Twisting my Melon

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Twisting My Melon,  Shaun Ryder, book reviewWhen Shaun Ryder appeared in (and very nearly won) the 2010 TV series of ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’, the nation split into two camps. The over 55s and under 35s mostly didn’t have the slightest idea who he was and those whose age lay between knew exactly who Ryder was but were flabbergasted he’d survived the years of drugs and hard living with his mental faculties sufficiently in tact to be capable of doing much more than sitting in a corner talking to himself. As front man of the Happy Mondays, Salford-born Ryder was at the forefront of the late 80’s and early 90’s ‘Madchester’ movement, a major earner for the late Tony Wilson’s ‘Factory’ record label and by his own admission one of the people responsible for introducing the rave drug ‘Ecstasy’ into the UK via the now defunct but at the time notorious club, the Hacienda. The ‘Happy Mondays’ epitomised the sound of their era with classics like ‘Kinky Afro’ and ‘Step On’ which are still instantly recognisable classics two decades later.

By rights Shaun Ryder should have fried every brain cell he ever had and be left as a dribbling wreck – and yet somehow despite swallowing or inhaling a Kings Ransom’s worth of drugs over a prolonged period, he’s today an extraordinarily charming and self-effacing chap – the type you’d be happy to have a pint and a chat with down your local. He’s entirely unapologetic about his drug addled past and happy to say that his first experience of Crack was absolutely fabulous and to wax lyrical about how much he and the band loved ecstasy. If you’re looking for a book to put you off drugs, this isn’t the one. As a cautionary tale it’s a complete flop because he got away with nearly everything.

“Ryder debunks some of the myths that have grown up around him and the band…”

A typical celebrity life story is characterised as much by what’s not said as what is. Most of us have at one time or another bought such books expecting a no holds barred account of a controversial life only to find the ‘naughty’ bits so sanitised as to be frustrating. By contrast Ryder really does seem to have ‘told it like it is’, confessing to numerous sins, crimes and misdemeanours, naming names, telling tales that others might have preferred left untold and pulling no punches. I can imagine that many of those he names for the crimes of youth (and seriously, I’m not exaggerating to call them crimes) probably knocked him off their Christmas card lists when they read this. With the possible exception of Bez, Ryder’s closest buddy and drug mate, I would imagine his band mates – particularly his brother ‘Our Paul’ – can’t have felt comfortable reading Shaun’s account of how they treated him. He claims he never wanted to be the focus of attention, that he recruited Bez to the band to distract attention from him, but like so many bands the jealousies and rivalries destroyed them almost as much as the widespread drug taking.

Ryder’s stories of his drug taking are astonishing not only for the fact that he can remember anything about them but for the number of times he nearly got killed in pursuit of scoring crack or heroin. Equally astonishing is that he never got locked up despite being arrested several times and taking ridiculous risks. He dabbled with rehab but his heart was never in it until he got together with his current wife. Along the way he had failed marriages and relationships, for most of which he seems to entirely blame himself and he’s never cruel or ungentlemanly about the women concerned.

Ryder is remarkably open about the role he and the Mondays played in Manchester’s drug and rave scene and their part in the history of the Hacienda. Ryder debunks some of the myths that have grown up around him and the band such as telling us that the famous pigeon poisoning scene that’s included in the film ’24 Hour Party People’ didn’t happen quite as shown and saying he didn’t really steal the master tapes of the final album and hold them hostage. He does admit to going to the wrong venue when he forgot to take the name of the theatre and to hiding in the baggage hold of a bus at Glastonbury smoking heroin for three days. Other admissions are to the theft of chunks of other people’s tunes or lyrics and we get to find out the origin of the phrase ‘Twisting my melon’ which I have to admit has been bugging me for the past two decades. Historically he was seldom willing to talk about his lyrics but the books reveals that a lot of the songs are named after people he knew, few of the lyrics are relevant to the people they’re named for (friends used to ask him to name songs after them so he did) and many of the lyrics make no sense at all. I suspect fans worked that out quite a long time ago.

Talking of words, I’m still unsure if this book was ghost written or not. It reads with such a fantastically authentic ‘voice’ that as you read you can ‘hear’ Ryder speaking in his dry Salfordian accent. His brother is always ‘Our Paul’, his text is peppered with swear words, just as his speech is, and there’s plenty of slang that won’t make sense to every reader. It’s hard to believe it wasn’t written – or at least dictated – by Ryder which makes it all the more remarkable that he left school at fifteen without knowing his alphabet but was proclaimed by Tony Wilson as ‘the greatest poet since Yeats’

Twisting My Melon by Shaun Ryder
Published by Bantam Press, September 2011
With thanks to bantam Press for providing a review copy.

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Twisting my Melon
by Shaun Ryder

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Written by koshkha

Koshkha has a busy international job that gives her lots of time sitting on planes and in hotel rooms reading books. Despite averaging about 3 books a week, she probably has enough on her ‘to be read’ shelves to keep her going for a good few years and that still doesn’t stop her scouring the second hand books shops and boot-fairs of the land for more. At weekends she lives with her very lovely husband and three cats, but during the week she lives alone like a mad spinster aunt. She will read just about anything about or set in India, despises chick-lit, doesn’t ‘get’ sci fi and vampire ‘stuff’ and has just ordered a Kindle despite swearing blind that she never would.

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