Book Review:  Diminished Responsibility: My Life as a U.K. Sub and Other Strange Stories – Volume I Alvin Gibbs

 

Image Courtesy Tome and Metre Publishing

The best memoirs are written by strong, self-aware individuals who take their audience on a journey with them from who they were when they started to who they are now. The best authors offer him or herself up as a down-to-earth person who has, through living an interesting life, somehow changed. Diminished Responsibility: My Life as a U.K. Sub Volume 1 succeeds on both counts.

Comprised from a series of re-vamped blog entries originally published on http://www.uksubstimeandmatter.net/ with a new foreword by Henry Rollins, Gibbs paints a multi-coloured picture of a young, sometimes-selfish kid who, though experience and self-reflection has grown into a man. A man comfortable enough in his own skin to recount instances when he was an “arsehole” who learned and grew.

Gibbs starts at the beginning, takes us through his childhood and adolescence in the London suburb of Croydon. He moves chronologically from young fan and novice musician through his early days on guitar to a blossomed performer – writing, recording and touring the world as the bass player for The Users, Brian James’ Hellions and his first three-year stint with the U.K. Subs from 1980 to 1983.

The author knows his audience. Well. After having spent years chatting with them pre and post-gig, he knows what they want. He gives plenty of detail on the writing and recording process for the Subs’ fourth and fifth records, Diminished Responsibility and Endangered Species and copious anecdotes on guitarist Nicky Garratt, drummer Steve Roberts and their perpetually young-at-heart leader Charlie Harper. The best of which had my significant other writhing in hysterics, clutching his ribs.

Citing literary influences as diverse as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hunter S. Thompson, Raymond Chandler and Charles Bukowski, Gibbs’ descriptive prose and humorous anecdotes would entertain even readers unfamiliar with the Subs music. One humorous bit includes the portrayal of an uptight Swedish hotel manager who refused to allow unmarried consenting adults into his rooms, as “The Sex-Finder General” – a nice nod to Matthew Hopkins, the historical figure who burned witches during the English Civil War. Gibbs describes the puritanical hotelier as a man, who in his spare-time likely wore “nothing but a gimp mask and leather jock-strap” and whipped himself “furiously” to “expunge his many sinful thoughts.” This one had me giggling almost as hard as my husband.

Speaking of “sex-finding”, it’s clear that Gibbs was repeatedly torn between wanting a stable relationship/home life and having the freedom to live what Joey Ramone once referred to as “the life.” He’s not the first musician to battle with this issue, nor will he be the last. Hindsight has given him the ability to assess his feelings honestly and embrace his discomfort. It’s refreshing to see a musician deal with the subject head-on rather than brushing it off casually or brandishing his conquests as a badge of honour as so many do.

The book also portrays the feast-or-famine financial nature of the music business, and the high-contrast characteristics of life on the road. Each story is well-balanced with plenty of booze, sex, drugs and sometimes destructive behaviour to offer glimpses into the darkness while remaining light-hearted enough to make one envious. It’s a wonder the author’s liver hasn’t written its own memoir titled, “Oh, Christ… Please… No More.”

As engaging as the contents are, the omissions are equally worthy of discussion. The events recalled on the dissolution of the 1983 Subs’ lineup 1983 seems to come almost out of nowhere, with little to no buildup of animosity portrayed between the various members. Other than a few mentions of Steve Roberts’ growing problem with alcohol, there are precious few hints foreshadowing the meeting where they split.

Anyone familiar with the machinations of the music business–or the entertainment industry – knows there is no absolute truth in any situation. Only Rashomon-like scenarios, where each party involved in recalling a past episode possesses a unique point of view. Diplomatic to the end, there are never any suppositions made on the motivations of anyone on that fateful day other than the author himself. As it should be.

This is not Gibbs’ first outing as an author. His last book, Some Weird Sin: On Tour with Iggy Pop – the updated version of which was published in 2017 – chronicled his experiences touring with Iggy Pop in the late 1980s. When read back-to-back, Some Weird Sin and Diminished Responsibility Vol. 1 reveals another high-contrast image – the difference between touring with the Subs versus touring with Iggy. As interesting as Harper and the gang are, Iggy is…well, Iggy. He’s a legend. He’s also Jim Osterberg and the book goes a long way to making that distinction.

Despite the luxurious perks that come with touring with a major act, the exhaustion described at the end of 1988’s Instinct world tour further clarifies just how difficult–and fun – life on the road can be. The cast of characters encountered are equally entertaining, and the hotel managers a lot nicer than the aforementioned Swedish gentleman.

Some of this material will likely be revisited in the second forthcoming volume of Diminished Responsibility, which picks up in 1983 and continues all the way to present day. A far greater span of time that will cover the author’s self-described“most interesting period” of life.

In the meantime, you can purchase Diminished Responsibility: My Life as a U.K. Sub and Other Strange Stories – Volume I and the updated version of Some Weird Sin at: http://timematterrecordings.bigcartel.com/?fbclid=IwAR2MIj5ADBIP_Aptv755DAlcDgzlHrhqdFd4Rq_cqncQdNORTwxTOVWH480.

Image Courtesy Tome and Metre Publishing

 

 

 

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