I’m Not With the Band – A Writer’s Life Lost in Music (2016)
I happened upon Sylvia by way of Bernard Sumner, actually Peter Hook’s book “Substance: Inside New Order”. The terrible incident between Sylvia and NO left me not liking either, New Order a little less. I wanted to read her side of the story. Ironically Sylvia’s side left me cheering for New Order. Maybe that proves how honest she is.
Other readers have described the concept of this book, a history of Sylvia’s journey through the British music press during the 80s, 90s and 2000s, interviewing everyone from Shaun Ryder to Mariah Carey and Johnny Cash. At times (New Order) I felt like Sylvia was too paparazzi. But her dedication to music and funny writing style ultimately won me over. Like one other reviewer pointed out, the contrasts between high and low her personal life, occupying unfit moldy apartments, while being whisked off in 1st class to interview David Beckham, is totally surreal. Her honesty is brutal and she’s great at crafting a story or a letter. I loved her brilliant tell-off to NME, which she never hit “send” on. I’m so glad she published it here.
I have to disagree with Sylvia on a couple of major points. Although we are the same age, I prefer the 80s while she prefers the 90s. This is probably a matter of taste. But the 80s, however plastic, were romantic and hopeful and smooth. New Order, and ABC and Roxy Music’s Avalon. Even John Lydon grooved to a disco beat with “Live in Japan”. The 90s were poor and draggy and druggy and reality-bitten – Portishead and Hole and then Radiohead. Gotta love the brutal intensity but I’ll take optimism any day.
Also I disagree with Sylvia that rock musicians should continue to be open and opinionated today. They can’t in this era of hyper social media. She, if anyone, knows this. She witnessed first hand the exchange between Warpaint, Beyonce, Rihanna and a thousand trolls. The opinions expressed. The shaming. the threats. The backpedaling. Who needs it? I can’t blame the Taylor Swift’s or Ed Sheeran’s from talking only about “safe” subjects or even not giving interviews. No one wants to be dragged over the media coals and misrepresented like they are doing with president Trump for example. Anyway, the music is the expressive part.
Also it was touching to read about Sylvia’s personal experiences. After the fun years of the 90s (crazy roommates, raves, champagne lunches in London with rock stars) it sounds like she kind of got dragged down by opportunistic boyfriends who used her as a meal ticket. I’m glad she finally ditched them and took her life back and met a nice guy. She is too smart a girl to just be used like that. I’m glad it (mostly) all worked out for her.
Sylvia’s book is a memory of a lost era of high jinx and expressive freedom in music. It’s an intriguing read. So buy it and support this woman who has tirelessly challenged and documented so many great artists, as long as she could.