BIT OF A BLUR - ALEX JAMES
Reading Bit Of A Blur by Alex James is like sitting down on a bench with a middle class Forrest Gump from Bournemouth and hearing his life story. He's led a charmed life has Alex, cutting a picaresque swathe through 1990s Brit Pop and all the extravagance that came to anyone enjoying mega-success during that period.
His is a tale that's been enjoyed by many a pop star on their journey toward fame and fortune over the last few decades except that Alex wanders through it all with a wide-eyed, innocent abroad charm that whilst at times is very annoying is also very amusing. Fortunate turns of events seemingly fall at his feet as does many a beautiful young lady.
From the start, after attaining dismal exam results Alex still manages to gain a place at Goldsmiths College and who should he spy unloading stuff from a car just as he's arriving with his parents at the halls of residence? Only a geeky looking kid in National Health specs by the name of Graham Coxon who will turn out to be one of the most gifted guitarists of his generation, up there with Terry Bickers of The House Of Love and Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine. And who should be a friend of Graham Coxon who just happens to have the keys to a recording studio? Only a certain cheeky chappy character by the name of Damon Albarn. And who else should be there at Goldsmiths at the same time as Alex and Damon? Only a slightly unhinged kid painting spots all over the place by the name of Damien Hirst who is destined to attain a degree of success in his own right and to cross paths with Alex in the future.
Inevitably Alex, Graham, Damon and a drummer called Dave form a band and after a few gigs are signed to the Food label, run by ex-Teardrop Explodes keyboard player David Balfe and his business partner Andy Ross who at the time have a number one single in America by a band on their label called Jesus Jones. Alex's band change their name from Seymour to Blur, they support The Cramps, release a record and due to Food having a distribution deal with them, attend EMI's annual sales conference. As Alex explains:
'I sat on a bed sharing a bottle of Scotch with a guy with a silvery beard who seemed quite interested in everything I had to say. We shot the breeze for ages. He knew all kinds of things. I liked that guy. We drank all the whisky. Eventually I said I'd better go and find Damon, who had last been spotted in a field trying to talk to some horses. Andy Ross said, 'What the hell were you talking to Andrew Prior about for an hour?' I said 'Who the hell is Andrew Prior? I've been drinking whisky with my mate over there!' He said 'That's Andrew Prior, you berk. He's the head of the label. I'm lucky if I get thirty seconds!'
After getting into a girly fight with Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden at the same conference, Alex shares a car back to London with Adam Ant who a few days later sends Alex a Small Faces album as a present.
'I suddenly had a feeling that I might be able to do all right in the music industry' he writes.
From an early age Alex always enjoyed dancing to music
It's from here that Alex's shagging career starts in earnest also, taking in the lead vocalist from the Darling Buds, a journalist from a music magazine who greets him by giving him a handjob; then ploughing through models, fans (of course), Courtney Love (of course) and so on.
'It wasn't like I pursued these women. It was suddenly as simple as not resisting' he pleads.
He even makes a pass at Marianne Faithfull though she has the wherewithal to rebuff his advances with a seen-it-all-before dismissive reply of 'You dog', therefore surviving Alex's book with her dignity intact. The same going for Faye Dunaway who simply tells Alex to 'Piss off'.
He's taken to the Groucho Club by Vic Reeves and Jonathan Ross and becomes a regular there with Damien Hirst and Keith Allen as his new drinking buddies. With his new friends he records a World Cup football song called Vindaloo under the moniker Fat Les that outsales anything Blur has done and then he's off on another social carousel, hanging out with Matt Lucas, David Walliams, Joe Strummer and even the legendary tattooed Beat love messiah Zodiac Mindwarp. Alcohol abuse becomes his forte and almost his raison d'etre as he acquires a particular penchant for absinthe.
He tours the world with Blur, makes television news headlines from a sales battle with Oasis, buys and learns to fly his own aeroplane to use instead of a car, parties at Cannes, flies to Provence, rides horses in Iceland, climbs pyramids in Mexico, visits Mick Jagger at his château in the Loire, dines at the most expensive restaurants, drinks the best champagne, upsets Johnny Depp, has free designer label clothes and shoes showered upon him, has sixsomes in Rio, throws televisions out of windows, and even sets his sights on a manned mission to Mars. Life is just like a box of chocolates.
Run, Alex! Run!
There is, of course, a downside and that's in the shape of Alex's constantly betrayed, long-suffering, long-term girlfriend; as well as in the little fact of Alex gaining the world but losing his soul:
'I was a morally bankrupt, pissed fatso with a stupid grin and a girlfriend with a murdered heart' he admits.
And so he does a complete volte-face. Or rather, he abandons his hedonistic lifestyle and reverts back to his true self, that being - in the words of one of Alex's childhood friends - a grinning, middle class twat. He gets married, buys a farm in the Cotswolds, buys a couple of thousand sheep, goes back to eating meat after twenty years of vegetarianism, has children, starts making cheese and starts shooting rooks.
During the course of Bit Of A Blur, Alex comes out with a few things and it's unclear whether he's joking or not. For example, describing a visit to the House of Commons he writes 'It was good in there. It was reassuring that there were so many clever people doing their best, behaving responsibly and acting for the greater good.' Is he being wry? Is he being comically ironic?
Another time he writes of a visit to Buckingham Palace for a music industry reception: 'It's tiring being anti-royal. I've felt much better about everything since I had a chat with the boss. I think all rock stars start by wanting to destroy the world. Then their dreams come true and they end up trying to keep it like it was before they started.'
Come the end of his book it's sadly clear that Alex wasn't going for comic effect after all, that all along he was just an uber conservative in a successful pop band, underscored by his post-Blur career of becoming a columnist for The Sun, endorsing Macdonalds and KFC, and hobnobbing with the unholy trinity of Jeremy Clarkson, Rebecca Brooks, David Cameron and other modern-day horrors. Stupid is as stupid does.
For all that, Bit Of A Blur is still an enjoyable romp and Alex's openness and candour should be applauded, particularly as the people he writes about are all still alive and all still probably bearing the scars. And that's all I've got to say about that.
For Alex it was just another night out at the Groucho Club