Phew! It seems like a year ago when I received my copy of “Simple Minds: Heart Of The Crowd – A Fan History” in late December of last year. The hefty tome was liberally illustrated with lots of full color photos and archival images, but my free time for casually reading has proven ascant this year [like many other years]. And I just managed to finish it a few weeks ago. Now that we’re out of the Fashiøn event horizon®, it’s time to give up our thoughts on this weighty tome dedicated to an all-time favorite band.
First of all, there was a huge difference between this and the previous This Day In Music book, also by Richard Houghton, I’d read earlier. The OMD book was also a fan memoir, with plenty of civilians giving it up for OMD, but that was equally mixed with thoughts of the band, it’s inner circle, and various industry types also giving weight and color to the tapestry it was weaving. “Heart Of The Crowd,” by contrast, very much minimizes the in-band and industry contributions down to a maximum of maybe 10%. With the lion’s share of the text being actual fan contributions. Some a page or more long, and others a couple of sentences.
While the participation of childhood friends and early boosters like Billy Sloan, first manager Bruce Findlay, and Richard Jobson [who shows up here far more than any member of the band; seven or eight times] gives the early portion of the timeline/narrative more heft that the bulk of the book would aspire to. The fact was that as the star of Simple Minds rose, there were less and less of these contributions. Which were like what one would get from a more typical band bio with those close to the band then shedding light on the early days.
As the band began their climb to the heights of pop stardom, the significant names tend to fade out of the narrative and take a backseat to the tales of the fans discovering and building a passion for this band. And about a fifth of the way in, my attention for the book began to flag and never recovered.
The side effect of reading this book all the way through is to learn more about the fans than the band. There are many tales of hardships withstood until they finally got to see their heroes play live. In some cases decades after loving their music. There were also lots of stories about friends and family members no longer alive, who were commemorated by their survivors on these pages.
Through it all the band [essentially Jim + Charlie for the last 20 years] seem to go through their days with plenty of time for the fans that keep them in the black. Whether they are filling stadiums, or playing to smaller crowds in their fallow periods, they will usually take time and efforts to treat their fans with respect and kindness. These gents are not aloof rock stars, though Kerr seems the more gregarious of the two.
Many’s the tale here of kindness shown in extending their hospitality to numerous fans. Some, they formed bonds with in the process over many years. If they had five minutes to give, they’ll try their best to make someone’s day. The last time I saw them, Jim Kerr was more than happy after their set to have a photo with my friends Kenna + Brian for their anniversary that I snapped for them. Sharing a few quips with Mr. Kerr in the process. Their solid dude status as cemented by this book is certainly one of its pleasures.
Another hugely recurring subtext of their 40 years comes down to the fact that whenever they played an outdoor gig, that there always seemed to be rain. Not just a shower or two, but down pourings of biblical proportions! Real Old Testament “wrath-of-god” events. If I had a nose full of nickels for every such description in this book, I’d be a wealthy man!
Ultimately, though, the book became a slog for me. There’s only so much unstinting praise about even this band that I can withstand. There’s a more interesting critical story about their journey waiting to be told, and I can count the anecdotes about how the band’s move to stadiums was a door closing on the fingers of one hand here. Ultimately, the success and popularity of “Don’t You [Forget About Me]” is, if anything in this book can be judged by, far more substantial that I’d ever imagined.
Sure, sure. We knew it was an American #1 hit and all of that, but it was really a worldwide smash. There’s no shortage of stories where that’s the fan’s fave here. And the 200+ pages afterward, covering the stadium period was tough reading for this fan. But I knew that going into the book, I suppose. If I happen to not enjoy the ten greatest years of success that band had, it would be churlish not to expect a third of the book apportioned to detailing that period. Just as it’s not a stretch to say that that decade has made all of the more gratifying music that followed in the last quarter century possible, so I must give it its due.
Ultimately, this was not really the Simple Minds book that I wanted to sink my teeth into. I’m certain that Jim Kerr will be writing his autobiography in the imminently coming years, and that it will be called “Book Of Brilliant Things;” the initial title for this book before the focus shifted to strictly a fan history in pre-publication. If I bide my time, I’m sure that the ultimate Simple Minds book will wash up on the shores of time, but if this sounds like your cup of tea, then here’s the button.