We’ve all got them. Those songs that define a moment. The ones that underscore a period in our lives. The tunes that will be forever associated with an event, or still, to this day, evoke the same feelings that they did the first time we heard them, ‘a connection that cannot be undone.’ Memory Songs, James Cook calls them, and this book is a memoir made of them.
Growing up in the eighties and nineties, all James Cook wanted to do was write and be in a band. Leaving suburbian Hitchin in Hertfordshire for the dizzy heights of London, he spent over a decade trying his hardest to make it, to the detriment of his bank balance, health, social life and sanity. Over time he found that ‘Proper job versus an insane artistic project that has become increasingly indefensible to friends, girlfriends and every other member of the family.’
James and his brother Jude enjoyed brief success in their band The Flamingoes, although signing to The Label was fraught with difficulties. The drummer Simon Gilbert went on to play with Suede. The record industry doesn’t always reward commitment.
James doesn’t try to be too erudite or obscure, picking out bands that only he, a muso, would know. This jaunt takes us through Bond tunes (John Barry), Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Nirvana, Suede, The Beatles, and Pulp. We explore the rock’n’roll legacy and the Britpop letdown. Recent history – the eighties, New Labour, the welfare state – underpins the story.
There’s a tinge of sadness to the stories told. We don’t queue up for hours to buy the latest record, having saved our cash for the weeks before. There’s no need to get our news from the music press, when we can just go on social media. He doubts whether we’ve had a youth movement like Britpop since, or that we will do again.
Although this is a personal memoir, there are many opportunities for connection. It’s open, rather than insular. It’s a love letter to music as a movement, as well as the songs that shaped this particular music lover. Through specific, reverent and potent prose James Cook tells us about his favourite music, and through the process invites us to consider our own. To consider the music we love and the music that has shaped us. Our memory songs.
Memory Songs was published by Unbound. On the Unbound website, authors share the ideas for the books they want to write directly with readers. If enough people support the book by pledging for it in advance, it gets published.