Julie Burchill: Self-pity is now an art form

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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 and been replaced by a veritable vale of tears made print.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.



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