, a dankness on the edge of town.
One of the most compelling strands of 'Coal Black Mornings' are the revelations of how Anderson's childhood and adolescent experiences informed the music and lyrics he went on to write and perform. In that way the book has more in common with the candid memoirs of Go Between Robert Forster or Blue Collar Bruce Springsteen than that of Morrissey's frustratingly opaque 'Autobiography'.
Anderson was raised by nonconformist and frequently quarrelsome parents. His father vocally despised pop music and was obsessed by classical composers like Wagner, Liszt and Berlioz, whilst his son preferred Crass and Discharge. The ensuing arguments made young Anderson highly opinionated about music. It's an inheritance that he is proud of. Anderson also admits the 'bombast and drama' of his father's chosen composers may have informed the glorious swagger of Suede's music.
Anderson observes how his father picked up 'colourful language' from his many years of being alongside people in dead end jobs, and then used it at home to shocking and viscous effect. He admits that this fed into his own songwriting as shown in the lewdness of the 'toilet graffiti' lyrics of 'My Insatiable One' and 'To The Birds'.
One family incident, the tragic double suicide of an aunt with her lover in a car filled with exhaust fumes, has such a profound affect on Anderson that it becomes the basis for 'She's Not Dead'. Later, adolescent friendships provide the setting for the hallucinogenic nostalgia of 'Where the Pig's Don't Fly', whilst the personal agony felt following the suicide of a close friend is the basis for 'Simon' (one of the few geat songs from the bands lamentable 'A New Morning' period).
As the story progresses, Anderson's own attempts at making music slowly start to take shape. Suede respond to a savage review in the Melody Maker, describing them as having 'all the charisma and presence of toilet roll holders' with defiance. Brett also sees the departure of his girlfriend, Justine Frischman, from the band as a motivating factor. Soon a musical synergy with the bands' intense young guitarist Bernard Butler is formed. The final piece of their jigsaw is slotted in place when they replace their drum machine with the 'primal and powerful' drumming of Simon Gilbert.
The rest is history. Suede will revel in their outsiderdom, their songs will give voice to marginalized characters, those probably considered as 'trash' by the subsequent deluge of britpop bands. Anderson is adamant that, unlike those later acts, their music 'never celebrated Britishness but, instead, documented it', it is what set them apart and made them so unlike any other British band during that era.
'Coal Black Mornings' is a beautifully written and touchingly sincere account of how Brett Anderson's early experiences seeped into him and enabled him to become such a distinctive, compelling and single-minded artist. Whether or not he ever feels it appropriate to write a sequel is down to him, in the meantime though, 'Coal Black Mornings' provides a remarkable insight into the life of a unique artist.
Jay Lewis is a Birmingham based music, movie and arts obsessive. Jay's encyclopedic knowledge of 80s/90s Arts films is a debt to his embedded status in the Triangle Arts Centre trenches back then.
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