Sunday, June 22, 2008
Mark Burgess — View From A Hill
Well, I finally recevied and read through Mark Burgess' autobiography this past week. Besides the book being autographed and personally addressed (!!!!!!), I have to say, I am thoroughly impressed and excited about it. I ran through its 700+ pages in about ten days and it's the quickest read I can recall from recent years.
(I interrupted Henry James' Wings of the Dove, which I was about halfway through, to take on View From A Hill and now I'm a little disappointed to go back to it, in complete honesty)
My initial thought of the book is that it's a completely essential document for any fan of post-punk music of any sort. Startling candid in his approach, Mark only scarcely hides explicit details about coming of age in the new wave era, so you can gurantee that there's plenty of sex, drugs and rock and roll. But there is a stark, humanist slant to the whole thing —as if that's any surprise to longtime fans— that places extra emphasis on nature, the looming despair of life, being an activist for human rights and general good will and the downright disgusting experience that is sushi bars. Yep, it's all here... and for Chameleons, it is the virtual bible, complete with a trip to Jerusalem (no, seriously).
In the midst of the book's recent release, the message boards over at www.thechameleons.com has been buzzing, so here are some posts that I've made while reading the book and in the initial aftermath of finishing it...
In response to the general topic on the book:
"Jun 8 2008, 11:58 AM
Well, I'm through the first six chapters (about 250 pages in) so far and I have to say, the story is absolutely engaging.
The writing style is very quick and kind of scattered. It feels like perhaps Mark thought of things he wanted to include before writing and then went back and pieced them together afterwords. He uses similar devices in different settings and while that would become tedious under any other circumstance, as a huge Chams fan, you stop noticing because the subject is aboslutely fascinating.
So, in other words, sure it's only for the biggest of fans, but for us, what a gold mine.
So far, my only big complaints would be 1) that it's scattered and not completely linear and 2) there are quite a few grammatical errors, but that is usually the case with first editions in smaller runs and is completely not Mark's fault.
And mine was signed and dated 10 May. So, yeah."
In the same topic, in regards to all of Mark's recollections of meeting other rock stars on the road:
"Jun 12 2008, 07:56 PM
'Robert Smith struck me as a rude, arrogant poseur.'
At that point, I laughed coffee through my nose."
In the same topic, in regards to the fact that the Paypal receipts for payment on all pre-orders had been printed on the back of original proofs from different pages of the book, making each one a collector's item in itself:
"Jun 13 2008, 07:11 AM
No, I think that was done intentionally. As an extra little collectible, so to speak.
I was also very excited to see that."
(to which a clever co-poster replies, 'I thought Mark was just recycling.' Hardy har har)
Immediately after reading a nice little tidbit:
"Jun 16 2008, 01:41 PM
So, I'm about two-thirds of the way through and I have to say the biggest revelation for me so far is that the drums on 'Serocity' are... Reg beatboxing!
I laughed out loud when I read that part, out of pure excitement."
And one last random burst of excitement in that topic at a random piece of trivia:
"Jun 20 2008, 03:56 PM
In other 'Holy shit THAT was Reg?!' news...
THAT WAS REG ON DRUMS ON STRIP!!!?!!!??!!!
And yes, just finished this morning and the last chapter is very much a scattered all over the place bit of personal manifesto and philosophy. Interesting, but hard to grasp some of the concepts he discusses at such short length."
In a topic titled, View From A Hill Editor's Section, Find a typo, win a quid, I very sassily retorted:
"June 22 2008, 10:34 PM
Yes, there are errors upon errors in the book —sometimes several on the same page— but, really, is the narrative lost on any of us?
The main people are addressed as who they are —it's not like Mark said 'Reg' and actually meant 'Marc Bolan'— and all of the ideas and concepts are clear. The biggest mistakes in the book are equal to typing 'teh' on instant messenger or some other ridiculously small mistake where everyone knows what you actually meant.
I, for one, am absolutely enamoured with the book after one cover to cover reading... and I can't wait to read it again — typos and all."
And, finally, in a topic titled 666 Happening... (a reference to a series of events that Marks alludes to over several chapters which all involve the number '666'), which other members replied to and the conversation eventually leaned towards how Mark points the finger at Dave Fielding's behavior several times for the Chams' internal conflicts, I got very poignant and self-absorbed:
"June 22, 2008 10:56 PM
Well, I know there is quite a few topics on here currently about the book, but I will indulge one last time...
...maybe in hopes that one of the band members will read my thoughts and consider them; even if briefly...
The main thing to keep in mind is that the book is View From a Hill by:
Not Mark Burgess, Reg Smithies, Dave Fielding, Jon Lever, Tony Skinkis, Tony Fletcher, Martin Jackson and "Scoffer," as Mark so effectionately dubs him (I have to admit, I laughed each time I read that).
Not Mark Burgess and Yves Altana.
Not Mark Burgess and Sally.
Not Mark Burgess and Daniela.
Not Mark Burgess and Simon Lawlor.
Not Mark Burgess and Bryan Glancy.
Not Mark Burgess and James Oakes.
(hey, sidebar: when can we get some JO on iTunes?)
None of those people wrote this narrative except for Mark.
OF COURSE IT'S NOT GOING TO BE COMPLETELY OBJECTIVE.
We've all known for ***years*** that the main conflict in the band was between Mark and Dave. Yes, that is completely and wholly unfortunate for us because we love the music and records they created during their time in the Chameleons. But, can we, hopefully as mature adults (?), simply recognize that the personality conflict between those two amazing muscians was too strong to overcome the equally as amazing creative chemistry between them?
Yes, so and so did such and such and it was an awful thing to do.
But, after three classic albums, countless unforgettable gigs and enough memories to keep us all telling stories to anyone who will listen for as long as we live, isn't that enough to ask?
I, for one, applaud Mark's decision to tell his story in the way that he did. It tells the story of a band that many of us have come to call 'ours.'
However, the book is his, through and through. The Chameleons are certainly a large part of [t]his, because the band is clearly a large [part] of his life (as it certainly is for Dave, Reg and Jon). But, at the end of all of it, it is his life and although the Chams consumed much of it, there are other parts.
I loved the book and I loved reading his impressions of doing acid at Loch Ness.
Bottom line: he's a great story teller and the story is, without a doubt, HIS.
PS — Didn't he claim Reg's behavior as the final straw for him quitting the Chams in the first place? Not to continue a ridiculous discussion, but that seems a pretty important bit to overlook."
And so, my personal conflicts about posting on the Chameleons message board did unfortunately and ultimately invade on my ability to enjoy Mark's book on its own terms. But I did enjoy it immensely, even disregarding that whole situation.
Honestly, I'd love to hear Reg's side of the story, with short bursts of belligerent attacks from Dave and Jon. Not only would it be hilarious, but we'd hopefully be treated to passages like, 'Has that cunt come back from Jesusland yet? No? Bloody fookin' 'ell, are we going to play this fookin' American tour or not?!!??!'
Hopefully, it will coincide with the remastered and expanded Reegs reissues.
Oh, I can't wait, my friends.
Do yourself a favor and invest in a copy of View From A Hill.