A Light That Never Goes Out: The Enduring Saga of the Smiths. An Update
The British publication of A Light That Never Goes Out: The Enduring Saga of the Smiths is a new one for me. It’s the first time I’ve had a book published in the UK and not been there for it. The decision to stay in the States was partly financial, but also due to the fact that I had long planned my first ever cross-country family road-trip (to Burning Man and back), knowing that with my older son presumably going to college next year, this would be our last opportunity. There was also a general understanding on the part of myself and my publishers, William Heinemann, that while readings and in-person interviews are nice things to have in the PR kit, the book itself, and its ability to generate publicity on its own merits, is much more important.
And on that level, it doesn’t appear to have disappointed. Around the time that we hit the Grand Canyon on our drive out west, the October issue of Mojo was published with the Smiths on the cover, a significant excerpt from my biography on the inside, and a 4-star review in the books section; it was strange to receive tweets and facebook posts about it on my brand new iPhone while otherwise occupied gazing out at one of the most beautiful views on the planet. I had no such distractions the weekend before publication, when both the Sunday Times and the Independent on Sunday ran significant reviews, given that I was fully off the grid at Burning Man and blissfully ignorant of the fact that the book might be generating such publicity. (If truth be told, I doubt I even thought of the book whatsoever for most of the time on the playa!) And I was in a suburb of Denver, at the house of my wife’s close(st?) friend from schooldays, on the Thursday morning of publication, when I got up to find that there was a major review in the Guardian. Again, my iPhone was abuzz with the information, but I felt a refreshing sense of freedom by my own removal from the review itself and the comments it provoked.
That day, after an energizing run, we drove (another) 570 miles, and parked up for the night in the beautiful and bustling college town of Lawrence, KS, rightly hailed as one of America’s greatest small cities. Our family, down to three of us now that the teenager had flown back from Reno to start school on time, splurged on the only boutique hotel of our entire trip: a lovely historic building called The Eldridge, which set us up with two king beds and a suite, complete with fridge, microwave, two ginormous TVs and various other amenities we didn’t have time to enjoy, all for the grand total of $135. Situated on Lawrence’s main drag, Massachusetts Street, a few doors from the 715 Restaurant to which we called in our dinner order from 25 miles away, before the kitchen closed, the hotel is considerate enough to supply ear plugs and a sleep-aid steady noisemaker to compensate for its own popular bar (and that of its neighbors) down below. After one of their bar’s local vodka-infused Martinis and a fantastic local IPA, and given our general lack of sleep at Burning Man, we didn’t have much need of any sleep aids. The meal, the drink, the inexpensive and lavish suite, the room service home fries for 7-yr old Noel and a leisurely walk down Mass St the following morning, stopping in at the local Brits store to stock up on Dr. Who supplies of all things, seemed a perfectly generous and gratifying way to celebrate publication. Hopefully, three months from now, the excellent book store opposite the Eldridge will be stocking the American edition of A Light That Never Goes Out, and who knows, maybe I’ll hit the road again for some readings in my adopted home country, now that I have the cross-country bug.
So now, here I am back on the East Coast, trying to catch up with my personal and professional life while still hosing down all the playa-dusted equipment, and busy undertaking a large number of phone interviews on behalf of the book. BBC Manchester, the Irish Times, Radio Nova, Today FM and RTE are in the schedule this week, with more to follow next week. Reviews appear to be cropping up almost daily: the latest is in the Sabotage Times. I knew coming into this book – indeed, I was warned by people at the centre of the story – that the fanaticism surrounding the Smiths can at times prove volatile, and that has been reflected by a couple of the reviewers, who appear to have positioned themselves as greater voices of authority, the implication being that perhaps they should have written the book instead. To which one is tempted to paraphrase the old Oscar Wilde/George Bernard Shaw sketch and say, Ah, but you didn’t.
I’m not immune to criticism, of course, but I’m used to it. I’ve dished out my own share of it over the years, and I know that if you can’t stand the heat, you shouldn’t put yourself in the firing line. (Nor should you mix your metaphors, but hey, it’s my party…) I’m only concerned when it seems personal or petty, and it strikes me that the Guardian and Independent on Sunday reviews fell into one or both of those camps. I’m baffled as to the crime of using a term like “the jazz arena” or “fans and critics alike,” and as to the “borderline unforgiveable” “bellyflop” of naming Manchester as Lancashire’s capital, I apologize for the error, but I would also point out that in almost the same breath as he accuses me of such grave misjudgment John Harris states of Morrissey, without any supporting evidence whatsoever, that “the singer’s autobiography is published later this year.” It is not. There is no knowledge anywhere within the book industry of any deal having been struck, let alone a publication date being set. But perhaps fact-checking only applies to books, and not reviews of said books?
I’ve noticed or been alerted to a couple of other small errors in the British publication. I wish they weren’t there, but in a book of 200,000 words given to such detail, it’s bound to happen. I’m in good company in that regard: I am finally coming to the end of reading Jonathan Gould’s superlative Beatles biography, Can’t Buy Me Love, my enjoyment of which has not been dampened by the fact that he, too, occasionally made a factual error; I’ve pointed a couple out to him and he’s been grateful for the feedback. Small mistakes can be corrected in reprints. The big picture can not.
In the meantime, William Heinemann have (has?) been doing a stellar job of publicizing the book. Everywhere I turn there seems to be something going on. Both Mojo magazine and the Waterstones stores have run competitions with fiendishly difficult questions. A thousand promo t-shirts (with my name on them, I feel oddly compelled to note) have made their way to HMV stores across the country for early-bird buyers. The book has been in the Amazon Rock & Pop Top 10 for much of the last few weeks; it’s been somewhat amusing seeing it bettered only by books about or by John Taylor, Jessie J., Justin Bieber and McFly. (Which is much how it must have felt for the Smiths themselves back in the 1980s with regard to their hit singles, looking up from the lower reaches of the top 20 at the pop gloss above them.) And the Guardian was reporting A Light That Never Goes Out as its Number 1 or Number 2 best-seller throughout last week. So far, so good then. I plan to post some archive material and from the book and various links relating to some of my research at iJamming! over coming weeks, and I look forward to unveiling the American cover any day now. All comments welcome. Cheers.