27
Jul 04

A little bitter, a little sweet, that’s how he likes his life to be

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 236 views

A little bitter, a little sweet, that’s how he likes his life to be: being a Marc Almond fan has actually been good fun over these many years now…half my life, I think, more if you count hearing That Soft Cell Song from an early age. Still have only seen him twice live, but both shows were spectacular, and man, all those albums and all those songs and all those performances, it’s endless. Not to mention the fact that he’s a very good writer of his own life, as the mighty fine autobiography Tainted Life showed a few years back.

And now In Search of the Pleasure Palace, something of a sequel to that book combined with a travelogue of some of his favorite haunts worldwide — or so it was initially intended. Indeed, what’s actually a bemusing and ultimately satisfying surprise about the volume is how Almond spends much of the time questioning the project even as he’s embarked on it — talks with the publishers are mentioned more than once, it’s not entirely clear whether he goes to every spot willingly or not, how often it’s tied in with other work, musical or otherwise, of one kind or another. He very carefully and cleverly seems to say all without saying everything — much like in Tainted Life, he’s definitely sharing a lot, but he is careful not to tell everything, either noting what’s missing with quiet allusion or more commonly simply not saying anything unless absolutely necessary, and only then does one realize that a trip throughout Rome with a couple of guides has also meant he’s with a ‘travelling companion’ of some sort, for instance.

There’s a strong undercurrent of bitterness and frustration running through the book too — not something off-putting as you might think, though at the same time it’s something which perhaps will only produce sympathy in those who know his earlier work. Without fishing for reassurances that all is well, Almond is sometimes quite blunt about his future prospects, grateful for the fanbase he still has but more than once talking about dwindling audiences on tours and speaking with a brusque clarity about (generally speaking private or corporate) shows and PA appearances that he’s done for the money, and doing so with a take-it-or-leave-it ‘this is the situation’ attitude which says a lot more than whatever remnants of the art-vs.-finance debate still exist.

It may seem like the lament of someone burdened with the kind of complaints we all want to have, but more so than the random stories one can encounter with all sorts of younger bands or performers who have hit the brass ring and live it up every night, this is the voice of someone who has moved beyond both that and the typical Behind the Music ‘yeah man, back on the road again, that tour I don’t remember too much of’ soft-focus reminiscence, someone who is saying, “This is my life, what I do and am known for, a performer and singer, and a lot of it is as much a drudge as any other job might be.” Which may also be a cliche on first blush, but the trick is this is the testament of the lifer, someone well into his third decade as an adult doing this work, who is adjusting to the change of career and the change in his age — his version of a mid-life crisis being another running thread throughout, whether prompted by memories of places he once knew gone forever or discussing the prospects for who might be able to hustle who in a Paris club. And so his words are laden with doubt and consideration, self-analysis and often worry — again, he knows what not to give away, to not tell everything or to hide away (part of his description of the book is ‘part fact, part fiction,’ and it’s pretty well impossible to say where the dividing line is at any one point), but he still focuses on those subjects to a striking degree.

And yet it is indeed a travelogue, with names and addresses and locations and advice for the traveller, whoever the traveller might be — no formal three-star rankings or the like, but plenty of description and sketches, of pagan parades and lost swimming pools in Barcelona, of shopping amid religious artifacts in Mexico, of a brilliant description on how in the world to get a fresh fruit breakfast in Las Vegas (and of being thought a weirdo for doing so), and certainly of erotic encounters or the potential for same. He knows his potential readers and is a perfect tease, saying only so much and never talking about whatever he might have brought to a successful conclusion — merely of conversations and moments of research in dark bars or in semi-empty fields where the most aggressive transvestites ever will have done with your wallet, valuables, and you if you’re not careful.

Perhaps his discussion of Russia is the most fascinating of all, a country he’s increasingly become involved with following an initial tour in the early nineties, a situation retold via diary entries that made one of the best entries in Tainted Life. Here he speaks first and foremost of a solo album, his most recent, Heart on Snow, mostly a collection of traditional and more recent Russian songs done partially as collaboration and partially as celebration — how it was originally supposed to be a small vocal-and-piano album done thanks to a rich Russian patron (easily one of the book’s best characters — a voluble Russian hyperpatriot convinced of the West’s corruption but also one of the most successful businessmen in his country, claiming to fight capitalist fire with fire) but turned into a near-endless series of recordings and more ambitious work at the patron’s request. Legendary singers are met and size him up quickly, inspired performances suddenly spark new life for all the performers, concert appearances in Moscow give Almond some of his best receptions in years, and eventually he gets an apartment in the city itself. For all that, he is refreshingly blunt about the nature of what faces the tourist in Russia — the corruption, the poor service, the awful food, much more besides. He loves the place for all of that but the most telling detail is when he says it’s best to have a friend with you for any museum you go to, and perhaps by implication wherever you go in the country — and to keep silent and never let on you aren’t Russian yourself, because then all the prices mysteriously increase.

It’s a quick read if you let it carry you away, a portrait of a life and a state of mind and successes and failures and in the end, of course, triumph — no new hit record or mansion on a hill, but a statement to keep enjoying life and what it has to offer, to make new discoveries while still celebrating old loves, and to see what happens next, wherever or whoever or whatever it might be. Right now, perhaps he feels differently again — but that can be a subject for a new book.

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