Atlantic Books, Author, Bill Borrows, Book review, Non-fiction, Publisher, Sport

‘The Hurricane: The Turbulent Life and Times of Alex Higgins’ by Bill Burrows


Non-Fiction – paperback; Atlantic Books; 368 pages; 2003.

Let’s get one thing straight: I am not a snooker fan. But I’ve been interested in Alex “Hurricane” Higgins after seeing a TV documentary on him several years ago. He seemed like an intriguing character; a sporting genius who did much to take snooker from the dingy pool halls into the realms of prime-time TV but who managed, somehow, to make a fortune and then blow it all on drink, drugs and women

Bill Borrows’ unauthorised book pulls no punches. The opening chapter has to be one of the best opening chapters of any biography I’ve ever read. It somehow captures the strange world that Higgins now inhabits, his cantankerous and difficult nature, and his sad demise from snooker legend to drunkard and drifter.

If you know nothing about snooker, the book is highly readable and, at times, just plain laugh-out-loud funny, as the following extract reveals:

He took off his hat, pulled a comb out of his pocket, dipped it in a glass of vodka and orange on the table, stood up and then combed his hair in the mirror over the fireplace. It is always the little things which give it away.

In many ways The Hurricane is a bit like a car crash: you know what’s coming but you can’t tear your eyes away. Higgins’ penchant for self-destruction, his flawed genius and his vulnerability make this a thoroughly entertaining, if somewhat sobering, read. My only quibble is that it lacks a glossary of snooker terms. But all in all, you’d be hard pressed to find a more interesting and jaw-dropping sporting biography.

Author, Book review, memoir, Music, Neil McCormick, Non-fiction, Penguin, Publisher

‘I was Bono’s Doppelganger’ by Neil McCormick


Non fiction – paperback; Penguin; 240 pages; 2005.

I was Bono’s Doppelgänger is about one man’s struggle to achieve his ambition of being a rock star. The only problem was his school friend, Paul Hewson, beat him to it. Paul Hewson, is, of course, Bono of U2 fame.

Neil McCormick takes the reader on a wild ride from his Dublin school days in the 1970s at probably the most famous primary school in the world, Mount Temple, to the dizzy heights as a music journalist for London’s daily broadsheet The Daily Telegraph in the late 1990s. But being a successful writer wasn’t what McCormick had planned. He wanted to be famous for a completely different reason: pop music.

The book charts his attempts to make it in the music industry, falling (depressingly and frustratingly) at almost every turn, while Bono and the lads, otherwise known as U2, take the world by storm, performing record-breaking stadium concerts, selling millions of albums and becoming the most famous people on the planet. U2’s meteoric rise only seems to put McCormick’s so-called failures into deeper shadow.

As much as loved reading this hilarious and heartbreaking story, most of the time I wished I could shake McCormick by the scruff of the neck and shout WAKE UP, IT AIN’T EVER GONNA HAPPEN!  If nothing else, this book is testament to perseverance, of never giving up, of striving and striving against all odds to live a dream.

Unsurprisingly, the writing is candid to the point of being embarrassing. Pain, frustration and repressed anger resonate off the page. McCormick’s envy and resentment of U2’s success is palpable. “You’re living my life!” he once raged at Bono.

But the overall tone of the book is balanced nicely by the use of wince-inducing one-liners, funny anecdotes and layer upon layer of self-deprecating humour. Without this, I was Bono’s Doppelganger may have come off as sounding like a jealous rant.

Instead it paints an engaging portrait of Bono as a genuinely good-hearted man, not the egotistical preacher-like celebrity he sometimes comes across as (I’m allowed to say that because, just in case you didn’t know, I’m a bit of a U2 fan). Alas, the only ego in this book is McCormick’s and even then you can’t help but be charmed by him as well.

Overall, this is a brilliant, funny, honest and ironic book. I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.

Author, Book review, Mark Dodshon, Music, Non-fiction, Penguin Viking, Publisher

‘Beds Are Burning: Midnight Oil: The Journey’ by Mark Dodshon


Non-fiction – paperback; Penguin Viking; 408 pages; 2004.

As far as publicity is concerned, Midnight Oil has always been a closed shop. So to find a book that charts the band’s climb from the Australian pub rock circuit to worldwide critical acclaim is a rare treat.

Midnight Oil are an unusual act, not least because they have always played their cards close to their chest, but because they have been synonymous with so many causes — aboriginal land rights and conservation, to name but a few — while achieving commercial and critical success at the same time.

In Australia, their homeland, they have been elevated to iconic status. In fact I know of no other band anywhere that has tapped into the Australian psyche and culture so well. Listen to their ground-breaking 1987 album Diesel and Dust and I swear you can smell the desert, see the heat shimmering in the distance and feel the sand sticking to your skin.

Their lyrics, rich with descriptions of the Australian lifestyle and landscape, were often attributed to the politically outspoken and charismatic lead singer Peter Garrett, but as this book explains, it was the softly spoken Jim Moginie and the “world’s best drummer” (who mirrored himself on The Who’s Keith Moon) Rob Hirst who wrote the bulk of the words.

This book examines the band’s rise from the suburbs of Sydney to their brief but memorable success in the United States and their subsequent slide into obscurity. It looks at the individual members (but not their home lives — this is not an exposé of their life outside of music) and how they worked (or did not work) together to create the songs and the albums of their long and varied career.

I thought it was an enlightening read, although there is quite a bit of repetition in the book (I expect so that each chapter can be read as a stand alone), but on the whole this is an excellent history of my favourite Australian band. There’s also some great photographs in it, particularly some previously unpublished ones of Garrett with long, flowing locks which are worth the cover price alone!

Interestingly the epilogue entitled As Big as U2 is a thought-provoking analysis of why the band never hit the same dizzy heights as the Irish rockstars, despite the fact Midnight Oil were often compared to them. In light of U2’s current “commercialisation” I know whose shoes I’d rather be standing in right now. Integrity and passion were always Midnight Oil’s stronger points, although not many people “got” that at the time.