Book of the Year. Got to love a title that basically reviews itself, even if that’s not necessarily its intention. Book of the Year is the book of a year... a diary’s worth of concert dates in multiple corners of the globe, spread across twelve months. But it probably emerges as the book of the year because it’s one of the precious few where you close the cover after a breathless night’s reading, and think....
I wish I was him.
I’m glad I’m not him.
I want to do that.
No I don’t.
TV Smith, you know. An Advert for punk, an Explorer of the eighties, a singer, a songwriter, a shimmering, withering wordwright whose was once described as being the Shakespeare of the New Wave, although the Orwell would probably have been more apt. They share an eye for scenting out truths, and then broadcasting them when you least need to hear them. 1984 was long, long ago, but would Winston and Julia live any happier ever after today?
Five volumes now of Smith’s “Punk Rock Tour Diaries” have probably scraped every last scrap of glitter and romance that ever clung to the notion of being a rock’n’roll legend. Remember Paul Simon, “sitting in the railway station, got a ticket for my destination”? Fifty years on, nothing’s changed. People still head out on tours of one night stands, their suitcase and guitar in hand, and the only real difference is, the world’s a lot smaller than it was in Paul’s day.
Russia, Argentina, Uruguay, Estonia... they all are just a hop away. Germany, Finland, Poland... and so Smith hops. By plane and train, by car and by laborious trans-continental van ride, squeezed with zero legroom into a tin box filled with virulent cold germs, a drummer and a box of stubbornly unsold merchandise. And if you think that sounds fun, wait till you clap our eyes upon the kind of cultural no-man’s-lands that you really thought were swept away when the Iron Curtain was folded up, but which.... No, they’re still alive and well and giving hell to unsuspecting musicians.
Regular readers of Smith’s volumes will have some idea of what to expect from these pages. The search for a reliable source of vegetarian food remains a constant. The need for a decent night’s sleep once in a while, or at east a night that isn't disrupted by allergies, cold, or unearthly check-out. The hope that this time, the hotel will have both the booking straight and a 24 hour doorman to let you in once the show is over.
All of these are such familiar faces that we actually read the book breathlessly awaiting their first appearance, as though they are the old friends and passing bandmates who also greet Smith at every port of call.
Because, in a lot of ways, that's exactly they are. True, Smith himself is no longer the naive global traveler who blithely leaves an emergency sandwich out on a window-ledge in below zero Finland, and is then shocked to have itstolen by a passing seagull. But the vagaries of a life on the road remain as surprising... shocking... infuriating... hilarious... as ever before, which keeps life suitably unpredictable for Smith, and utterly enthralling for the rest of us.
And that doesn’t only mean those folk who are reading Book of the Year at home, knowing that the closest their armchair will get to a sweat-drenched punk club in the heart of Prague is... well, this is probably it. It reaches out, too, to those who have toured, who currently tour, and who plan on touring in the future.
In fact, Book of the Year and all four of its predecessors, all of which are available from TV’s website, should become required reading for anyone with a yen for budget travel, regardless of whether or not they know the words to “Homeward Bound.” Athough if they don’t, then maybe they should learn Smith’s “Home Town” instead, a cut from his forthcoming new (sixteenth) CD I Delete, with an opening line that makes that railway station look ever more inviting.
“This place is hard to believe in
“Talk of staying just makes
“You feel like leaving....”
Until that one night... or weekend... or run of gigs... or entire tour... where everything goes so overwhelmingly well; where nothing falls apart and every night's a triumph, that you, they and TV too know precisely why he lives the life he does.
To quote another opening line, from another song on the album...
“Ice cream, ice cream!”
Well, ever since they stopped making Mrs Wagner's pies....