Tuesday, September 10, 2013
REVIEW: The Life of Blur
A new biography, titled (rather poorly, I might add) "The Life of Blur" by Martin Power, was released this past summer. Since the only authorized band biography, the excellent (if not light on detail) "3862 Days" by Stuart Maconie, was published back in 1999, this book seems to fill the void in detailing what went on in the intervening 14 years, as well as hopefully fleshing out the history of the band beyond the previous book. I was able to obtain a complimentary copy of the book from Omnibus Press, to whom I owe much thanks, in order to read it and review it. So here goes...
The author, Martin Power, has written many band biographies and this Blur one would seem to be the latest in his series. It clearly states on the back jacket that this is a book whose information is culled from interviews, books, magazine articles, and new interviews with some people closest to the band. The latter seem to be mainly with Nigel Hildreth (Damon and Graham's music teacher at Stanway Comprehensive when they were teenagers) and Holdaway and Bergkamp, who owned the Beat Factory Studio in London where Damon worked and where Blur held their initial rehearsals. It's helpful to know upfront that this is *not* an authorized biography, but attempts to be the "definitive biography" of the band, as stated on the back cover.
First off, the cover makes an uneven impression. The font used for the word "blur" is not the official one used for their logo, and thus makes the book look a little chintzy to the trained eye of the diehard fan. Also, while the effect on the cover photo is interesting, with Damon in focus and Graham, Alex, and Dave blurred (I see what they did there!) behind him, the fact that it seems to focus (no pun intended) on Damon at the expense of the other three is, while understandable given his importance to the band, also rather predictable and unfortunate.
On to the contents: the book itself starts with the childhood of Damon and builds on through his meeting with Graham at Stanway before getting into Graham's backstory. From there, it chronicles their teenaged dalliances with bands before Damon moves on to acting school in London and Graham gets to Goldsmiths to study art. His meeting Alex there gets us to Alex's history, and finally Dave's (which is a bit puzzling at the end since he had played with Graham in Colchester years before, but anyway...). The author states at the very beginning the the Blur story cannot be told without particular emphasis on Damon, since he is the creative and driving force behind the band, and while this is certainly true, at times the book does seem like more of a Damon biography, or at the very least, to emphasize his contributions to the band much more heavily than the other 3, although to be fair he does sing the (deserved) praises of Graham and (to a slightly lesser extent, though no less deserved), Alex and Dave.
I'm not going to go through the entire chronology of the book for a variety of reasons, the most obvious being that you should go read the actual book if you're truly interested in it! Also, the main story is fairly well known, if not memorized and recited, by hardcore fans of the band already, and even the casual fan will probably know the main gist of it. Instead, I'll focus on the pros and cons of the book as a whole.
On the positive side, the author is clearly a fan of the band and does them justice with his enthusiasm for the subject. There are lots of nice photos throughout the book, many in full color, and at 300+ pages, the book does not skimp on their career. Power also does a good job remaining balanced; while it may be a natural (and understandable) inclination to focus the book mainly on Albarn, he does a nice job fleshing out the other 3, especially during the hinterland of 2004-2008.
As for the negatives, my first nitpick would seem to lie not with the author, but whoever proofread the manuscript. There were some silly errors, like referring to an early Damon musical collaborator by the last name "Hubbins" on one page and then "Hibbins" on another. Also, the REPEATED misuse of the word "illicit" instead of "elicit" as in "to *elicit* help."As for the author, there were some obvious errors which would be glaring to any fan of the band, such as calling the song "Advert" by the name "Advertisement," or the song "Ultranol" as "Ultrano." On a more personal level, as a matter of opinion, some of his choices for best and worst songs on the various albums rather beggar belief, such as Ernold Same as one of the best on The Great Escape, or his dismissal of Tender on 13. Again, these are all down to personal preference and will vary from person to person who reads the book, but some are just a bit too obvious to be argued with too much (in my opinion!).
As for a more stylistic critique, it's very obvious that the bulk of the narrative is made up of quotes from interviews and articles. Not only have I read many, if not most of them, before, but many were taken out of context or out of chronological order (ie a quote from an interview in, say, 1997, was used to bolster a passage discussing something from 1992). While the quote in question may fit perfectly well where it was used, the fact that it is in actuality relating to something different was quite grating. Obviously, this would be most noticeable to a more diehard fan, but that's what I and many others are, so to me it was quite noticeable. Also, his non-quoted descriptions for many songs/events/etc were lifted verbatim from other well-known interviews, which again grated on me after a while.
Finally, on a more personal level (and let me state up front this is not sour grapes at all...well, ok, maybe not 100% sour grapes), on the one hand, I was very happy to see several fansites acknowledged (and unhappy to see a few that were, as well) in the back of the book, most notable Veikko's page and the Damon Albarn Unofficial page, run by fans who I "know" via various Blur-related internet locales. Neither my website or my book were acknowledged, which, though slightly disappointing, was not a big deal to me. However, there were several times throughout the book where I read what seemed to be direct quotes or descriptions of things said at Blur concerts over the years that would only be known to either A) someone who had read my book, or B) someone who had heard the tape of the show. As several of the concerts he alluded to have tapes that are either not widely circulated or are obscure enough that the general fan wouldn't have them, it leads me to suspect (but not accuse) that at least some of either my book or site was used as reference. I may be completely off-base here, but in trying to keep an objective mind about it, after re-reading certain passages more and more, I have the feeling that I'm correct. As you all know, all I ask is that if anything from my book or site are used, that I receive the proper credit or acknowledgement. It's common courtesy and something I and countless others do on our pages and in our writings. As I said, this is more a personal matter than something that would be of interest to anyone else reading the book, but I just wanted to put it out there anyway.
In conclusion, the book: not awful by any stretch but not great. It's quite obvious it was cobbled together from press clippings, other books, and interviews (but not with the band or their closest confidantes). Quite a lot of minor errors that are obvious to the dedicated fan, as well as several typos and improper grammar (for example, the constant usage of "illicit" instead of "elicit."). It avoids coming off as a cash-in on Blur's (never-ending) reunion, but only just. On the positive side, the author is excited about the band and reading certain passages does make you want to play the albums right after you put the book down to remind yourself at just how fantastic they were and are.
While it's not the best book on Blur, it's very good and an enjoyable enough read. Older, more knowledgeable fans won't find anything new here, but for a newer fan, it covers most of the bases. Either way, the positives outweigh the negatives.
MY RATING: 6/10