I recently got round to finally reading Coal Black Mornings, the poignant and wonderfully written autobiography from the pen of Brett Anderson that was published back in March. I won’t be the least bit surprised if it appears in many ‘Best Of’ lists come the end of the year as the reviews and the public reaction has been almost universally positive.
It certainly was a surprising read in that I had the author down as someone who had something of an comfortable and cossetted upbringing, encouraged at all times by indulgent parents to pursue an artistic or creative career. My basis for such a supposition goes back to when he and the band burst on the scene as his unshakable confidence was, in my mind, typical of someone with such an upbringing and there was never a sense that he was desperate for success to get himself out of poverty or deprivation. And besides, he had been brought up in a town called Haywards Heath in the county of Sussex in the south of England, which just all sounds the sort of place where everybody is well-off and middle/upper class.
It turns out to be far from the case. His father wasn’t close to being in the professional classes or even a tradesman, drifting from one unskilled job to the next in an era when the expectation was the male head of the family would be the breadwinner while his wife was the bread-maker. It was blue-collar upbringing on a council estate where money wasn’t easy to come by, but it was also an unconventional and untypical upbringing in many ways as dad was an obsessive classical music fan to the extent that while on jury service he refused to swear on the bible and demanded that he do so on a biography of Franz Liszt; meanwhile, mum was prone to sunbathing naked in the back garden and reflecting with sadness on her own failure to follow through her graduation from art school.
It’s a beautifully written book, which really could only have been written now that Brett is of an age to understand, thanks to his own life experiences, what his parents were really like and how everything in his childhood, teenage and formative years moulded him into the singer/performer he would later become. It’s also a book with a lot of self-deprecating humour – the author is well aware of the persona he initially created to ensure his success and he is able nowadays to laugh at his sense of self-importance and pretentiousness of the past, while always, and quite rightly, justifying his behaviour.
It’s a book which ends when you least expect it, in that Suede are on the brink of fame and fortune and so there’s nothing much about the era of Britpop, albeit there are fleeting references occasionally on the basis on what would happened to someone later on in life. He doesn’t shirk away from his doomed relationship with Justine Frischmann but doesn’t use the book to settle any old scores or air grievances, which a sign of true class. It really is one of the best musical autobiographies that I’ve read in many a year.
The only previous time I’ve featured Suede on these pages was when I gave the opportunity to again listen to the early singles and their accompanying and often majestic b-sides. I thought it would make sense today to take it to the next phase of the band, with the three singles lifted from the album Dog Man Star, released in 1994 to mixed reviews, mainly as it sounded nothing like the debut album and many felt that going forward without Bernard Butler they were doomed. I’ll admit to being less than enamoured with the album at the time as it just didn’t have the hooks of the debut while many of the other tracks on the singles didn’t come close to the brilliance of the early b-sides; but it is an album that, like many a fine Scotch, has aged superbly and it is one that I am willing to now concede does deserve to be given the highest respect and praise; so too with most of the b-sides…
(warning….the ambient track mixed by Brian Eno is more than 15 minutes long….and is hard going!!)