Please indulge me with this one. I’m putting up this re-post from July 2009. I’m doing so because today marks the 10th anniversary of the day that Edwyn Collins collapsed at home after a stroke.
The original posting fills in the details……………..
After reading this compelling 310 pages, I was left with quite a number of impressions, one being that I couldn’t possibly cope with being married to Grace Maxwell. She herself acknowledges that she is a nagging, dominating, sharp-tongued and single-minded individual who has difficulty ever admitting that she ever gets something wrong. But one thing is for sure…..if she wasn’t like that, her partner would most likely be dead, or at best locked away from the world, dependant on specialist round-the-clock treatment. So without any question at all, Edwyn Collins is very blessed to have Grace Maxwell by his side…
Falling and Laughing – The Restoration of Edwyn Collins is a truly astonishing and eye-opening book. It’s also a very very frightening bit of work, and not the sort of thing you really want to be reading if someone close to you is lying ill in hospital with a life-threatening condition.
I’m sure most regular TVV readers are familiar with the basic facts, but here’s a quick resume of what I knew before picking up the hardback.
In February 2005, Edwyn Collins suffered a stroke which left him seriously ill in a London hospital. He was in a coma and required major brain surgery to stop internal bleeding which threatened to kill him. His recovery was hampered by him contracting MRSA, but in the fullness of time, he got back home, and thanks to some fantastic TLC from his partner Grace, their son Will and many other members of his family and his close friends, not to mention many hours of therapeutic treatment, he made a remarkable recovery which allowed him to get back on stage again in late 2007 and to then go on tour in the summer of 2008.
If only it had been that simple……
Opening with a very short prologue that asks the reader to imagine you not having any more thoughts, the book then looks back at the early part of Edwyn’s career with Orange Juice and the circumstances which brought him and Grace together for the first time in 1980, leading to them deciding to live together some five years later. From the outset, Grace was an essential part of Team Edwyn – she was his full-time manager before they got together as a couple, and she shared his woes and worries as he went out of fashion post-Orange Juice but never ever giving up on his immense talent, even when his records were selling to almost no-one.
The world-wide success of the single A Girl Like You in 1994/95 changed everything, setting them, and new son Will, up for life in terms of financial security. It also gave Edwyn the opportunity to make and produce music as and when he liked from the comfort of his own and much-in-demand studio. By early 2005. life seemed quite uncomplicated. Edwyn was 45 years of age, an elder and much respected statesman in music, still recording new songs but under no pressure to come up with the hits. Indeed there was a great deal of satisfaction with the new songs recently recorded and about to go into the post-production for a new LP which would be followed by the inevitable tour and other promotional work.
But then Grace came home on at around 7pm on the night of Sunday 20th February 2005 after picking up her car that had been left a friend’s house after a party she and Edwyn had attended the night before – and discovered him lying semi-conscious and distressed on the living room floor….
Much of the book deals with the next few months as Edwyn tries to battle back from the stroke. Grace writes with a directness and clarity that is utterly refreshing, and she is never over-dramatic about events. She gives a great deal of praise to the medical and nursing staff involved in saving Edwyn’s life, but without ever making them appear as saints. At the same time, she also paints a very distressing picture of a medical system that contributes more to a crisis than it does resolve it.
Grace was fortunate in having some immediate family members who work in medicine, and so she could often talk to someone and try to get an alternative view. Grace was also able to devote 100% of her own energy to be with Edwyn over an extended period of time – a luxury very rarely afforded to most wives/husbands/partners. If she had been in a position where she had taken all the medical opinions totally at face value, and had been unable to spend as much time by Edwyn’s side in the very early days, it is quite likely that everyone would have given up the fight…but they battled through all the obstacles and barriers placed in their way, and slowly his recovery began.
But just as Edwyn was about to be moved out of general care into a specialist unit where his therapy would be intense, there was a setback that made the original stroke seem a bit like a pleasant Sunday stroll in the sunshine round – the contraction of the superbug MRSA. What follows really is the stuff of nightmares……
I’m not spoiling anything by revealing that in the fullness of time, Edwyn faced up to and defeated death for a second time. His rehabilitation is covered in great depth and compassion. Grace doesn’t hide from the fact that this was an immense strain on her and Will and describes some unpleasant family exchanges with an admirable honesty that brought a lump to the throat of this particular reader. I’m sure most of us by now have been in difficult circumstances when someone close is being treated for an illness, and reading many of Grace’s lines brought back a lot of memories of watching loved ones painfully tear themselves up trying to work out what course of action is the best way forward.
As a long-time fan of Edwyn Collins, I would love to have discovered that his recovery turned out to be a smooth and straight-forward process, with him taking his medicine and undergoing his therapy without complaint or giving anyone any cause for concern, and indeed Grace could have easily painted such a rosy picture with very few of us being any the wiser. That she doesn’t is testament to just how good a book this is, and helps the reader gain a much better understanding of just how remarkable it is that Edwyn has the ability nowadays to take to the stage and entertain us.
Having been lucky enough to see him perform three times over the past 12 months I thought that Edwyn – not withstanding the very clear mobility and speech difficulties he still has – was almost completely rehabilitated. Grace’s book reminds everyone that there is still a long way to go. It also reminds us that what Edwyn and so many others close to him have achieved over the past couple of years is quite miraculous – but it has all been through grit, graft and guts, not to mention a lot of Grace.
mp3 : Edwyn Collins – Graciously
mp3 : Edwyn Collins – Let Me Put My Arms Around You
The intervening five and half years since the book was first published have again been nothing short of miraculous. Edwyn has continued to defy the odds with more new, critically acclaimed music and live shows that are always joyous celebrations of the fact he is still alive. One of the best was last summer when he played a Spiegeltent in Glasgow Green as part of a cultural event associated with the 2014 Commonwealth Games. The place was jammed packed with fans of all ages and the reception Edwyn received as he took to the stage was heartfelt, vocal and lengthy. The set we were treated to was one of the best I’ve ever been privileged to witness….and all the while I found myself standing right next to Grace Maxwell who was having as great a time as the rest of us.
The story of Edwyn’s efforts to rebuild his life has also now been captured on film and while it is often a very strange and ‘arty’ piece of work, I do recommend if you get the chance to view The Possibilities Are Endless which was released in 2014.