Book review: Jolly Lad, by John Doran - A wonderful tale of how the founder of The Quietus battled drug abuse and alcoholism

Strange Attractor: £14.99

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“That little voice in your head that says ‘maybe I should ease off a bit’? I don’t really have that.”

Mark Cavendish, the champion cyclist, was talking about his day job, but John Doran could say the same about his 30 years of extreme overindulgence. His first taste of supermarket brew at 13 turned him from faithless altar boy to fervent convert instantly. Cooking sherry, cooking wine, cooking lager, fuelled his determined pursuit of oblivion. A night out might turn into a week out, a month away, a lost decade. If a drunk falls over and no one sees or hears it, did it even happen?

He was never one of those feckless addicts of tabloid infamy, sponging off the state, though, but a hard working alcoholic paying his own way. After getting a journalism qualification he joined the ranks of strung out stringers, courtroom wraiths even less healthy than him, before somehow drifting into music writing, the strength of his convictions reinforced by libation. In a field where extreme idiosyncrasies are barely noticed (I’ve known music hacks that couldn’t ride a bike, let alone drive, and they were the reliable ones), his gargantuan appetites passed unremarked.

Eventually the damage to his health, mental and physical, was so overwhelming he dropped the pop for good, though it took a few years before he entirely repudiated the occasional 168-hour drug binge. By then he was a father and a boss, as founder of The Quietus, the excellent popular culture website.

Getting wasted is what he does, just as others choose sleep. Stay awake and you’ll see plenty, from the amusingly grim – a hovel full of junkie grandmasters ruined by crack (“the standard of chess playing plummeted”) – to the shockingly grim – he matter-of-factly steps over a bleeding child who lands on the pavement after being hit by a bus. When your coke dealer offers practical life advice, you’ve likely reached your nadir.

This really is a curious book, albeit often compelling and sometimes very funny. It’s wildly disjointed and restless, and the loved ones affected by Doran’s erratic behaviour barely appear at all. Recovery is always an ongoing process of course, an eternal search for the Why. Some might diagnose solipsism, but I suspect a severe case of anxiety disorder. Growing up in the Eighties with the threat of nuclear war, and only U2 and bad teen movies as distraction, clearly had serious long term effects.

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