Steven Wilson: Limited Edition of One

Posted by in Culture

He’s a limited edition of one but so are we all.

ARRIVING SOMEWHERE

As regular readers of the blog will know, I have been listening to no-man for nearly 30 years and while there is an extensive blog on Tim Bowness I’ve never got to do one on Steven Wilson despite having a passing interest in his work with Porcupine Tree and solo not to mention all those 5.1 surround mixes of fave albums he’s been fortunate to have had a hand in.

Earlier this year Wilson (together with Mick Wall) released a (semi) auto-biography like no other (not sure why he needed Wall to be honest). However, it’s clear he’s aware of things like David Sylvian’s Everything and Nothing compilation and as such has sought to make the rock biography something more than ‘just’ a chronological life story. There’s 26 Chapters and over 350 pages so let’s crack on.

We begin at the Royal Albert Hall (I’ve only been there once and that was to see a-ha in three parts). Wilson shares the finer details of the working band and that Porcupine Tree had more or less run their course; musically and personally.

Some things get regurgitated multiple times throughout the book: the ‘guitar shaped swimming pool in Beverley Hills,’ the story of Joyce Carol Vincent who was the inspiration for Hand Cannot Erase and the book could be called ‘The Bottom Line.’

The Royal Albert Hall and Flowermix, born simple.

MONO NO AWARE (THE SADNESS OF THINGS)

Destination isn’t really a destination at all so we’ll skip to Chapter Three which is called 0 i.e. birth and early years. Wilson goes into details about his shyness and overcoming it. He also mentions a dark past relating to an uncle and an unofficial aunt; now bearing this in mind, for those that know songs like Born Simple – you’ll begin to see why such dark material belongs in Wilson’s musical register.

In addition, Wilson never knew his paternal grandparents – snap! He says he relates to the sadness of the human condition and muses ‘if we’re alone and unhappy then what is life actually for?’ Well I’d go further, what is it for anyway?

LISTS

‘I bloody love ‘em’ enthuses Mr Wilson and it’s something I do a lot of too, especially on Twitter!
Wilson’s range from The 10 most Depressing Songs I Ever Made to 10 Great Albums I Discovered In My Local Library to Top 10 Vegetarian Meals.

In his Top 15 TV Shows Wilson recalls The Bridge (a documentary about people who have committed suicide jumping from The Golden Gate Bridge). I have seen this film myself and found it utterly harrowing! The lists are peppered throughout the book, see also Retro Mania below.

THE LAUGHING GNOME

This is a very extensive chapter about much of the music Wilson grew up with – as he’s a similar age to me some of it resonates – and why he is able to transcend the boundaries of cool and naff, low and high art. There is now more music in the world than at any other time in history he says.

Through the chapters we cruise from Wilson being a suit wearing 9-5 sales rep to dress wearing neo-hippy. From Porcupine Tree being a joke to becoming his main career. And if you’re wondering why Colin Edwin wasn’t involved with C/C that’s here too.

Ticketmaster UK

DESIGNING SOUND / SOUND AS MEMORY

This is largely to do wth his drone/ambient work with among others Bass Communion but the interesting bit for me comes about via the sensory experience triggering a chain of memories. I write about it in the influences section of Symposium of Empty Envelopes. What I didn’t know is the term ‘hauntological music’ or in other words the concept of music as memory.

Wilson gives reference to Marcel Proust’s book Remembrance of Things Past and as always a few albums to pinpoint this beginning with avant-garde composer William Basinski’s – The Disintegration Loops. The first part is an hour long and erodes into static over time, a trick Wilson utilises on no-man’s Love You To Bits album.

RETRO-MANIA

On the term Retro-mania Wilson muses, Maybe it’s merely another reflection of the fact that music just isn’t as interesting and life-changing as it used to be. Either that or there is too much of it now. Wilson then lists his top 100 songs in alphabetical order, a lot of artists I know but not the song. Nice to see LFO in there. Also Prince’s Ballad of Dorothy Parker. Talk Talk’s Late in the Evening too.

His top 10 books, films and albums of his own will also surprise you and if you’re a YES fan you’ll be either perplexed or ashamed to read about PT’s support slot in America with them. In particular Jon Anderson’s response to SW’s intro. Wilson himself points out in the book they have since met and had better communications.

The book is a bit like a PT/SW album. Most of it is interesting but there’s a chapter Breaking the Fourth Wall which is just a boring dialogue between Wilson and his co-writer Mick Wall. Though to be fair this might have been a requirement of his publishing deal. NUMBERS should really be called 19 Questions and is another interplay between Wilson and Wall only this one is better and answers some of the FAQ’s Wilson regularly receives.

in praise of experimental

RADIO UNFRIENDLY

Here Wilson goes through the dying art of the ‘interesting’ single. Something we all took for granted, you know the usual suspects: O Superman, In the Air Tonight, Tusk, Ghosts, Paranoid Android but he doesn’t mention Sexyback (2006) or Milkshake (2003). So perhaps he switched off or was too busy or doesn’t consider them interesting or all three.

Anyways he is for the most part right but you can’t be young forever. The teenagers of the now are undoubtedly enjoying their fix of Beyonce, Rihanna, Drake and so on, the same as we were digging synth pop and the new wave – some of which I dare say sounded similar to the elder generation at the time.

Through the book we get to know who Wilson is, what makes him tick why he does what he does. It’s all pretty comprehensive although spoiler alert no mention of no-man’s Flowermouth. In fact the two no-man albums he does refer to as albums he’s proud of are Together We’re Stranger and Schoolyard Ghosts. They are not bad but it highlights the difference between fan and artist perspective.

THE HARMONY CODEX

And now for something completely different, a short story which one might consider a precursor to his next solo album. It’s a bit like his music and someone of my generation i.e. someone who has lived through Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected, 9/11 (he mentions it in the story) and things like Lost – something horrible happens but at the same time, something dark and melancholic can also be very beautiful. Could it be the afterlife? Watch this space.

Buy LIMITED EDITION OF ONE here.

PLAYLIST AND CREDITS

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PLAYLIST
A Steven Wilson playlist as you might imagine could be as lengthy as well the Tim Bowness one. In short I’ve just tried to follow the book by throwing in the key tracks, anyway here goes…
Arriving Somewhere But Not Here – Porcupine Tree
Time Flies – Porcupine Tree
Paint Box – Pink Floyd
Pariah – Steven Wilson
Mr Blue Sky – ELO
Piano Lessons – Porcupine Tree
Market Square Heroes – Marillion
Love to Love You Baby – Donna Summer
SOS – ABBA
The Laughing Gnome – David Bowie
Nobody Does It Better – Carly Simon
Hymnen – Karlheinz Stocksauren
Colours – no-man
It’s Cloudy Now – Blackfield
LFO – LFO
Ballad of Dorothy Parker – Prince
It’s Getting Late in the Evening – Talk Talk
I’m Mandy Fly Me – 10cc
Trains – Porcupine Tree
Strip the Soul – Porcupine Tree
O Superman – Laurie Anderson
In the Air Tonight – Phil Collins
Tusk – Fleetwood Mac
Ghosts – Japan
Paranoid Android – Radiohead
Personal Shopper – Steven Wilson
From 44 to 48 – Blackfield
Harridan – Porcupine Tree
Happy Returns – Steven Wilson
Where Would We Be – Porcupine Tree