Dead People I Have Known
I started this book before there were any reviews of it anywhere – I was loving it. Like everyone! But shelved it to get to other things. And then (finally) finished it just after every single review had been printed or posted. Lots of great column inches in celebration of the best music memoir to come out of New Zealand – so far. Barely a word wasted. And perhaps the best review – certainly the one that summed up my feelings was Gary Steel’s – I link to it to avoid disingenuously “Steeling” from it…
Gary’s final points around Carter’s persona in the book – vs. The Real Shayne Carter – were right on the button. And summed up my feelings in finishing the book. I’ve met Carter, albeit briefly, I’ve phone-interviewed him a couple of times too. And in no interaction I’ve had with him, nor in any relayed from people that know him well, does he come across like the default-jerk on the pages of this book.
It’s a small sticking point – and unavoidable perhaps, and a by-product of trying his best to be stoic and hold head high and not suffer fools…but at times the Carter on the pages of this brilliantly written book is a bit of a prick. Look, I liked that. We smell our own, and all of that…also I’m sick of people trying to be nice.
But there’s a weird tone that arrives midway through this book.
The beautifully written and vivid first third of the book dealing with a New Zealand that was just beyond my grasp, a rough childhood, a conservative place. Then on through the heartbreak and anger and energy of early attempts with music – to the roll-call of bodies we expect from the book’s title…all of this is wonderful and slightly distressing. And, sure, anyone would affect a hard edge (or two) as a result.
But Carter seems to work a bit too hard to muster nonchalance, counter-intuitive and oddly in an attempt to lay all bare, to be honest it comes across – once or twice – as just a little…um…dishonest.
Small gripe though for brilliant passages about music and musicians, about the time, the place, the condition.
Dead People is both memoir and autobiography. It felt like a podcast and a TV series or radio serial as I read it. I wanted that too. This creative, inspiring – real – document of one or two transcendent moments in music and then a long list of very good stuff in support.
At times he’s a bit smug, a bit too pleased with himself, cocksure in a way that doesn’t excuse his saltiest behaviour and shittiest excuses. And all of that is just perfect actually. Real. Flawed.
The critical acclaim that Carter’s had in this small country – particularly across the last two decades – would be nauseating in the extreme, particularly when preparing the annual accounts and worrying around the tax-return.
And so if he comes across a wee bit more cunty than he actually is in the attempt to understand if not unpack all of that well, then, fair enough.
Brilliant book. It’s the must-read that everyone has already told you it is. And then some.
There’s a very real chance I’ll return to this and read it again. And that almost never happens with music books these days. With any books…
You can support Off The Tracks via PressPatron