I’ve come to find this book about seven years late, so this is less of a review, and more of a way to express my newfound love and appreciation for Alex James of Blur. It just caught my eye in Oxfam, probably because of the iconic pop art cover. I knew he was a great bassist and one of London’s certified rock stars of the 90s scene, a regular in the infamous Groucho club best known for his anarchism, friendly with the likes of Damien Hirst and Kate Moss, but after reading ‘Bit of a Blur’, I found myself unsure whether I would have rather been him or been one of the girls he dated.
The way he writes is effortless, down to earth and he spares you the usual Liam Gallagher-esque self-praising bullshit. James’ typical middle-class British upbringing in the South not only makes you envy him, but paints a realistic picture of how he got to where he is now, having been member in what were arguably the most successful band of the 90s. From a hopeless teen, failing his A Levels, ‘I wrote things down a lot and listened to Joy Division’, stacking shelves in Safeways, going to Goldsmiths and meeting Graham Coxson, living in squats in Kings Cross, joining Blur and fifteen years of intoxicated debauchery and infidelity with some fucking brilliant gigs inbetween.
The guy’s just so fucking cool. The book is a page turner, it almost makes me want to start a band… it’s a shame i’m musically inept. (I’ll have to become a groupie or something if I want to even get close to the lifestyle he had.) In parts it’s not a biography; it’s a success story that embraces the not so great side effects of rock ‘n roll. In the end he did, to my disappointment, find a wife and settle down (the most boring part of the book is the last twenty pages).
The story of how Blur became what they are is obviously an interesting one, but what I didn’t realise is that it didn’t happen overnight. It was gradual and took a fair bit of grafting inbetween the riotous late nights/early mornings of champagne, drugs and sex. ‘I’d spent about a million pounds on champagne and cocaine. It sounds ridiculous but, looking back, I don’t regret it. It was definitely the right thing to do. It was completely decadent, but I was a rock-star, a proper one, with a public duty to perform.’
In referral to their music, he offers refreshing truth and modesty, unlike most bands… ”Song 2′ was aout the simplest thing we’ve ever done, and the quickest. Dave set up two drumkits and he and Graham played them both at the same time. The loud guitar in the chorus is actually a bass going through a home-made distortion box. The whole thing was done in about fifteen minutes. I had a bad hangover and I felt horrible. It’s a nasty record and it wouldn’t have sounded so nasty if i’d gone to bed early the night before.’. Basically, it’s the best insight into Blur’s career that you are going to find. If you like them, you should read it. James also suggests that the whole Blur vs. Oasis media shitstorm was something mainly created by the NME to sell magazines. Twenty years on, there’s so much less music culture and no one’s interested in magazines anymore. Sad.
‘Blur weren’t part of a movement; we were right on our own musically, but we were part of London’s almost instantaneous rebirth as the world’s hippest city. There were two faces on the cover of all the music magazines. One was Damon’s and the other was Kurt Cobain’s. And suddenly one of them was dead.’
Oh, and I’ve just discovered he wrote a 2012 follow-up called ‘All Cheeses Great and Small: A Life Less Blurry’ Brilliant.