Jolly Lad is a memoir about the recovery from alcoholism, habitual drug use, and mental illness. It is also about the healing power of music, how memory defines us, the redemption offered by fatherhood, and what it means to be working class.
"This is not a 'my drink and drug hell' kind of book for several reasons - the main one being that I had, for the most part, had a really good time drinking. True, a handful of pretty appalling things have happened to me and some people that I know or used to know over the years. But I have, for the most part, left them out of this book as they are not illuminating, not edifying and in some cases concern other people who aren't here to consent to their appearance. Instead this book concentrates on what you face after the drink and the drugs have gone."
Jolly Lad is about gentrification; being diagnosed bipolar; attending Alcoholics Anonymous; living in a block of flats on a housing estate in London; the psychological damage done by psychedelic drugs; depression; DJing; factory work; friendship; growing old; hallucinations; street violence and obsessive behavior - especially regarding music and art.
About the author:
John Doran is the co-founder and editor of The Quietus website. He lives in Hackney, London, with his girlfriend and three-year-old son, and has written for the BBC, the Guardian, The Wire, Metal Hammer, The Stool Pigeon, VICE and many others. He is also an occasional broadcaster for NOISEY and BBC TV and radio.
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Really stands out for its authenticity.
The author's sense of humour about some quite appalling events!
His regional accent, which lends everything he says a certain integrity and humour.
The descriptions of what he went through as a young man.
I have already read Jolly Lad, but recently I have been listening to the audio book, which has just come out.
There is something quite addictive to hearing Doran read. The horrific nature of what he endured hits you even harder, becomes all the more real. His fatalistic regional drawl - perhaps more Mancunian than Merseyside, though he grew up in the Liverpool suburb of Rainhill - infuses his words with a dark humour and irony, a disarming honesty and integrity.
Doran introduces Jolly Lad as a book about recovering from alcoholism, about the day he stopped drinking - at 37 - and finally found out what he "would be like as an adult." But as he himself also acknowledges, it is actually about so many things. About growing up Catholic and working class in Northwest England in the Thatcher years, about social upheaval and change, about battling mental illness, about the hideous things we do to ourselves, and how it is those very hideous things that help to define who we are. It is a book about love and redemption and fatherhood, about simple happy Hollywood endings and how there are no simple happy Hollywood endings.
And it’s about music, rich with anecdotes. Though he was told “you can write about whatever you want but it can’t be about music” by the editor who commissioned the column that would evolve into the book, references to music are ubiquitous throughout. It is the prism through which he looks at so many things, from childhood rebellion (“the first time he caught me I was in the middle of watching ‘Cars’ by Gary Numan when I was eight”) to the differences between Liverpool and Manchester (“warm hearted, psychedelic, romantic” vs “urgent, intellectual, dark-hearted”) to depression (“imagine all the inner and outer signals of your life running down a cable which is plugged into a 24-channel mixing deck…fourteen channels…attached to malfunctioning samplers, spitting out violently loud gobbets of low quality audio.”)
It is music that provides for him the “markers that he throws into the void” and “living mnemonics connecting...to people, time and places.” And it is music that contributes to his salvation, his subsequent career as co-founder of the highly respected music and culture website The Quietus, helping to liberate him from a life of addiction - if final absolution truly comes in the arrival of girlfriend Maria and son John.
Jolly Lad functions on many levels. We are treated to Doran as passionate cultural historian, with his extraordinary knowledge of post-punk and alternative pop culture, much of which he has gained through firsthand experience. But it is also auto-biography, an intimate and quite exposing account of one man's battle (and love affair) with alcohol, at turns amusing and horrifying. Along the way, he gives us countless insights about life in Britain over the last 30 years, all delivered with thoughtful and self-deprecating prose.
If there is one issue I have with the book, it’s that it doesn’t feel like Doran ever completely confronts the root cause of his drinking - or perhaps it is more accurate to say that he sometimes begins to, but only wants to take it so far. He does offer some reflections as to the origins of his malaise (e.g., the music of the Simple Minds, the possibility of Nuclear Armageddon) and there are many others implied (growing up in the shadow of Europe’s largest mental institution, a difficult relationship with his father, his experiences as an altar boy, a savage attack by local thugs that led him to almost lose his sight in one eye), and he does describe in great detail his anguished physical and mental state after he finally gives up the booze. And yet he declares: “I had a moderately unusual upbringing but then, doesn’t everyone? There wasn’t anything in particular that made me an alcoholic or a drug addict or mentally ill. It just panned out that way. It was just my bad luck.”
I'd like to know more. Somehow, though, I think he's more Desert Island Discs than In The Psychiatrist’s Chair. And anyway, this could be a bit disingenuous. Doran already sheds so much blood, sweat and tears (all three, quite literally) in the course of this gritty, entertaining and heartfelt memoir. This is a very courageous book. Do I really have a right as a reader to ask for more?
- Jackie Chesbro
An often harrowing but truly humane experience.
Thoughtful, truthful, humorous.
It's not an exact comparison, but something like Jerry Stahl's _Permanent Midnight_ comes to mind -- a juxtaposition of extreme, self-destructive behavior with a normality that is itself not really normal at all, and a recognition of both facets from a removed point of view, or as removed as possible.
John as John, throughout! Retelling one's own story at such a length could not have been easy.
A shocked laughter at many points, but a human comedy in the old sense was what was at work. That and importantly, an empathy with a situation that is so very removed from mine in some respects, so utterly close to mine in others. Definitely gave me a lot of thought in terms of what shapes a person early on.
Speaking frankly but happily, having known John in a professional capacity for many years, and solely via online work, means I was already well inclined to the book. But the details provided, the thoughtful mental portraits and discussions, the character studies and more gave it a heft and an impact that other such stories might not have done. Some detailed memoirs like this create a connection where none would have existed beforehand. This, on several levels, deepened it instead.
- Ned Raggett (firstname.lastname@example.org)