A different view of the 1980s

Bedsit Disco Queen: How I grew up and tried to be a pop starTracey Thorn.

Crop of photo with Italian fan (fan cropped out).

Crop of photo with Italian fan (fan cropped out). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Those who know me will recognise that pop stars’ memoirs are not my normal reading, so why break the habit of a lifetime with this particular book? Partly, I have to admit, a little bit of teenage crush on Tracey, who I still dream of meeting at random on some North London street, but more seriously because I like her music and attitude (as shown on Twitter as @tracey_thorn) and because she’s a near-contemporary who seems to have managed to both “made it big” and “kept it real”.

The book, which is charming, gives quite a lot of insight into how all this happened. It’s a lovely book and it’s not possible to read it and not think well of Thorn, though you also get the sense she never quite enjoyed it as much as she ought to have. In fact she comes across as more than a little bit unconfident. You never feel she is fishing for compliments but the endless nervousness about her talent can occasionally wear thin –  as the book covers a quarter century career you do feel maybe she could be a bit more relaxed about it, or at least be a bit more relaxed today about her anxieties of yesterday – she made it after all.

I also have to confess that the book – especially as we approach the present – contains lots of names of people in the music world I do not know or only have a vague sense of – who is this Jeff Buckley she goes weak at the knees over?

Her description of the transformational effects of having children is a very familiar one to me and, I am sure, millions of others, and happened to me a couple of years before her (and my grip on youth culture was loosening before then). That’s my excuse anyway.

But the book has a very authentic feel in the way it describes 1980s student life and music. I never was anywhere close to the music industry then or any other time, but I recognise exactly what she writes of as a consumer rather than producer. It’s view that is, as she notes herself, rather closer to life as it was lived than the interminable tv compilations of LiveAid (though I don’t share her negativity on that) and Princess Di and Duran Duran (“vacuous social climbers” is a great put-down of them).

The book also explains why she and partner Ben Watt have such strange (in comparison to the music) haircuts in this video.

At the end I thought of how Thorn reminds me of several other women I know who have made it in male-dominated worlds, their heads were often screwed on pretty tightly – and to the outside the world they project the aggressive attitude that Thorn admits she previously presented to the world. Perhaps they had and have no choice.


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