To celebrate the London Tube turning 150 a series of commissioned works called Penguin Lines has 12 different writers each spinning a different yarn, elements of their personal story, their personal interests with the Tube as part of the focus.
Paul Morley is a music writer so his entry into the series, Earthbound moves from talk of trains – and a relatively detailed précis-sketch of the Tube’s history – on through to music, specifically the Sony Walkman and Morley’s belief that he was among the very first in England to own the device. That takes us off to talk of the tapes he listened to, on assignment (and between assignments) for the NME. His beloved Joy Division, his beloved CAN, in that way that Morley has he is at his best when he mixes music and memoir to make manifesto and memories shake hands – he sees the fun in this commissioned essay and take the leap. He’s often drawn the long bow with his cultural criticism and here he manages to tie it all together nicely, assessing the changes in the way we receive information, the revelation that was the Walkman became that revelation that was/is Google, and then to smart phones. These changes occurring all the while as he sits on the train on his way to and from work, the music always in his head, swirling around and mixing with his thoughts.
I couldn’t tell you that I was won over by the idea of the series after reading this. Morley is what brought me to this series. And I wasn’t disappointed. Most of the rest of the books remain a hard sell to me. But if you’ve read Morley before you’ll enjoy the way he twists this tale to suit – still meeting the requisite train-talk too. You’ll know (almost) what to expect. And you’ll enjoy the way it unfolds, the way he lays it down on the line. So to speak.