In the Days of Wine, Lavender and That Oft-Repeated Britpop Moment…
Why Caitlin Moran’s Voice and Work Is Ever-Relevant and Inspiring to Me
MAYBE it seems odd to focus…
on someone who, in her work as a journalist and novelist, does not write about music – not for the most part, at least. Caitlin Moran is someone who, for many years, has been a bit of a spirit guide! Her latest work, How to Be Famous: A Novel, is out, I believe, tomorrow and she is promoting it right now. I heard her speak with Stuart Maconie and Mark Radcliffe – on BBC Radio 6 Music yesterday – and it (the novel) concerns a nineteen-year-old who lives in London and writes for an ultra-super-cool magazine. It is framed and captured during the giddy and flash-in-a-pan Britpop regency and sees the heroine fall for a musician, John Kite, whose album goes to number-one. Before long, their worlds separate and the trappings of fame – in foreign and strange tone – becomes a deal-breaker. Johanna Morrigan (A.K.A., Dolly Wilde) starts her own column and exposes ‘the Famouses’ around her: those who are enjoying the luxuries and access of a high-profile record (those are a bit arsehole-ish, it seems). Morrigan/Wilde’s rising stock and notoriety means she has to face sacrificing the one person/thing keeping her grounded – it is an eye-opening and vivid work that reminds someone like me, around and coming to school-age maturity, around the Britpop time (between 1993-1996, in broad terms).
Previous Moran bestsellers – like 2011’s How to Be a Woman and 2016’s Moranifesto – have dealt with the author’s lives and experiences of being a woman. This is a fictional foray that has kindled new ambition in me. In addition to her work as a novelist/comedy writer, let’s spin the cassettes back to track-one; Moran is one of The Sunday Times/The Times’ biggest and most-popular writers. Her current piece, a parental guide to the new (complex) GCSEs is available and demonstrates the wit, observations and honesty that has made her a star writer. She has been writing for The Times since 1992 and, once upon a time, was a writer for Melody Maker. If I can wind the tape back a little more – without unspooling it! – and her work pre-The Times/Sunday Times and it is the way she has risen to prominence and been able to affect journalism that amazes me. Raised on a council estate in Wolverhampton – anyone who has seen her sitcom, Raised By Wolves, knows the autobiographical notes it strikes – she received very little ‘formal’ education and her early life was defined by instability and a lower-working-class reality. Her father, a former drummer, was confined to the sofa by osteoarthritis and Moran’s clan were dubbed ‘the only hippies in Wolverhampton’ (great band name, by the way!). Moran’s talent for writing and natural ability saw her, aged fifteen, win The Observer’s Young Reporter of the Year, and then, begin her path into journalism.
Rather than vacillate and pitch a biopic of Caitlin Moran – that possibility cannot be far away, surely?! – I wanted to outline why she is someone we should anoint an (unofficial) music leader. Although her music journalism days are behind her, Moran’s knowledge of the industry and exceptional taste (she picked Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation as a tune on Radcliffe and Maconie’s show: a real banger, she says, that is proper and does not dumb things down) marks her as a ubiquitous and utilitarian voice. One of the reasons I write the way I do is because of her. I love the work she created pre-The Times but it is the work/novels she is putting out now that really get to me. I, as a man, have an instant burden on the shoulder: part of a gender who are holding musical equality back and seeing the middle-aged, middle-aged minds of the business stagnate evolution and festoon music’s potential-perfume with their proprietary blend of ignorance and lame excuses – in other words, the men who run the show are c*nts. Although many are helping to accelerate gender equality; there is not a lot of vocal outcry from male music journalists. I make every effort to highlight women’s importance in music – see my last few features, for example – but feel I am in a minority. As a working-class writer, avoidably so; it feels like my aspirations to write regularly for someone like The Guardian, who I shall nick from/quote soon, seems far-fetched and foolhardy.
Caitlin Moran is someone who speaks to me, and many like me, in a very real and understanding fashion. Although; I doubt she will read this piece, she has influenced me in big ways and continues to open my mind (and eyes). Listening to her Desert Island Discs turn from January of last year and I noticed some similarities (between her and me). I have a huge love of Kate Bush and one of my earliest memories of her was seeing her in Wuthering Heights’ video in that white nightie (or a dress, I guess!). My favourite album is The Kick Inside, from where that song is from, and it seems Moran saw that video and aspired to be Bush (if it as easy as wearing a nightie and spinning around…); she loves The Beatles – choosing only one for her appearance (the Lennon-vocal-shredding Twist and Shout) – and feels like there is a surfeit of working-class writers in the media. It is great to feel there is someone out there who thinks like me and, for someone yearns to affect change and change people’s minds; maybe it is possible to get to the same position as Moran. Music is in a bit of a state where sexism is being talked about but ineffectively combatted; the working-class bands are working underground and not visible in the mainstream; there are cracks and issues that need to be addressed and tackled.
Caitlin Moran’s new book addressed Britpop and, in interviews, it seems the defining image is Noel Gallagher going to 10 Downing Street and, in a way, getting Labour into Government (in 1997). There were some great albums/times but we seem to look at that time in British music with rose-tinted glasses – the sort Liam Gallagher would have rocked with his hands behind his back! – but Moran was writing and blossoming during that time. Loathed to call her career a ‘journey’ (lest I vomit blood and destroy my laptop!); she has made her way from near-impoverished foundations and risen to become one of this country’s premier writers: an inspiration and guide to anyone who feels they cannot make it in the industry. My situation is slightly different but I have been given so much impetus and definition listening to Moran speak and read what she is putting out into the world! Before I wrap this piece up, and provide a conclusion/semi-coherent outro; a few points struck me regarding a recent interview with The Guardian – that shows why Moran is one of the finest voices in Britain at the moment:
“Your books and your sitcom Raised By Wolves are based on your real life. Do you ever worry that you’ll run out of material?
Within the panoply of fat, clever, working-class girls who really like to shag – I don’t think we’re overserved for those role models yet. Also, teenage girls are a cipher. Their concerns tell you precisely what the problems are with being an adult woman in any era. And right now, one in 10 teenage girls is being referred to mental health services. Girls are rejecting the idea of being an adult woman”.
The question/answer that properly caught my ear was this:
“You once said, when you’re thinking about the next day’s writing you salivate. Do you do anything particular when you’ve finished writing?
I don’t just salivate. I get tingly nips and my knees go warm. This [laptop] is my playing field, I’m like David Beckham there. I always time my finish so it’s exactly the minute before my kids come home from school. If I’ve smoked a lot, I’ll quickly have a shower so they can’t smell the fags”.
The interview covers everything from GCSEs, hairiness and masturbation – not in the same question! – and is a typically funny, accessible and memorable chat: considering how many guarded and phoned-in interviews you get now; it is refreshing seeing Moran so open and down-to-earth. Although those snippets I have quoted (legally, I hope: if not, then The Guardian has grounds to raise multiple lawsuits!); it is not hard to see why I, and many others, gravitate towards Caitlin Moran. I hope How to Be Famous: A Novel is not the only music-related offering we see from her. Her latest novel is a story that, although set back in the '90s, seems strangely appropriate and unchanged in 2018 – a reflection regarding social media’s impact on fame and the conflictions we have in music. I don’t know. What I do know is that, as I grope for an opening into the welcoming bosom of mainstream music media – perhaps not the most P.C. analogy/description I could have attached to my dreams – I keep sipping from the fountain of Moran (or something far less wanky!) and uncovering truth and motivation.
The final reason I wanted to talk about her was something she said in the aforementioned BBC Radio 6 Music interview: people do not escape to cities like Manchester to pursue ambitions and work in music. London has always been the go-to Mecca – that is where Moran is based – but, in actuality, I am embarking on relocation to Manchester – a chance to evade the boredom and haemorrhoids of the Home Counties and go mingle with some proper-boss people (I might get beaten up regularly!). It is a scary endeavour and a big risk, I realise that. It may not work or be slow to formulate (I am a little bit shi*ting it at the moment…) but I need to do something different and live somewhere that can accommodate my personality and does not seem so foreign – even if it means a brief stay that sees me come down to London instead. Among the doubting tones and northern clichés (apparently it always rains in Manchester and it isn’t all that), I am given much strength and motivation listening to/reading Caitlin Moran. As someone who is working-class and suffers from a cuisine-fusion of psychological troubles (clinical depression farts in the bed of Asperger’s; insomnia is already awake and anxiety is pacing the room…), getting to where I want to eventually go – a show on BBC Radio 6 Music, too, would be ace – is hard enough. Having someone like Caitlin Moran, who endured worse and is humble concerning the fact, out there in the world is invaluable. Make sure you snap up How to Be Famous: A Novel (details at the foot of this feature) and I will leave you with a final snippet from her Guardian interview. This quote personifies why she is dear to my heart and a bit of a role model:
“…Every book of mine is a list of topics I haven’t seen addressed, taboos that need to be busted, secrets that need to be told, things that I want to boggle at. What is everybody else not talking about or too scared to talk about?”
Caitlin Moran is in fine form and continues to ask the questions few of us dare. At a time where we are being given obfuscation and misled by those in power; it is just as well we have someone out in the media who is willing to show…
PROPER leadership, reality and clarity!
Caitlin Moran’s How to Be Famous: A Novel is available from Thursday, 28th June, 2018 through Penguin Books - https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/1093443/how-to-be-famous/
PHOTOS/IMAGES: Getty Images/Press Association