Violette Records’ ‘La Violette Società’ is always more than just a gig. Its ethos – audiences buying a ticket to see an artist, leaving the venue talking about another act and armed with books or a t-shirt sold by a third performer – is inspiring and has been a catalyst for a lot in Liverpool over the last year or so. This time, they’ve invited music journalist and author Barney Hoskyns to town to talk about his latest book. By Alan O’Hare.
“It’ll be fun… don’t we all like brave experiments?” Barney Hoskyns, acclaimed author and auteur, is talking about coming to Liverpool this month to discuss his latest book, ‘Never Enough: A Way Through Addiction’. But he could be talking about a number of things. Successful scribe Barney, see, may have mingled with rock ‘n’ roll’s brightest burning stars, but it was a musical martyr of another kind that nearly put out his own lights: heroin. “I harboured no secret longing to be a junkie,” he reveals. “But most human beings behave addictively – I feel it everywhere.”
You’ll know Hoskyns’ name, even if you’re not familiar with his familiar tale. A former contributing editor at Vogue and Mojo magazines, the man who has literally wrote the book on the likes of Tom Waits, Woodstock and rock’s back pages is a renowned name in music and journalism. But addiction nearly made him infamous: “Addiction doesn’t stop just because you’ve had years of not using,” he says. “I’ve written this book to examine if it’s possible to move beyond addiction.”
It’s a question he’ll be tackling at Parr Street’s Studio 2 next week, where he’ll be appearing live at the tenth ‘La Violette Società‘. “The request came out of the blue, but I’m a huge Michael Head fan,” says Hoskyns (Violette Records is the home of ex-Shack man Head and the hosts of the happening). “I’ve been to Liverpool and wrote about many bands, but nobody articulates that certain kind of pain like Michael.” Time to set the scene…
It’s a brave book, ‘Never Enough… ‘…
I never planned to write it! It’s about one’s relationship with oneself and my reflections on what addiction means for individuals and society. What do you learn after you stop using?
What have you learned?
Bigger picture… it’s a an expression of society’s pain. But the book isn’t a ‘self-help’ read – it’s a rumination on how destructive addiction is, both psychologically and spiritually. Not to mention physically.
How destructive was heroin to your life?
I went looking for a connection in the wrong places. Taking opiate drugs was less painful than being me – I wasn’t a wild child acting out internal distress.
What happened, then?
I was either going to die or get help… and I needed to find a place I didn’t have to live addictively. The help is out there and they’re the well-worn paths you know about.
Talking to people helps…
The only antidote to self-destructive isolation is to open-up and let other humans in. Hey… I’m no evangelist, but you’ve just got to find a way to do that.
From the outside looking in, it appears Michael Head himself has thankfully found the same path.
‘Daniella‘ and the devastation brought home in that song… I’m aware of Micheal’s struggle. But, like I say, nobody articulates it like him.
When did you first start listening to his music?
It started with ‘The Magical World Of The Strands’ for me. Obviously, I was around during the time of The Pale Fountains, but I’m not sure I would have gotten them back then, even if I’d been aware of them. But that album was like Arthur Lee had been reborn in Liverpool!
They’re both big favourites around here…
I spoke to John Head about Arthur when I was writing a book for Mojo. The thing is, the Head brothers’ music isn’t a slave-ish tribute to Lee, it’s just distinctive and has that Liverpool way of using warped psychedelia that is almost Californian… that’s unique to your city.
Let’s talk a bit about your books. ‘Lowside Of The Road’ is a cracker – Tom Waits?
Tom had romantic notions of self-destruction, but he changed just in time. I was fascinated by that change as the ‘straighter’ he became, the more crazy his music sounded!
That’s true. He found love, too, of course…
Yes and he’s a great dad etc., too, as he didn’t selfishly fuck-up. It’s funny, now he’s a risk-taking and demented performer instead of doing it in real life. Interesting.
Your most recent musical book, ‘Small Town Talk’, looks in and around Woodstock. Why there?
It comes back to addiction again… there is so much damage in the story of those musicians. Can you have soulful music without pain?
“Why do we suffer? Because we have to.” Bruce Springsteen said that.
Without wishing to generalise a particular place, it’s like all that early eighties music that came from Liverpool – the Bunnymen, Pete Wylie et al – when it fails it was almost comical, but when it triumphs it really is beautiful. It’s romanticism flirting with the dark side… bedsit heroism.
Barney Hoskyns, ‘Never Enough: A Way Through Addiction’, is published by Constable
La Violette Società 10
Tuesday, May 30th 2017, 7pm
Studio 2, Parr Street
Pic by Lucinda Byre