Julie Burchill: Self-pity is now an art form

Notebook

Share
Related Topics

I had to laugh when I read that a Dublin music shop had banned potential buyers from trying out their keyboards by playing the opening bars of Adele's hit "Someone Like You". "It's become the piano equivalent of 'Stairway To Heaven'. Everyone thinks they can play it," said a shop assistant at the instrument store Opus ii in this newspaper this week. "The sign was a bit of a joke, but the song can drive you mad."

I really like Adele. I like her attitude and her beautiful face and her dress-sense and her interviews. There's just one thing that I can't stand about Adele – her music. That's because it seems to my ear to be somewhat self-pitying, and as I have grown older, and objectively have far more to feel sorry for myself about, I have come to fear and loathe self-pitying people like the plague.

I'll come clean here and admit that some of this is definitely professional envy. My brand of bumptious, boastful barn-storming has ceased to be the preferred mode for a columnist (female, at least; grey-haired, blue-jeaned middle-aged men still seem able to get away with it – but hey, them's the breaks!) and been replaced by a veritable vale of tears made print.

In the case of Allison Pearson's I Don't Know How She Does It, a hack (like Helen Fielding before her) has managed to make herself very rich by creating a Hollywood heroine who manages to feel sorry for herself while having perfect health, a well-paid job and an eventful personal life. BUT, lest we think Pearson shallow and happy, let us not forget that she signed off from her Daily Mail column last year with a piteous piece called DEPRESSION'S THE CURSE OF MY GENERATION AND I'M STRUGGLING IN ITS GRASP. Before struggling straight into a similarly cushy billet at the Telegraph shortly afterwards, that is.

Elsewhere, women journalists write about their hatred of their faces (and subsequent cosmetic surgery), their disgust for their bodies (and ensuing starvation diets/humiliating bootcamps), their cheating husbands (and hellish divorces, leading invariably to Lonely Hells), their fish-like drinking (and eventual gut-wrenching path to sobriety), and their sex addictions (and agonising struggle to keep their knees together).

On a slow week, when nothing personally devastating is happening, a column can be manufactured from a confusing time with car insurance providers, a blank exchange with a bank, or a bit of a do at an international airport. If, like me, you are apt to bounce through life like a coke-crazed labrador, you may well find yourself seriously out of step with the times. And The Times.

I was a miserable kid, a tearful teen, and none too cheerful during my first two marriages which may have something to do with the fact that my first two husbands were both prone to bellicose bouts of self-pity. (Yes, dear trolls'o'mine, you'll be typing ferociously now that YOU KNOW WHY they were mis, but that wouldn't explain why my third husband of some 16 years is as happy as the day is long, would it now?)

It's a bit of bad business luck that I've become cheerier as columns have become drearier, but still I wouldn't have it any other way. Though domestic contentment may spell commercial doom for the penny-a-liner, surely only a half-wit would choose professional success over private happiness.

Of course self-pity can be fun – Adrian Mole and Steven Morrissey, Gene Pitney and Scott Walker have entertained us all magnificently. But the first two were knowing, and the second two were camp, and in all cases their artistry developed what could have been mere carping into something wondrous. We hacks, sadly, do not possess a similar ability to turn base metal into gold. So cheer up, as people were always saying to me in my youth, it might never happen. But if it does, you can always excrete a column from it.



Have you retired from public life or not, Lily?



How very kind of Lily Allen – sorry, "Mrs Cooper" – to break off from baking cupcakes up on Mount Olympus to give us the benefit of her wisdom in the case of Ceri Rees, the X Factor auditionee who delighted us for far too long last weekend. I do not know whether Ms Rees is unstable or mentally challenged. But even if she is, is Lily Allen seriously saying that unstable or mentally challenged individuals should be barred from the music business? Great – that leaves us with Jamie Callum and Coldplay.

Such a rule would have deprived us of Judy Garland, Amy Winehouse and a host of other songbirds. It would certainly have deprived us of the young Lily Allen and her gorgeous early work, as she was forever taking to the internet to describe her self-loathing and imminent mental collapse. And what a loss THAT would have been!

Please Lily, you married just three months ago, swearing that all you wanted was to retire from public life and be a housewife. Don't tell us – SHOW us! For, like Ceri, you have delighted us, too.



The pure joy of James Maker's bouquet of barbs



I've always been kept well away from this paper's books section, probably because I cannot be trusted not to indulge in a bit of babyish spite, so it falls to me to promote my book of the year in this column. James Maker's Autofellatio is a veritable bouquet of barbs: "If one balds, shave it off. Otherwise you end up looking like an unreliable Persian cabaret entertainer"; "Nobody is interested reading about sex unless it involves celebrities or zoophilia. Which, of course, is the same thing"; "The purpose of Progressive Rock music is to make life seem longer than it actually is"; "I threw myself into the path of an oncoming motorcyclist. It's not exactly dating, but it was the only option open to me."

Amazingly, this wonderful book – shortlisted for the Polari First Book Prize – began life as a self-published e-book before finding a publisher; think Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard finally finding Mr DeMille on her doorstep and you've got it. But with better shoes.



React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - 3-4 Month Fixed Contract - £30-£35k pro rata

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a 3-4 month pro rata fi...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £26,000+

£16000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Don’t pity me for eating alone, just give me a better table

Rosie Millard
Aerial view of planned third runway at Heathrow  

Heathrow expansion: This final 'conclusion' has simply fanned the airport flames

Chris Blackhurst
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map