Tracey Thorn
(Virago)
Tracey Thorn has been with me for most of my adult life–we are of a similar age so I could project shared discoveries and concerns onto her as I tore through adolescence into adulthood. With the Marine Girls and the early incarnation of Everything But The Girl, she represented a strong feminist image – a woman speaking and acting for creative women rather than the prominent business or political women of the time – think Margaret Thatcher. In the ‘90s, just as I was being overwhelmed by creative mediocrity, Tracey was, as she reveals in the book, also “caught in the machinery of a career”. I left her earlier than she left herself – her music becoming more coffee lounge than bohemian boudoir.
But, like a younger sister, I have never stopped loving Tracey, or wondering how she is getting on. So reading Bedsit Disco Queen, her frank, funny, often poignant autobiography, is like looking through a box of old letters from her.
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The book has an appealing teenage fanzine tone – restrained flippancy, cool knowingness with lapses into geeky humour and self-doubt. It reads, and is laid out, as chapters of a life rather than a continuous lm taking in a wider landscape. Those chapters are titled like album tracks and are incredibly easy and engaging to read, as voyeuristically leering into another person’s life usually is. But the repeated format (each chapter ending with a song lyric, some accompanied by a black and white photo or image of memorabilia) and superficial readability is more akin to a light diet of daily blogs than a soul searching or forensic analytical diary – more Adrian Mole than Emily Dickinson.
It’s not a geek’s music biog, either – there is no discography or play list. But within the smoothly owing, thoughtful text, empirical information is naturally woven in, which works as a chronological backbone on which to hang the atmosphere of her life. There is also insightful background information bringing key moments into sharp focus, with fledgling band formations and tentative first gigs so beautifully and honestly depicted that it would inspire anyone to just get on with it and form a band. She also handles the ongoing transition of British music from punk to the brighter blooms of ’80s pop – the contextual back- story to the early part of the book – with admirable succinctness.
Later on there is some candid insight into how she dealt with the twin roles of professional musician and mother – part justification, part honest explanation. is particular pragmatic, binary approach underlines a duality that seems to hallmark Tracey Thorn’s life. While the book is definitely from Tracey about Tracey, it’s hard to read it without thinking of ‘the other’ – her partner in life and music, Ben Watt. This duality or dichotomy manifests in her tone being both self-deprecating yet con dent, her acceptance of being an outsider with regard to the pop mainstream yet on the inside of being cool, of being a sexy female fronting a band and a private woman challenging her life. Her life mirrors a Rorschach test on every page. She even had twins!
I admit I was hoping for a more profound discussion of her deeper motivations and attitudes but Bedsit Disco Queen is so naturally conversational it feels churlish to weight it with such demands. Ultimately, the book portrays a calm, knowing woman; humorous, articulate, a mix of both self-deprecation and confidence. Every teenage girl should get one for Christmas.
LOUISE CLARKE