BOOK REVIEW | "A MULTITUDE OF SINS: GOLDEN BROWN, THE STRANGLERS AND STRANGE LITTLE GIRLS" BY HUGH CORNWELL
photo & text by nacrowe
so full disclosure, i was basically raised on THE STRANGLERS. been told my whole life that my first concert was seeing them play in SPAIN. well sort of, i wasn't born yet. but in a sense i was there.
as i mentioned in my radio show dedicated to THE STRANGLERS back in OCTOBER 2019, my earliest music memories are being driven by my father listening to some mixture of THE SMITHS, THE KINKS, THE BEATLES, THE ANIMALS and, of course, THE STRANGLERS. im completely indoctrinated so take that for what you will.
A MULTITUDE OF SINS: GOLDEN BROWN, THE STRANGLERS AND STRANGE LITTLE GIRLS (HARPER COLLINS, 2011) by former frontman, songwriter and ringleader HUGH CORNWELL delivers what on what the title promises: tales of about sex, drugs and rock and roll. not that this book is a complete cliche for CORNWELL is a gifted writer and storyteller, which should come as a surprise to no one familiar with his song lyrics. his writing style is very conversational and stream-of-conscious and often sifts back and forth from one anecdote to the next that span both geography and time. you'd think that would make it hard to follow but everything flows remarkably well and is intensely engaging. the result is a very personal narrative that almost feels like you are hearing it from a gifted orator a few stools down at a local pub.
chapters are organized according to subject and CORNWELL at the outset invites the reader to get out of it what they want. if voyeuristic anecdotes about drugs and sex is what you are after, then he points you in the direction of those chapters right at the introduction.
for me personally i always viewed THE STRANGLERS as a bunch of misfits that didnt fit the time that well yet ironically were the perfect band for that time. as CORNWELL explains, the band was too young and not musical enough to be part of the ENGLISH PUB ROCK scene in of the mid-1970s yet too old and musically accomplished to be a part of the original PUNK scene that followed shortly thereafter. their sound is identified with POST PUNK (hell, i even categorized them as such on my show and in the DEER GOD RADIO list of shows) but they were chronologically concurrent peers of JOE STRUMMER and the like. their sound is massively influential converting acolytes in ENGLAND everyone from NEW ORDER to WIRE to ELASTICA. but all that music critic bullshit doesnt really matter, to me their music is both complex and deliberate, their lyrics sarcastic and literary yet entirely sincere and soberly brutal.
the section of the book i found most compelling was the inclusion of writings he produced shortly after his time in prison for a trumped-up drug charge in ENGLAND. they are based on interviews he did apparently. they showcase an individual with a strong sense of moral clarity and fairness, even for his captors, in a situation that is meant to browbeat and strip individuality. his empathy for those working at the prison, whose position dehumanizes them as well, is pretty remarkable. for me, understanding his capacity to put himself outside himself, even during a moment of great stress, seems to share something about voyeuristic nature of songwriting itself. his songs seem to be about the emotional backage that come with decisions, relationships and situations, not the actual things themselves. that emotional intelligence and ability to empathize with others seems to be a cornerstone of his prowess as a gifted writer and songwriter.
makes perfect sense after learning of his ordeal in prison. interesting stuff.