Book review: Workshy

Workshy.Workshy by Dave Graney.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars.

It’s difficult for me to review Workshy really, because I kind of wrote all you need to know about it in my review of 1001 Australian Nights.

Well, that’s not exactly true.

The super-short wrap-up is that all the reasons I gave for wanting to read the other book are applicable here. It’s more of the same.

That, however, is selling it short. Workshy is a more considered work. It’s not identical to the first book but the raw material is the same – though this time there’s more attention given to detail. There’s more of a sense of coherent thread – rather than a collection of recollections, there’s a more structured narrative. A refinement. This year’s model, but without a feeling of retread.

There’s a bunch of writing in here about the cultural state of Australia, now and then, and a lot of it’s poignant and recognisable:

As a kid, I trusted in colours and themes. Our family had this inner sensibility, which I held hard to for many years. A feeling that we were gifted physically and had some sort of charmed luck running with us. Perhaps that was a general Australian feeling in that second half of the 20th century. That we could just win life. It wasn’t really true, just a way to dodge each other in many ways. It took me decades to realise this.

It’s not just Australia that’s put under the magnifying glass: London, that fabled destination, also comes in for a good glare. I’m pretty certain that this par describes the quintessential experience of that particular place:

After a day’s work stuffing envelopes, a whole party of us would go to the Union Bar, which was helpfully just down the stairs, and have six pints of beer. That was London life. It was harsh, and you grabbed any pleasure and joy with both hands when it made an appearance. You didn’t take friends for granted. It took hours to get across the city to a social engagement, and you only had a few hours of each other’s company before you had to race to catch a public transport connection back to your cramped, badly carpeted lair.

It certainly was mine.

Despite the suggestion of the title, there’s a good deal of work covered in the book. Graney is a master at summoning odd jobs, and while he’s a fan of lairising, there’s a good deal of space dedicated to the real muso’s gig: surviving in the employable world without letting any of its stank get on you. Anyone who’s ever worked while holding their dreams of art in one hand will surely recognise themselves in the work.

Everyone who has been a musician knows the score when you’ve got a day gig. Keep your head down and your mouth shut. It’s better for your peace of mind. You just want to show up and get paid. You don’t want those unpleasantly clunky conversations about your band and your pathetic aspirations.

Musicianship and the travails thereof is a big part of the book, and I think it hangs together much better than the previous volume. There’s a pretty large element of self-critique: if there’s things the author thinks he did shonkily, he’ll cop to it. But there also is a lot of interesting detail that describes how the man (and bands) we’ve seen came to be – development, consumption, execution. All these are considered and conveyed, and I found it fascinating to try and match the guy I’d heard or seen through a televisual lens with his own version of the same scene.

I dig it. The portrait we get is of a guy both generous and grateful, a sort of bowerbird with a love for Ballard, crime and country. And flash duds. .

If you’re going to read them both, read Workshy second, because it takes all of the good parts of 1001 Australian Nights and polishes them a bit. Dresses them up. And as ever, it’s hip as fuck.

Get onto it. Reading it made me wish I were as freewheeling – and as cool – as Dave.

My Goodreads profile is here.

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