I have recently finished reading ‘My Fault’ by artist/poet/writer and musician Billy Childish and I am now half way through his second book Notebooks of a Naked Youth. My Fault is about growing up – the hard way. Childish writes forcibly and sometimes brutally as his alter ego Steven Hamperson. There is so much honesty and at times bitterness (who can blame him) that I can only marvel at the sheer force of his personality and his survival instinct. Molested by a family member, misunderstood and constantly put down by his mother, father and brother and prey to local bullies, Childish lives in a world of deprivation (his father drinks all the money) and seems to be blamed and scapegoated for all that goes wrong in his dysfunctional family.
Theres no escape from the bullies even at school where dyslexic Childish takes many a bashing from the teachers with their lack of understanding and some real low lifes. At times this is a tough book to read. It’s tinged with sadness but there are some lighter moments which mostly come from Childish’s observations about the strange people he encounters.
Childish is known for his poetry, his minimal involvement with Stuckism, his many bands and his Sunday painting and printmaking. He is actually famous in a non famous kind of way. He is a chameleon who cannot be really pinned down. He is all things to all people – yet remains apart, non conformist and highly individual. His name was even emblazoned on a tent which disappeared into a puff of smoke (Tracey Emin’s) Childish is relentless in the non pursuit of non fame. For example, every time one of his bands becomes a bit too popular he disbands and forms another.
One of the most vibrantly drawn characters in the book is his father, who I imagine as a kind of Pat Mustard (the wayward milkman in ‘Father Ted) with the controlling grip of perhaps a Phil Spector/ Don Arden (though he has nothing to do with music). The relationship Childish has with his mother (Juney) is another interesting one as is the unfriendly sibling rivalry with his brother who always knows better , has the appearence of doing better and never hesitates to tell him so.
All in all a jolly good read. Not exactly light reading but not too heavy either. Though I expect the pinch of salt you will need to take with regards to the characters will be either minute – or non existent.
Woodcut by Childish and website here