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.
©2015 John Doran (P)2016 John Doran
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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?
"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.
"Insightful, relatable, moving and actually pretty funny."
The drink and the writer, the music and the drugs, John Doran's memoirs convey the mess and depression of a life lived struggling with addiction without denying the power of intoxicants to deliver life-changing, mind-expanding and downright fun experiences.
It's almost like a confession at times, but he steers clear of remorse in favour of reflection, attempting to see blotted and hazy years with as much retrospective clarity as possible. Although addiction and depression have been a much more all-encompassing thing in his life than my own, they've still been a constant, and I found it all extremely relatable, from the alienating factory work as a young man, to the blown out emotional spectrum of fatherhood, with all the metal and acid house running through everything. Anti-glamorous, just like real life. Highly recommended.
"A great listen"
I laughed a lot at the Menk column. This adds context and a scathing self reflective layer to several of that columns high / low points.
"Excellent, Highly Recommended"
Early on in Jolly Lad, Doran is encouraged through writer's block by a friend who declares that one must write “what they know”. Doran has indeed written about a life that many of us know, at least in part, with stories and memories strung together by familial impact and a love of pop music. Starting with the awesome and slightly terrifying grandeur of martyred statuary in a Catholic Church, he moves along into an adulation of Adam Ant, a grudging love of U2 (with particular emphasis on the Unforgettable Fire) and the bizarre truth of a Sugarcubes show was that incredibly violent, yet also completely fantastic.Another key facet of the story, however, is a history of emerging addiction: it's origins from a single can of lager to a pattern of consumption that devours days, memories, and relationships. As these issues coalesce, Doran's reading of his own work out loud becomes an unrelenting cascade of events that have befallen him on his trip to becoming a music journalist. Some are mundane, some are unbelievably cool, some are wrenchingly sad, and still others are frankly hilarious, even in the midst of situations that, in retrospect, could be deemed quite dangerous. But this is the point of a person coming to terms with their own life stripped of an insulating layer of drugs and alcohol -- of willingly embracing the complexities that each day presents. Doran discloses his struggles without flinching, sharing stories that are highly personal yet also familiar to anyone who has had to step back from the deceptively simple joys of endless nights out. Jolly Lad is honest, disarmingly funny and for anyone who has encountered these difficulties themselves, an inspiring and ultimately hopeful read.
""A terrible beauty is born": Superb!"
It might seem like a daunting prospect to listen to an audiobook that deals with such serous subjects as this one does. But when Vice commissioned John Doran to write a column "about anything but music" they must have known full well he spins a yarn better than anyone and can hold court on pretty much any topic you care to mention. And so it proves as Doran lets rip: the book is positively bursting with the most fantastically funny stories and anecdotes (even in the prologue - I haven't checked the index yet but probably there too). Beware of listening in public - it will have you laughing out so loud you'll end up thinking to yourself help people are looking at me funny.
Yet always looming at the back are the twin spectres of mental illness and alcoholism. The stories get less funny as Doran, like some demented character in a Nick Cave song, bangs his cup across the bars and practically drowns himself in an ocean of whisky and wine. Soon there is no choice: it's either stop drinking or die. And, very distressingly, it's a very close call.
In one glorious passage Doran describes the recovery process as like the draining of a lake that reveals "an area of outstanding natural horror". It's a seriously beautiful piece of writing. And so he turns the spotlight inward and, it has to be said with no small amount of courage, opens up to give us a direct insight into the mind of someone suffering from depression, bipolarity, hallucination, addiction.
Again, people might be forgiven for thinking it would be hard to listen to this. But that steady voice and sense of humour keep you hooked. Between the jokes and the horror lies a rich vein of thoughtful comment on life, growing up, family, friendship, parenthood. Fans of course already know, but fact is Doran writes superbly. He's not just limited to the old barfly gift of the gab. He makes his critical points with laser accuracy and even shows off his own poetic streak on more than a few occasions. And then of course there's the music. Absolutely tons of music.
They say there's only two kinds of people in the mental health services: users and survivors. Doran has been both. This ought to be required reading/listening for anyone else who has encountered depression: if you suffer from it you'll hear a voice articulating what you yourself might not find it so easy to say, if you know someone suffering from it you might begin to understand how they see the world. And you'll be in extremely good company.
In all: very highly recommended.
A story full of trauma told by someone who hates the idea of telling a story full of trauma.
The humour, and a vivid insight into alcoholism by someone who has wandered an alternative path in all aspects of life.
Oh it is perfect. Just the right side of monotonous with the excellent occasional accent.
Maybe not 'moved' but I particularly enjoyed the chapter where John discusses concept of privilege with his drug dealer. It moved me to much laughter.
A glorious man and engaging story to spend ten hours in the company of.
For those of us lucky enough to grow up before the internet, in the uncertain but culturally rich times of seventies and eighties Britain, Jolly Lad will resonate as loudly as the music that obsesses the mighty John Doran. His plain speaking and honest, yet eloquent and erudite tone regales intimate ups and downs in his life and, in doing so, turns the key on ones own memories. So vivid are his testifications that they drew out the similarities and differences with my own life, to not only become better acquainted with Mr Doran, but to develop a greater knowledge of myself.
For those of you lucky enough to grow up with the internet, Jolly Lad gives important insights into what it was like to negotiate the world as an outsider without the on-tap support an online life can provide. Carried off without a trace of self-pity but with a candid joie de vivre and humbled humour, Jolly Lad responsibly recalls reckless episodes to form tales both cautionary and compelling.
"Bitterly funny memoir of near self destruction"
As brilliantly written as you'd expect if you've ever read any of his journalism, Jolly Lad is an insightful, poignant and frequently hilarious memoir.
The varied content and pacing, switching between childhood, adulthood, parenthood and focusing on Doran's alcoholism and career as a music journalist, means it never gets boring.
This is his first audiobook performance, and it's a good one. He takes just a few minutes to warm up, and is then consistently entertaining throughout.
I laughed a lot - theres a mix of superbly crafted sentences and amusing tales of misdeeds - but also more serious stuff too.
This is highly recommended. I liked it so much I bought the print edition after finishing the audiobook.
"Moving, poignant, laugh-out-loud funny memoir"
Defo. I usually hate commuting around London but the last week has been a thrill to do so while listening to John Doran read Jolly Lad. It is one of the most human, humane, funny, poignant, moving and thoughtful memoirs I've heard and ultimately, I found it very life-enhancing. John is one of the greatest writers around today and I loved his turns of phrase, wit and approach to recovery, fatherhood, music, life. I really enjoyed hearing the story being read in John's voice. Strongly recommend!
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