Saturday, 19 January 2013

Book review: POST EVERYTHING by Luke Haines

I guess he wouldn’t care, but it’s easy to dismiss Luke Haines. All that sneering bitterness coming from a man with so little relevance (whatever that word even means) and whose current profile is better not to be dwelt upon (Haines is a self-styled ‘outsider’ artist). And it’s even easier to dismiss Post Everything, the second volume of his memoir, exactly the sort of book that would make admires admire and haters hate. Hot on the heels of the successful (I’m using the word loosely) Bad Vibes: Britpop And My Part In Its Downfall, this installment covers the period from 1997 to 2005, from Black Box Recorder’s first album to Haines’ glam classic Going Off My Rocker At The Art School Bop.   

The obvious question, how does part 2 stand against part 1, can easily be dropped two sentences into the book. In every possible way, Post Everything offers more of the same: droll humour and dry wit. Just a friendly word of warning: whereas Bad Vibes had a certain mass appeal (after all, Britpop, though not the book’s main concern, was a huge and pretty much unmissable target), Post Everything would mostly get to fans, clueless critics (this one goes to Allan Jones), maybe some random, Foyles-browsing, clever cynics with a passing interest in art. Having said that, if you care for Haines’ music – clever cynicism is an inherent quality.

For starters, the title is good. Compact yet boundless, it certainly promises you an intriguing, post-postmodernist world of dead culture and bloated corpses with, yes, maybe a few bright rays of hope in the form of yours truly. This is art post everything and art post death. In fact, the only thing wrong about the title is that future ones (on their way, no doubt about that) might end up somewhat anti-climactic.

After a classic preface that will surely sort men from boys and will tell you whether you have any chance with a character this baleful and unsettling, we begin with Luke Haines’ crazy-genius idea of the First National Pop Strike. That was supposed to be a week when no records would be produced, bought or listened to. Also, and you should have guessed by now, this was the week when Haines was planning to release his first solo album, The Oliver Twist Manifesto… Don’t let the word ‘quixotic’ get to your head – it really was only a cynical and hilarious gag. One that is so sorely missed in an age when “artistic phases have been replaced by career trajectories”.

In between entertaining tales of bitter record label struggles, glorious failures (like Property, Haines’ remarkable shot at a full-scale musical) and brilliant and delusional pop successes (“The Facts Of Life”), you also get a little of Luke’s political insight and, in a completely unexpected turn of events, some details of his personal life. Reading those few pages is a bit like hearing him sing “Jesus Is Right On”.

Also, let us be honest, when reading memoirs of a celebrity (and I fully realise how awkward that word looks in the context), we all crave for those priceless moments where other celebrities are mentioned, eulogized and (preferably) kicked in the teeth. Needless to say, Haines does a lot of the latter. Yes, there may be some passing praise of The Libertines’ debut album or, again, The Go-Betweens, but you certainly came here for the real stuff: Chrissie Hynde (“the silly vegetarian”), Noel Gallagher and Alan McGee (“dumb and dumber”), Bono (a chance meeting with whom results in the gem that is “there’s no better feeling in life than being snubbed by a moron”)…

Like its predecessor, Post Everything is a real page-turner. Its dense, snappy, acerbic style is deeply engaging, and Haines’ amazing charisma is as wicked as it is irresistible. For me, the only moments that didn’t quite work were the quizzical, hallucinatory episodes involving the cat and the late Notorious B.I.G. Likewise, it was the lengthy Jarvis Cocker blackout in Bad Vibes that lost some of my interest. Don’t take it from me though: Haines himself thought it was an inspired highlight. Well, never mind.

 “It’s not healthy to be spiteful, it’s good to be wise”, Luke Haines sang on “Mr. And Mrs. Solanas” back in 2001. In Post Everything, he is both. Still, there is always something strangely appealing about this man. He is all about art. So fuck relevance. And fuck profiles. 


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