I decided, age 15, that I wanted to be a music journalist. Now aged 41, I can’t exactly say I succeeded in this ambition. I write about music and get a lot of free stuff, and if pushed, I’d describe myself as a ‘music writer’ rather than a journalist. I scored an unpaid job writing reviews for the Lincolnshire Echo aged 18 and my first review provoked more complaint letters than any in the paper’s history. After Gig Central went out of print in the late 90s, I took a break from music reviewing until 2008, when Tom Morris from Her Name is Calla asked if I’d be up for reviewing his band’s split single with Maybeshewill. I submitted my piece to Whisperin’ and Hollerin’, run by former Sounds and current Record Collector contributor Tim Peacock, and since then… Well, since then my life has been quite different. Not ‘insane,’ but… I’m not one to hang out get drunk and snort drugs with big name artists (I prefer to get quietly drunk on my own, at home, while writing up album reviews and avoiding people), but the sheer volume of music that’s come my way has been beyond bewildering. The artists I’ve had guest list for and / or interviewed continues to astound me. But this isn’t a piece about me, at least not entirely, and some of this is true and some of it isn’t.
Why did I want to be a music journalist? I read Melody Maker in the late 80s, as I was getting into music and learning there was a world outside what I’d hear on the radio. Above all, I read the words of Everett True: divisive, but never dull. The man who brought grunge to our shores. The man who… No, this is not some Travis reference. I’m leaving the sentence hanging because True’s work requires no further introduction, particularly in light of this book.
What exactly is this? It’s pitched as an autobiography. But The Electrical Storm does a whole lot more, and approaches music from the other side, not of the musician but the fan and critic, and from an interior perspective. We’re accustomed to reading (or shunning) the ghost-written autobiographies detailing how the trappings of celebrity nearly brought about their premature demise, about how they got sucked into a spiral of depression, drugs and alcohol. But what about the effects of the lifestyle on those who create (or destroy) the celebrities? It’s not only major-league celebrities who find themselves in a strange whirlwind lifestyle, and a lifestyle which consists of long days in a recording studio followed by long months on the road, which history shows can be pretty ruinous.
Inasmuch as ‘Everett True’ is both the author and the subject of the book, a book littered with names from the music world (as well as names purposefully omitted), alcohol often seems to be the central character of the fragmentary narrative collage. As much as anything, The Electrical Storm is a book about identity. Who is Everett True? He’s a fiction, a persona, but one Thackray’s inhabited for so much of his life and in such an intense way that you wonder if perhaps the persona has devoured large parts of the person. While the author wrestles with his various identities – sometimes he’s Everett True, others he’s The Legend! and others he’s Jerry Thackray, switching between them, if not at random, then at pace and often unexpectedly -– a deep sense of conflict rings apparent.
‘True’ starts off with an anecdote where he’s in a kitchen with ‘a handful of female rock stars’ who ask him to judge who’s got the best breasts. If it seems gratuitous or like some perverse brag, the event provides a small – if somewhat familiarly-themed insight into the goings-on within ‘the industry,’ while at the same time reflecting on the absurdity of the behaviour which is integral to the mythology of what one might call a ‘rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.’
‘The stories are told in a scattershot manner, often as they occur to me. This is because memory is neither linear nor reliable,’ he writes in the early pages of the book, as he explains his methodology. Often, the pieces aren’t even stories, but snippets, vignettes and anecdotes, sometimes only half-told. Many of the recollections are blurred pencil sketches, impressionistic but with snippets of sharp detail which bring a dizzying relief. From the dipsomaniac haze also emerge, fogged, bleary and tear-stained moments of deep sadness and tragedy.
There’s much mirth, a fair amount of it at his own expense, and much self-reflection to be found in The Electrical Storm. It’s all about True’s ego, of course. It veers wildly between outrageous bravado and self-aggrandisement, and bitter, tortured, flagellatory self-loathing. It’s not all down to the booze, although of course, it’s a factor, and all part of the terrain. A freewheeling rollercoaster between unassailable highs and subterranean lows is the mindset that’s required to make a true music critic, and it’s also the mindset which feels music most acutely. Music and music writing, True explicates by illustration, are not a career choice but a way of life.
During the course of my minor-league reviewing career, I’ve had some odd experiences: bands and management companies threatening lawsuits over negative reviews, threats, and abuse at one end and weird adulation at the other (according to one artist’s Wikipedia entry, which quotes one of my reviews, I’m a ‘critically acclaimed writer.’ If only the reviews substantiated that, never mind my sales. The Electrical Storm explores and details that diametricity, the polarity of opinion and what it is to spend the majority of one’s career occupying the yawning chasm in between that leaves the individual spiralling through a psychological vortex, and emptiness through which the only way to escape is by writing, writing, writing, never stopping, never resting, always on the move.
The Electrical Storm conveys all of this with a nauseating adeptness. It’s not a book you simply sit and read passively: you’re dragged along over rubble and barbed wire and hot coals and through gallons of spilled drinks and spew, and you feel it. And that’s what makes this such a fucking great book.