Review: A Bit of a Blur by Alex James
Bit of a Blur: The Autobiography
by Alex James
288pp, Little, Brown, £16.99
Alex James was for many years indie music's biggest playboy. In the mid-90s, Blur, the band he had played bass for since 1989, became one of the most successful groups in the UK. Understandably, James swiftly swapped squatting in a rat- and slug-ridden basement in New Cross for a small but significantly swisher flat in Covent Garden, a gang of insatiable celebrity mates, a seemingly ceaseless roundabout of sex with strangers and a £1m champers'n'cocaine bill. And, rather refreshingly, he doesn't regret one single second. Now, with a wife, kids, a farm and a broadsheet column - essentially stealing the life of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall - he's put his dreamy, witty spin on his life as a supremely debauched rock star.
From his childhood years growing up in Bournemouth, followed by a move to London to study French at Goldsmiths - where he met Graham Coxon, Blur's guitar playing savant - to touring the world with his band of Britpop figureheads and then finally settling down, James sees everything with a sense of wild-eyed wonder. An obsession with magnets and astronomy leads him to an opportunity to interview his hero Patrick Moore for the Idler magazine, and though Moore doesn't share James's fascination with magnets, he turns him on to the idea of travelling to Mars. This soon becomes James's passion, sated somewhat by a collaboration with the Open University that resulted in the failed Beagle probe. Elsewhere, dinner with the Nobel prize-winner who discovered superfluidity leaves him gawping in awe, a demented early-morning mission to climb ancient Mexican pyramids almost ends up with him being arrested for defiling a sacred site, and, in the time-honoured tradition of a moneyed music star, he learns to fly planes.
Evidently, though, what interests James above all else is women. Beautiful women if possible, but he doesn't seem to be terribly fussy about who
he jumps into bed with, accepting a hand job from a women's magazine journalist during an interview while on a promotional tour of Canada. A huge number of models and fans across the globe have the dubious honour of sharing James's bed throughout the book, and at one point he morphs into a floppy-fringed Hugh Hefner, reminiscing fondly about the time three of his girlfriends were all at his flat doing his washing up. "I stopped having sex occasionally," he says of a memorable birthday in a exotic hotel room with five gorgeous women, "but only so that I could take more drugs." In fact it seems that the only women ever to have turned him down are Faye Dunaway, who told him to "piss off" after he winked at her, and Marianne Faithfull, who laughed off his attempts to kiss her, presumably because she'd seen it all before, only worse, in Mick Jagger years before.
However, a lifestyle that revolved around the Groucho Club, the Colony Rooms and various other Soho clubs with Keith Allen and Damien Hirst in tow was never going to do much for his health - mental or physical - and James soon can't ignore his increasing weight gain and moral insolvency. So he finds himself a personal trainer, quits the booze and meets Claire, the woman who, within a year of their meeting, is to become his wife. James then leaps on to the straight and narrow with just as much force as he leapt off it - buying a farm in "England's Finest Village", giving up 20 years of vegetarianism in exchange for bacon sarnies, brandishing and using a shotgun on his estate, and meeting the Queen. You half expect him to join the Countryside Alliance.
Thankfully, James's inquisitive nature makes him eminently and continuously likeable, despite his occasionally questionable actions, and there's certainly nothing in the least bit blurry about that.