5 May 2017

Paul Morley: Nothing (2000)

In a way, particularly at the beginning of this book, which is non-fiction, it could be said that much of it deals with the writer and music journalist Paul Morley, his obsessional interest in rock culture. It also deals with his life particularly up to the time he was twenty years of age, or eighteen as he thinks at the time, because the reader is drip-fed the information here as it initially came to his often imperfect knowledge.

But it really hovers around this eighteen or twenty period, bringing in Morley's two sisters (Jayne and Carol) and his mother (Dilys). This was when Morley's father disappeared for good, because he (a sufferer from depression who had previously suffered from the electro-convulsive 'therapy' designed to cure him, but in fact which (as Stanley Middleton once wrote so accurately of one of his fictional characters) 'raddled' his brain). (And I know the exact meaning of this because I (for my sins) once assisted on several occasions in the administration of this barbaric 'treatment' at a psychiatric hospital.)

On the final disappearance of the father, he left the family's Stockport home and headed south in his firm's ford Escort van, fitted a kind of pipe to the exhaust, stuffed the window and inhaled the poisonous carbon monoxide fumes until he was dead: in a rather ghoulish touch, Morley says that he looked in the peak of health with his pink face. Not that Morley ever saw it though, because at the beginning he says that the only dead body he ever saw is that of Ian Curtis, and goes on to say that his father (like Marc Bolan and Elvis Presley) all died in 1977. On the other hand, Morley speculates at the end, maybe he didn't see Curtis's body at all. (Ian Curtis of course died in 1980.)

Psychological truth is relative, fugitive, as speculative as many pages in this book, lost in the turmoil of the mind. And suicide brings turmoil to the family, can lead to endless guilt feelings, endless reasoning, crazy thinking, in a way that, say, death from cancer or some other disease, or death in war, etc, can't equal: that doesn't in any way lessen other deaths, but suicide is different. Different because it can seem arbitrary, preventable, pointless, but perhaps above all a denial of the value, even of the existence, of those left behind.

Only very occasionally, and very briefly, does Paul Morley lapse into overwriting of the kind that, for example, destroyed the appalling first (and surely last?) novel that Morrissey wrote, but then that is to be expected. This is a heartfelt search to find his father, to find out what led him to the supreme act of self-effacement, the outsider southerner who proudly owned his own home 'up north', who dressed differently from the northerners around him, spoke differently from them, and finally drove away from his adopted – but in so many other ways unadopted – north to the south, to the tiny Bull's Cross near Gloucester, to do the undoable. I really enjoyed Nothing.


David Bingham said...

If Ian Curtis had died in 1977 we would have missed out on Joy Division! He killed himself in 1980. When did Morley start writing for the NME, 1978? 1979?

Dr Tony Shaw said...

Thanks for drawing my attention to this. No longer having the book, I can't at the moment say if this is merely part of Morley's sometimes rambling brain, deliberately confusing times, or just an error on my part, although certainly it's an error of mine not to have spotted this.