This week, British singer Tracey Thorn released her first book, a memoir called Bedsit Disco Queen: How I Grew Up and Tried to Be a Pop Star, in which she discusses fame, family, and her 30-year career in the music business.
Although many readers here in America might not remember you as half of the English pop duo Everything But the Girl, I bet they can still sing along with your group's smash 1995 Billboard hit "Missing" whenever it comes on Muzak at the GAP or TJMaxx. Since you have given up touring for the domestic life, it wouldn't be hard to imagine you shopping there, too -- with your three kids in tow, hands full of housewares and half-price denim. You would likely go unrecognized, unless of course you opened your mouth to sing the chorus of "Driving" or "Apron Strings" with that voice of yours. I once wrote that your singing was "the aural equivalent of mother's milk," a description I'm sure you find treacly.
Tracey Thorn's Bedsit Disco Queen. Photo by Kristi York Wooten.
Bedsit Disco Queen arrived in the mail yesterday, and I couldn't wait to read it. After school carpool, I spent three hours in the parents' waiting area at the ballet center while my little dancer took class. I normally use that time to run errands, but with rain pouring outside, I stayed and relished your entire story instead. I'm sure the moms (and dads) playing Minecraft on their iPads had no idea what was going on when I, with my nose buried inside your thick hot-pink hardback, giggled gleefully and nodded knowingly at your references to all things pop and post-punk, from parallel George Michael sightings to a fateful stage date with Paul Weller.
The other parents might've thought me loopy if, after each chapter and chronology, I'd gushed about how the soothing sparseness of EBTG's 1994 album, Amplified Heart, saved me from the trauma of a foolish career move and the death of a close friend. (I know you're cringing at the word "soothing," by the way.) Or how any note from Language of Life reminds me of sorting out your not-so-sunny lyrics while sunbathing on the college lawn in 1990 with a first generation portable CD player blaring the sax intro to "Me and Bobby D." Or how, over a recent lunch in New York with Red, Hot & Rio mastermind John Carlin, we geeked out over the brilliance of the EBTG version of Jobim's "Corcovado," with its Brazilian cool and hot electronic beats. (And just for the record, your 1991 song, "One Place," is the only thing that calms me while traveling at 38,000 feet).
In your book, you write of your waxing and waning moments of fame from the 1970s through today and all your struggles: compromises, indifference, self-esteem issues. It sounds bit like what all moms go through when faced with tough choices about their careers. You also leave it up to the reader to decide whether or not you regret turning U2 down when they offered Everything But the Girl the opening slot on a big tour in the late 1990s, or if your confidence relied too heavily upon the opinions of the "rockist" journalists who've alternately praised and ignored you for the past three decades. I say kudos to you -- what a gift it must be to have moments of great success and treasured anonymity in such equal measure.
Here in the U.S., we don't use the word bedsit (I believe it translates into a tiny studio apartment or dorm?), although while reading about the time you spent at university in Hull and later at the bedside of your partner in music and life, Ben Watt, as he battled the rare Churg-Strauss syndrome in a London hospital, the term became more of a verb than a noun. We artists and writers might find deeper meaning in our own work -- and impart a greater texture of authenticity to our audiences -- if we took the time to bedsit instead of racing on a treadmill that ultimately leads us nowhere.
If fan perceptions of your work differ wildly from your own reflections about the artist you are (as captured so frankly in Bedsit Disco Queen), I'm here to tell you that it's OK. And thank you. Thank you for writing about the music industry without complaining too much, and thank you for loving Ben -- and for not being afraid to do cover songs, and for proving that moms can do something artistic and meaningful from within the confines of their own four walls (even make a hip Christmas album and write a really good book).
Keep on keeping on -- in word and in song -- and don't let the haters get you down. Especially those pesky journalists.
Kristi York Wooten
P.S. If you ever decide to perform in the U.S. again, that would be fine with us.