The one reason, the only one in fact, you read a biography is to learn the hidden secrets, the private moments of the person the book is about. This was no different here. I like the music of Robert Wyatt, more than that I like, or think I do, the man himself. I wanted to know more. I wanted to find out about all his funny little quirks.
Deserving the highest accolades this biography, written by Marcus O'Dair, not so much gets to the heart of the subject matter as it does live the life in narrative format. It could be a hat or shirt or pair of shoes the musician had often worn and which had been with him throughout his life soaking up the true nature of the man, his sweat and blood absorbed, his history saved, before being presented to us to share.
The intimacy here is warm, tender at times but also gob smackingly candid. No blushes spared, not that I think Robert Wyatt would want that, no stone unturned. From the earliest days of the young Wyatt through his forming The Soft Machine to my introduction of him via Matching Mole we are given an unequivocally candid portrayal of the musicians life.
We witness a man whose acts of whimsy have often upset apple carts. His early twenties spent womanising whilst neglecting his parental and matrimonial duties; his playing with Jimi Hendrix and of being part of the now legendary Canterbury scene. All of it told in the same affable tones as used by the man himself. I enjoyed this biography and the manner in which the biographer gets to the core of the subject. A little too deferential at times perhaps but that too summarises Robert Wyatt's own self deprecating manner.
Each phase of the musicians development, be it lifestyle or the making of music, is faithfully presented in graphic detail. The dreaded telling of that horrid accident is painful to read, made all the more so by Wyatt's own swift dismissal of it. He, Wyatt that is, asks for no sympathy preferring to see it as a time by which a line was drawn, of a moment in his life when, having just met and married his wife, something unpleasant happened, an unexpected accident, an end of one thing but a start of something else, something amazing which could not be diminished by such a tragedy but could be rationalised, made positive of . He describes his fall as giving him the impetus to go out and record his own music.
The impression I got didn't, strangely enough, change what I thought I already knew. Robert Wyatt is that amiable, polite, frank and at times far too self-deprecating individual. He is also an alcoholic, a man who suffers the 'Black Dogs' bite, a loving husband, if irritating at times and one of music's true individuals. The fact the book does nothing to dispel this pre-knowledge should not put anyone off reading it. There are still moments, few perhaps, when we witness a less than happy-go-lucky persona. There are still secrets revealed in as open and forthright a manner you could ask for. His melancholia once getting not only the better of him but of his beloved Alfie as well.
At the end of it, sad as I was to have reached that part for it is a jolly good read, I felt I knew a great deal more about a man whose music I have long loved.
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.