October 3 2019
Afternoons With the Blinds Drawn by Brett Anderson review — Suede’s brush with fame
The singer is in ruminative mood for this second memoir, says Ed Potton
Afternoons With the Blinds Drawn covers Brett Anderson’s heyday as a pop star
Brett Anderson introduces the second volume of his memoirs as “the book I said I wouldn’t write”. The heroin, cocaine and LSD-fuelled years it covers, from the singer’s first successes with Suede in the early 1990s to their split in 2003, are certainly ripe for a by-the-numbers rock biography. Anderson, 52, makes it clear that’s not his bag.
His first memoir, the widely praised Coal Black Mornings, was a striking portrait of his melancholic suburban childhood in Haywards Heath, West Sussex, his eccentric father, a Liszt fan who named Anderson’s sister Blandine after the composer’s daughter, and the formation of the band. Afternoons With the Blinds Drawn covers his heyday as a pop star. The emphasis, however, is on pontification over salaciousness. The time he gave CPR to his overdosing girlfriend is handled in just a few lines.
While the first book was all seedy specifics and bone-dry prose, this one is vaguer with the details and more extravagantly written. That’s in keeping with the period it describes, when the drugs did their thing and Anderson’s ego was at its most inflated. To his credit, he pricks that ego, telling a string of stories against himself. There’s the Scottish spectator who roars “effete southern wankers”, and the woman who catches Anderson’s eye at a bar and asks: “You’re the singer from Suede, aren’t you? I think your band are shit.” Earlier, puffed up by Melody Maker proclaiming them “the best new band in Britain”, Anderson is told by the owner of a rehearsal room that they aren’t even the best band in the building.
He revels in the abuse, recalling the day he walked home in west London and came across a message written in white paint on the pavement. “Brett Anderson lives at 106 Chesterton Road,” it read. “Go to his house and kill his cat.” It turned out to be the handiwork of some disgruntled Continental fans whom Anderson had stood up. He has long since moved out to the country, in case you were tempted.
Anderson is good at evoking the boredom of band life. He quotes the line from Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones that his career involved five years of work and “20 years of hanging about”. There are traditional solutions to boredom, of course, but he makes only a teasing passing reference to “dalliances with kitten-eyed foreign women”. We do get a sardonic nod to the Japanese fans who greet Suede’s guitarist Richard Oakes at the airport with a placard reading “F*** US RICHARD”.
Much of the book is haunted by Justine Frischmann, his former girlfriend and member of the Britpop band Elastica. Her platonic return to his life after several years is dropped like a cliffhanger at the end of a chapter. There is no mention of Damon Albarn, for whom Frischmann left Anderson. No direct mention, at least. He writes of “witless, opportunist Mockneys — middle-class ‘media geezers’ who had learned to drop their aitches and flatten their vowels”, and whose Britpop vision of the country resembled “a Carry On film . . . an ugly vehicle for latent nationalism and sly misogyny, a cheap, beery, graceless cartoon”.
Anderson wallows in the archetype of the wasted genius. In one passage he goes for a full-blown mix of David Bowie in Berlin and Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard: “Lost to a vinous blend of chemical experimentation and lurid, ego-driven derangement I would pad around the flat dressed in nothing but a kind of long, black, gold-braided Moroccan robe, scribbling down phrases and gathering ideas, throwing things into the cauldron and watching them boil.” You don’t get that from Liam Gallagher.
As the above lines suggest, the book is sometimes comically overwritten. Anderson describes working on a subject for a song, “stumbling blindly after it like Theseus following Ariadne’s thread”. He has more mistresses than the prime minister, from the “capricious mistress” of the press to the “prickly mistress” of his addiction. “I am always at my best when I have a point to prove,” he says of his music, wondering if he loses his edge when praised. Perhaps the same goes for his prose, and the success of the first book has gone to his head a little.
At least he is aware of his excesses, worrying about sounding “pompous” or “a bit sixth form”. He even has a pop at his own lyrics, implying that all one needs to write a Suede song are a few stock phrases such as “nuclear skies” and “pigs by motorways”. True to his word, this is another music book that steers away from the expected. Like Anderson it can be pretentious, but it has a brazen confidence and it’s rarely dull. As such, Afternoons With the Blinds Down is a worthy successor to Coal Black Mornings. I look forward to the third instalment, in which Anderson hits middle age, which will surely be called Evenings Under the Electric Blanket.
Afternoons With the Blinds Drawnby Brett Anderson, Little, Brown, 288pp, £18.99
https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/afte ... T5j0Tvetrs
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