COOL HAND LUKE
Haines, former frontman with 90s starlets The Auteurs, is a man with stories to tell. But little did we know how well he could tell them until his book turned up over Christmas.
Not that I was expecting that much from it, to be honest. Rock autobiographies, for the most part, are split neatly into two categories: the shocking, warts and all tales of youthful egos gone mad or the recollections of pedestrian pop stars intent on justifying their lives with horrifically dull stories about how they paid their dues back in the day.
As a rule of thumb there's maybe one, at best two, decent tomes a year (a Lemmy or a Motley Crue, or last year The Fall's Mark E Smith). If that rings true again, then look no further. Haines has already published the one autobiography you'll need in 2009.
Bad Vibes: Britpop And My Part In Its Downfall is a savage book about the rise and fall of The Auteurs, seen through the ideas of their often obtuse singer/guitarist who seems intent on achieving success merely so that he can then shoot himself continually in both feet.
You don't even have to be a fan of the band to enjoy it. Many of the situations which the fledgling Auteurs find themselves in apply to 99 per cent of new bands in Britain (although admittedly most of them won't find themselves on the front page of the music press within weeks of their first live review).
Haines' story, of trying to return pop music to some kind of art form while constantly railing against the rise of Britpop, and drinking a lot of beer, is both caustic and funny. Even your humble DJ, a tortoise-speed reader at the best of times, was through it in three days.
To put this whole tale into some context though, we have to go back to the prehistoric age (a dark time around time 1992, with grunge already on course for extinction and British indie-rock in a state of flux). The Auteurs were the Steve Harley to Suede's Bowie. There was a glamour in Haines' thinking, but it was a glam redolent of New York art-punk and Mike Leigh films. It had a darker side.
And for a while this made them very popular. Bad Vibes charts the group's story from their early demos and glowing reviews, through a brilliantly awkward night at the Mercury Music Prize ceremony and onto the road, where Haines' mettle is tested to the full.
But as The Auteurs - with their gritty songs and their cello - go one way, the rest of indie rock is going through another watershed: it is the birth of Britpop. Haines is right when he tells me that he's harder on himself in the book than anyone else, but don't think that that lets the opposition off the hook. He has a pop at Blur, the Boo Radleys and Oasis (among others), like a kid in his back garden with an air gun.
It is both hilarious and honest and as reasoned as anything you might hear in a court of law - providing the prosecution had just arrived on a flight from LA and had been taking a cocktail of booze and valium for the past 12 hours.
Without giving the whole game away, you're delivered into a world of record company politics and insane marketing ideas; weird American tour managers and chance meetings with Metallica. Meanwhile Luke's writing is quick-witted and colourful. He is both a would-be superhero and a Grumpy Young Man.
I can't wait for the talking book.