erasing clouds

Book Reviews

by anna battista

Martin Roach, Morphing the Blues: The White Stripes and the Strange Relevance of Detroit (Chrome Dreams)

Hands up those of you who have never heard about the all dressed in red/white/black duo which has been rocking the charts, the music festivals and the music awards for the last few years. Nobody. Then all of you must know to some extent The White Stripes; indeed you either love or hate them for their music style, their image and their talent. But how many of you know the whole story of Jack and Meg's rise to fame? Nobody. Then you should check Martin Roach's volume Morphing The Blues: The White Stripes and the strange relevance of Detroit. The book might not contain any interviews from The White Stripes, but it includes feedback from friends, relatives, producers and other bands who saw them at the early beginning of their career. Roach starts telling The White Stripes' story from their hometown, Detroit: the first few chapters are a sort of socio-cultural-musical history of Detroit, from car factories to Motown. We get more into The White Stripes' story from around Chapter Four when we discover that Jack used to be an upholsterer and used to play in various local bands before becoming a duo with his wife-to-be Meg White. In the book we will also witness Jack and Meg's first gigs, the importance in their life of blues music and of the Detroit venue The Gold Dollar and will analyse every single White Stripes release. The book also includes some rare pictures and a complete discography (bootlegs included) of one of the most conceptually and musically interesting bands around. A must for all the "Candy Cane Children".

Luke Sutherland, Venus as a Boy (Bloomsbury)

Some of you may associate the name of Luke Sutherland to bands Long Fin Killie, Bows and Mogwai, but Sutherland is not exclusively a musician, he's also a fine writer. In 1998, Sutherland's first novel, Jelly Roll (Anchor Books, 1998), a book about racial tensions in a jazz band touring the Scottish Highlands, was shortlisted for the Whitbread First Novel Award. Four years later, Sutherland wrote Sweetmeat (Anchor Books, 2002), a novel about love, set in a London restaurant. His third novel, released just a few weeks ago, takes its title from Björk's 1993 hit and it deals again with love, but also with a special dichotomy intrinsic to every man and woman, goodness and badness. The story starts in a Soho flat where the narrator of the novel, Désirée, who's literally turning gold, perhaps as a reward for the people he has loved in his life, most probably because of the hormone cocktail he swallowed, is dying. Désirée has recorded the story of his life on minidiscs which Sutherland seems to have meticulously transcribed here in the pages of the book. Indeed the story, unravelling in short paragraphs, starts from the Orkney Islands and in particular from South Ronaldsay, where Désirée was born and grew up, part of a bored generation of teenage islanders. His life seems to change when he falls in love with Tracy and discovers that he has the gift of making people see angels and heaven by kissing or making love to them. Désirée leaves Orkney after Tracy dumps him for his racist remarks on the only black boy living on the island (Sutherland was actually brought up in the Orkneys by adoptive parents). The years will pass and we will find Désirée in London, living in a flat with other drag queens, bullied but loved by a pimp with Nazi sympathies. Love, sex and racial issues pervade the novel, but Venus as a Boy is actually a mesmerising and cathartic surreal fantasy told in a lyrical style (check out the descriptions of the Orkneys). The Scottish tourist board might not be happy for Sutherland's depiction of life on the Orkneys, but when you'll finish reading this novel you'll feel like the people Désirée kisses and makes love to, you'll have visions of heaven and of a host of angels.

Issue 22, April 2004

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