There have been truckloads of great rock memoirs: Keith Richards’ Life, Patti Smith’s Kids, Mark E Smith’s Renegade, R Kelly’s Soulacoaster, but how many lyricists have made the leap from songwriting to longform fiction? And have any of them been any good?
Johnny Lloyd from Tribes is the latest to blacken his windows and lock himself away with a typewriter. His limited-edition novella, A Journey Through The Heart Of A Pig will be released later this month. The tale of a boy named Martin Gardner who sets out to find heaven, here’s a sneak preview of how it begins:
“Gabriel woke up. He could feel Salit at his side. The weight pressing down on them was enormous. They struggled free and made it a yard or so and turned back to see from whence they came. Mother Pig’s legs had finally buckled, killing one of the piglets straight out. Not much left of her now but blood and bones.
Then, as pointlessly as life began, so it ended. The wave had finally crashed down to earth and all had vanished in a flash.”
Which is actually a pretty fantastic, if grim, way to start a book. He’s not the first rock star to write about death and pigs, though. Nick Cave’s wildly bleak 1989 novel And The Ass Saw The Angel told the story of Euchrid Eucrow, a mute outcast born to parents obsessed with spring-loaded traps and animal torture. Here’s how he described his mother:
“Mummy was a swine: a scum-cunted, likkered-up, brain-sick swine. She was lazy and slothful and dirty and belligerent and altogether evil. Ma was a soak - a drunk - a piss-eyed hell-bag with a taste for the homebrew.”
As a word of hard-won advice, this does not make a humorous inscription for a Mother’s Day card, no matter how many kisses you put at the bottom. In any case, And The Ass Saw The Angel proves beyond doubt that musicians can turn out great novels, being an intelligent examination of the gap between the sacred and the profane told in fire and brimstone prose, like William Faulkner spewing out Durkheim. 20 years later Cave published his second novel, The Death Of Bunny Monro, which departed from his first book’s biblical concerns, replacing them with more sex and cheap seaside sleaze. It read a bit like Martin Amis’ Money, except with a lot more references to Avril Lavigne’s vagina.
Cave, of course, has learned much from the master himself, Leonard Cohen. Although now most famous as a songwriter, Cohen actually started out as a poet and an author. His first novel, 1963’s The Favourite Game was a study in awkward youthful anxiety, while 1966’s Beautiful Losers, about a surreal love triangle, contains more eroticism in a single line than the whole of a certain sepia-coloured blockbuster. It also displays Cohen’s oft-underrated impish sense of humour. Here’s a taste:
“It’s a depressing habit you have of loving to sneeze and of eating apples as if they were juicier for you and being the first one to exclaim how good the movie is. You depress people. We like apples too.”
It’s certainly a lot more coherent than the idea soup served up by Bob Dylan for his short novel Tarantula, written in 1966 but not published until 1971. Reportedly typed out in a sleepless amphetamine blaze, it makes Naked Lunch look straight-laced. Here’s a sample (all capitalization in the original):
“you taste like candy TUS HUESOS VIBRAN yowee & i’m here because i’m starving & swallowing your tricks into my stomach ERES COMO MAGIA like the greasy hotel owner & it’s not your father i’m hungry for! but i will bring a box for him to play with. i am not a cannibal! dig yourself! i am not a sky diver/ i carry no sticks of dynamite…”
So Johnny Lloyd can at least rest easy that he’d definitely get a higher mark from a grammar teacher. On the other hand, Bob penned that strange gibberish the same year he released a little record called ‘Blonde On Blonde’. No pressure on the next Tribes album then, Johnny.