More Books about Music and Life

November 13th, 2018Posted by Nancy

This is definitely my year for reading books by musicians.




My Own Devices: True Stories from the Road on Music, Science, and Senseless Love by Dessa (one of my favourite musicians ever) is about love, about trying to cure love with science, about family, about writing, and about the life of being a musician.  Who knew that in Denver rap artists need to have oxygen tanks on hand so that they can get enough breath to push out all those words? It’s also full of ideas that made me think and gave me home for my own artistic journey.

“Living as an artist is fundamentally speculative; there’s a permanent uncertainty about where you’ll be hired next and how long that work might last. But really that’s true of most parts of our lives; the pension, the marriage, the mortgage are all friable, all fallible. We don’t own much, and what we do own we certainly can’t keep indefinitely. Every breath is borrowed by the lungful; you can’t save them for later or hold a single one for long. And even a chestful of air is too much cargo for some trips. Some places you have to go empty.”

I’m trying to apply that last bit to my current writing: to go into it empty of expectation and self-criticism and doubt.  To go into it empty to that’s there some space for the ideas and the words to fill.



The first of Viv Albertine’s memoirs (Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys) was one of my favourite books last year. This year’s memoir, To Throw Away Unopened, is equally fascinating.  It’s driven by her relationshipp with her mother (who dies on the night of the launch for her first book) and her difficult past with her sister and non-deceased father.  Discovering the diaries of both her parents turns her past into a kaliodescope of shifting perspectives and motivations.  In between, she talks with her characteristic raw, fearless honesty about love, aging, love and aging, body hair, the joys of dumping various liquids on unpleasant men, and … um … the best way to poop. All of the chapter titles and quotes are drawn from women artists and reflect a core of rage at the limitations put on women for generations.

But she’s also very, very funny.

“I have lots of hair on my head and people often comment enviously on it, but what they don’t realise is that it’s also all over my body, like Mr Tummus, the faun with the legs of a goat from C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Except I’m more like a goat with the legs of a faun. I dream about hair every night. ….  Last night, I dreamt I didn’t have time to go home before I went out, and by the end of the evening the hair on my upper lip and chin had grown into a thick tussock of pale-brown sea-grass and I had to hack it off with secateurs.”

Ok, I find that funny, though possibly it’s because I’m close to her age and know of what she speaks. She can also write bluntly about the confusion of loss.

“You have no idea how grief will take you. The same with severe illness, motherhood, any profound experience. You don’t know yourself. Others don’t know you. These events show who you are. And you’ll be surprised, shocked even. You’ll feel the way you feel when you’ve done a particularly offensive-smelling shit  – That couldn’t possibly have come out of me – and start to rationalise it  – Must be that bag of pistachios I ate earlier, or perhaps I am unwell. You can’t believe you could do something so foul and unrecognisable. Something so outside yourself.

Instead of feeling sad after Mum’s death I kept thinking how mean she was, how manipulative she’d been and how I’d been tricked by her. I had no control over my own thoughts. I didn’t know why I thought them. They surged unchecked through my mind like sewage in a flood.”



My recommendation: read them both now.


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