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It was all a blur: How guitarist Graham Coxon (barely) survived Britpop, in a memoir


Fresh, chorus, monster!

By Graham Coxon
Faber & Faber, 320 pages, $30

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What’s a rock and roll memoir for? To settle scores, promote one’s achievements at the expense of others, engender public empathy for the Poor Little Rich Star? Over the past decade or so, there have been boatloads of such books, each ticking off one or more of these morning talk show tropes.

Graham Coxon’s new entry into the genre,Fresh, chorus, monster!,” is a little different. The co-founder and guitarist of Blur, Coxon and his bandmates Damon AlbarnAlex James and David Rowntree – for a Roman candlelight moment in the mid-’90s – became the leaders of the subgenre known as Britpop, the biggest rock music phenomenon in England since Beatlemania. Coxon is here to tell us that despite the Kentish estates, the Italian sports cars and the endless stacks of royalty checks, it was all a bit miserable.

This poignant autobiography is a story told by a musician who found wealth and fame by doing something that wasn’t easy for him: making music for people to earn a living. Unlike his bandmate Albarn, “an arrogant Londoner who didn’t care what people thought of him,” Coxon was an introvert. After reading the accounts of Coxon’s awkward negotiations between his private and public selves, it’s hard not to feel that the guitarist could have worked better as Steely Dan’s Walter Becker And Donald Fagen, studio bound and hermetic. Instead, fame found Coxon thrown into situations where he could never quite acclimate himself – a true rock star who felt like an impostor.

“Verse, Chorus, Monster!”, co-written with British music journalist Rob Young, begins as so many rock memoirs do – with the narrator’s urge to grab everyone’s attention by any means necessary. Coxon’s father was a saxophonist, the leader of several military bands for the British Army. Until the family moved to London, young Coxon was adrift, a latchkey kid who drew ghosts in his notebooks, unsure of his place in the world. Then, at age 11, his Road to Damascus moment: He hears “Start,” the driving 1980 single by British punk trio The Jam. Coxon buys a Les Paul imitation and a 10-watt amp from a classmate, and soon the road goes uphill to meet him.

Playing the guitar “shoots a hole” through his ever-present fear. “I was cocooned in a zone of pure sound where nothing else existed,” he writes. Coxon’s classmate Albarn, whom he first meets in a production of “West Side Story,” is a future star and Coxon knows it: confident, brash, a con artist. The pair, along with James and Rowntree, form a band called Seymour after Salinger’s Seymour glass. At first it’s chaos – loud, art-damaged post-punk. Coxon likes to play, but not to perform. He shy away from attention, drinking too much to quell his stage fright. But over time, he begins to write actual melodies, and Albarn is quite adept at finding words to accompany them. Within two years, Seymour becomes Blurthe biggest band in the UK

Parts of Coxon’s story are all too familiar, the usual record industry shuffle. Blur is being displaced by poor management. Albarn, Coxon and Co. are pressured to write hits, keep touring and recording despite their mental and spiritual exhaustion. The British music press is fueling a rivalry between the two leading Britpop bands, art school southerners in Blur versus their working class counterparts in Oasis, Liam and Noel Gallagher. “If you throw a bunch of competitive young men into the ring and all they have is music…the one door that can lead them to get rich and famous, then of course they’re going to stand their ground, get ratty and act territorial. ,” Coxon writes.

The tabloid battle is a financial boost for both bands, who fuel the fire by releasing singles on the same day in 1995.Country housesneaking past Oasis’ “Roll With It” to become Blur’s first No. 1 single, Coxon is over it. At a record company party to celebrate the band’s good fortune, the guitarist contemplates jumping out of the window, champagne glass in hand: in a band.” Even the most rewarding and desirable work can become a hindrance after a while. become.

Then the story runs as all such stories should: Britpop goes bankrupt. Blur urgently needs a new approach. An avid fan of the American post-punk bands Mission of Burma and SidewalkCoxon brings that jagged aggression to the band’s 1997 self-titled album, which yields the boisterous ‘Song 2’, the biggest worldwide earworm of Blur’s career.

Things are going well, but Blur is now more business than band. Exhausted, paralyzed by creative insecurity, and awash in booze, Coxon wonders if he’s as awesome as everyone says he is. With typical frankness, he remarks, “I didn’t feel I particularly deserved to be successful.” Instead of going into the studio with Blur to record their late 2001 album “Think Tank,” Coxon checks into rehab and scribbles strange creatures in his notebooks to calm the electrical storm in his head, just as he did when he was a young army kid. .

Sobriety gives him a newfound sense of principle, an inclination to work at his craft rather than making music for money. He acts, in short, very un-rock star, and that saves him. A series of solo albums follow – all pointing in different directions, all intriguing swerves away from the chippy pop that made his band famous.

Despite the occasional Blur reunion show, Coxon continues to follow his musical instincts wherever they lead him. He has the financial means to do so, of course, but his bracing confessions in “Verse, Chorus, Monster!” remind that even the most thrilling fairground rides can make you feel a little queasy.

Weingarten is a writer in Los Angeles.