Twisting My Melon: The Autobiography, By Shaun Ryder
Sunday 18 September 2011
These are exciting times for connoisseurs of seedy rock memoirs. The ne plus ultra of this unimportant genre, Mötley Crüe's sporadically believable The Dirt, has been extended and reissued, presumably bolstered by the less exciting rehab years. Yet next to the recollections of Shaun Ryder, the frontman of Happy Mondays and Black Grape, the Crüe's escapades are mere showbusiness.
Walking onstage at the wrong venue (a Simply Red show!) is an averagely addled anecdote. Much sleazier was his band's Glastonbury headline slot in 1990, which he marked by smoking heroin for three days in the tour bus's luggage hold. Even the Mondays' first trip to New York was merely an opportunity to sample some delicious crack cocaine only recently released into the US marketplace.
Is he a fearless libertine heroically defying society's pointless mores, or a sociopathic, drug-muddled, thieving scrote? No one ever said an entertainer can't be both, and from an early age, Ryder learnt to reappropriate others' property for advantage. Even the title of his book, a catchphrase famously garbled at the start of "Step On", was lifted from a documentary about Steve McQueen. Whole songs were effectively created from favourite film dialogue, familiar choruses or even the verbal quirks of friends. How Postmodern.
In other ways, however, Ryder & Co were traditionalists. Happy Mondays twigged that the best way to experience a "rock'n'roll lifestyle" is to form a gang ... I mean, a band. Although enjoyably ropey punk-funk bands were 10 a penny in early-Eighties Lancashire, only the Mondays possessed even a hint of threat. Not to mention a boggle-eyed dancer who contributed little else save the crucial "vibes".
Everything changed when "the E" appeared. (In best insider fashion, the definite article is always used, as with that other English dance tradition, "the Morris".) From their corner of The Haçienda club, where they were semi-employed as proselytisers of the pill (which paid better than being in an indie band), they helped create a scene that they fed off and soundtracked. Shows grew bigger, the sneaking went international, yet Manchester still defined them. Watching the Strangeways prison riot while abroad, Ryder realised just how dysfunctional his home town was: "The police chief was talking to God, the Haçienda was still mental, the prison was rioting, the whole city just seemed like a cartoon."
Unsurprisingly, the unstable Mondays crashed acrimoniously. But after his triumphant return with the excellent Black Grape, a management dispute effectively sidelined Ryder for a decade. After appearing on Living TV's Ghosthunting with Happy Mondays, an invitation from I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! could only be a step up. Berating Gillian McKeith for "having an attitude and lacking manners" made Ryder a national hero. That he even noticed must count as redemption, although few will read this highly entertaining, effortlessly egotistical tome for moral elevation.
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