Book Review – Coal Black Mornings

Occasionally, I post reviews about books that inform my own writing efforts…

Brett Anderson’s  COAL BLACK MORNINGS is less an autobiography than a meditation on how class, upbringing, and relationships with parents, lovers and artistic collaborators drive the creative process. As such, it evokes Patti Smith’s JUST KIDS, heavy company indeed.

Anderson led Suede, a premier ‘Britpop’ band from the 90’s that produced a couple of strong albums and got a ton of attention from the English musical press back when this sort of journalism was influential. There’s a story to tell here, but Anderson smartly doesn’t focus on the usual facile recitation of pop-star debauchery, instead detailing his working-class upbringing and an eccentric father’s influence on his ambitions and imagination. As events progress, iconic characters from this period’s musical scene sweep across the author’s life including Justine Frischman who helped launch Suede, became Anderson’s lover, then dumped him for another musician. Interestingly, the dissolution of Anderson and Frischman’s relationship seemed to free both to achieve more creatively. Frischman formed her own group, Elastica, another very cool band from this era while Suede soon released some of its most creative work. Anderson also details how his affection, cooperation and conflict with talented guitarist Bernard Butler influenced his own writing and musicianship.

Then, full-stop. Just as Suede hits it big, Anderson ends the story. He’s said what he wanted and continuing might wreck the purity of his message.

Though usually engaging and self-aware, Anderson’s writing style is also mannered and self-conscious (he mentions ‘coal black mornings’ at least five times – OK, chill, we get it). And some sections can be a bit too self-congratulatory about the genesis and artistry of Suede’s songs. However, these passages at least show the importance of personal ego in both the songs’ inspirations and in carrying on in the face of initial apathy from a potential audience that only later becomes wildly enthusiastic.

I write contemporary fantasy novels not remotely similar to Anderson’s memoir. Nonetheless, Coal Black Morning’s intense descriptions of settings and people demonstrate good technique for any author. Further, it’s illuminating to peek into what drives artistic effort and developing one’s talent. If there is ever a sequel, it should depend on whether Anderson believes there is more to tell about following your muse as his situation evolves from poverty and public indifference toward fortune and accolades.

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