Canongate Books 7th February 2019
‘In the heart of the Green Belt nothing seemed to move. Stranded in the past, it wrestled with the present, and hated the future. And there I was, stuck with it…’
In a 1970s commuter town, Tracey Thorn’s teenage life was forged from what failed to happen. Her diaries were packed with entries about not buying things, not going to the disco, the school coach not arriving.
Before she was a bestselling musician and writer, Tracey Thorn was a typical teenager: bored and cynical, despairing of her aspirational parents. Her only comfort came from house parties, Meaningful Conversations, and the female pop icons who hinted at a new kind of living.
Returning more than three decades later to Brookmans Park, scene of her childhood, Thorn takes us beyond the bus shelters and pub car parks, the utopian cul-de-sacs, the train to Potters Bar and the weekly discos, to the parents who wanted so much for their children, the children who wanted none of it. With her trademark wit and insight, Thorne reconsiders the Green Belt post-war dream so many artists have mocked, and so many artists have come from.
At just over 200 pages this is a quick read and while Tracey Thorn is a good decade older than me, her memoir was packed full of nostalgia – the discos, Anais Anais perfume ( or Lou Lou), the older boys ( young men – to our wizened eyes) and of course the diary!
This was an enjoyable read that provided a remarkable insight into the times of Tracey’s adolescence – the 1970s, Thorn comments on the emergence of women in the Punk Movement -Siouxsie Sioux and indeed the music industry and how these women were paving the way, having had no female role models prior to this. She also references the dating norms of this time, the regular discos, making frequent references to young men at discos – 17 / 18 year olds with cars and jobs, while Tracey was 14 or 15, still at school and a reflection on how times have changed. And of course the kickback of suburbia, the boredom, the need to escape, to rebel. And she wonders, did this need to have something to rebel against, enable the punk movement, noting many great musicians who have emerged from the suburbs.
Overall a good read. For me in my mid forties there was a lot I could relate to here, aside from the interest in Tracey Thorn as one half of Everything But the Girl. This book is Tracey growing up, before EBTG and Ben Watts, and I remember the discos, the underage drinking, the parent / teen conflict, and it was this I think that made the book an enjoyable read. Like Tracey I am now a mother and I reflect on the changing tide of youth, the things that are different – technology mainly and the things that are the same – the awkwardness and angst, the secrets and need to fit in, to be cool. And me, trying to explain, in my wisdom of maturity, how so much that is a worry now, really doesn’t matter!
Thanks as always for reading.