Sylvia Patterson’s book, reviewed by me

I’m Not With the Band – A Writer’s Life Lost in Music (2016)

Sylvia Patterson, british music writer from 1980s-2000s

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.

Operative Special Agent Me

My boyfriend and I both like the author Chuck Palahniuk. Well, my boyfriend likes Chuck better than me, but I like him too and we both refer to him as “Chuck Whatshisname”.

Chuck follows in the great tradition of writers such as Hunter S. Thompson or Tom Wolfe, and chronicles the extremes and excesses of American society in a genre called “transgressive fiction“. For example, Chuck’s book “Choke” tells the story of Victor Mancini, a recovering sex addict who pretends to choke on food in restaurants to con money out of people.. “Snuff” is about an aging porn star who choses to do the largest gangbang ever filmed. It’s a short book but is based abstractly on the story of Annabelle Chong, a feminist porn star who really did set out to make the world’s biggest gangbang.

I like Chuck’s books as they break through all taboos. They put everything out there. In our world where everything is available, but we are still expected to behave with Victorian decorum at times, Chuck’s characters are very refreshing. In Choke, for example, Victor logs on to a web site where a naked fat man is having monkeys stuff chestnuts up his ass, for all to see on the Internet. This monkey-stuffing man, who dispenses with all the layers of socially expected behavior, and clothing, and dignity, is totally liberated. I love this quote from Choke:

No matter what else you came up against, if you could smile and laugh while a monkey did you with chestnuts in a dank concrete basement while somebody took pictures, well, any other situation would be a piece of cake.

Currently I am enjoying Chuck’s Pygmy. Pygmy is about a group of Chinese exchange students who are actually highly trained special agents, come to America to live with host families, impregnate (or become impregnated by) Americans, and bring our society to it’s knees. It also involves a Midwestern host family where the mom is addicted to sex toys and steals all the batteries from her kids. The book is written in Chuck’s own invented pidgin Chinese.

The dialect reminds me of the broken English that you sometimes read on Programmer Forums. It can be hard to understand at times, but if you stick with it it’s hilarious. For example, Pygmy is describing the aisles at Wal-Mart:

Location former chew gum, chocolate snack, salted chips of potato, current now occupy with cylinder white paraffin encase burning string, many tiny single fire. Location former bright-color breakfast objects boasting most taste, most little price, recent best vitamins, current now feature bunches severed genitals of rose plants, vagina and penis of daisy and carnation plants, flaunted color and scent of many inviting plant sex life organs.

Or here Pygmy describes American pop music:

Useless American poetry and music no celebrate sacrifice lifetime to preserve state. No herald shining future of bright nuclear weapon, abundant wheat, and shining factory. No, instead most American song only empower to enjoy premature actions necessary for reproduction, grant permission commingle egg and seed among random partner occupying padded rear bench automobile.

I have no idea how Pygmy will take over the world. Well, actually I do, but I won’t spoil that for you my highly esteemed honorable blog reader of much fertile egg or seed.