Listen to the Silence
Paul Morley first came to my attention as a panelist on Newsnight Review. I remember him cutting into recent Oscar Best Picture winner and Hollywood didactic, Crash, drawing parallels between Crash and Team America: World Police because they are both about a bunch of liberal Hollywood types speechifying a lot about how racism isn’t a very good idea after all. I also recall him describing Thank You for Smoking as “Hollywood! Disney! Tom Cruise!”
Investigating further I found out that once upon a time he had been a writer for the NME, back when being a writer for the NME seemed to mean something vaguely more than it seems to mean nowadays. I also found out he had written two books. One called Nothing – that sounds a bit bleak, I thought, and another called Words and Music – much more like it. Within days of learning of its existence I found Words and Music hanging around in a local bookshop, smiling out at me from what suddenly seemed like much emptier shelves than when I had first walked in. I bought the book immediately, read it, and somehow it managed to live up to my very high expectations.
But I avoided reading Nothing. I avoided reading it because of the title, which as far as I was concerned sounded more ominous than the notoriously ominous Heart of Darkness, which, by all accounts, as far as titles go, is too poetic to suggest the true “horror” Conrad confronts in the text itself. Nothing is a title that echoes with the indirect incomprehensible infinity of the universe, and the stone gray, everyday banality and certainty of death. I avoided reading it because the blurb eerily promised a book about his father’s suicide, the unhappy parts of Morley’s childhood and Joy Division.
Then I read some of the reviews. Overwhelmingly positive. Many of the people posting described the book as life changing. I’d never read a book I considered life changing. I’ve read some great books, books I love, books I feel better for having read, books I feel have expanded my consciousness, books that I have learnt something from, and in one way or another, by and by, books that have changed my life. But I had never read one I would describe (to anyone else, at least) as life changing. I wasn’t sure I wanted a book to change my life. As Thomas Anderson once said in a movie about reality and machines, “I don’t like the idea that I’m not in control of my own life.”
The fictions surrounding the largely fictional Nothing at the center of a book written about Paul Morley, his father, Ian Curtis, death and existentialism orbit around a figment of my imagination which at this moment in time has decided to manifest itself in the form of a former NME journalist who once wrote a book about Nothing, which somehow communicated more than the sum of its parts because any book about nothing is really about everything, now, the moment and the infinite moments that are occurring by the infinite bucket load all the bloody time and space. A book that made me understand better than ever what Roland Barthes was on about. To tell the truth through sly, liberating lies and because the world can be a better place because of the imagination, and why not?
Of course I won’t know for sure how good it really is for a little while yet. I need to wait a few days, let the book settle into a more comfortable position and find its place in the natural/artificial order of things inside my head. At the minute its still floating around, knocking into things, disturbing other things, somewhere near the front of my thoughts. What I can say for sure is that I think Morley is a remarkable writer. An enabler, a kind of cosmic key for unlocking the wonders of a more mature and adult imagination and the knowledge that such seriousness and silliness need not, and will not end with childhood if you don’t want it to.
I don’t think I could recommend the book to anyone else, as such, it does get very tough in parts, but from a very personal place I think I can say, Nothing is the first book I read that changed my life.