Part memoir and part cultural theory in The Melancholia Of Class, Cynthia Cruz analyses how the choice between accepting assimilation into a middle class world or staying honest and embracing annihilation has manifested in the lives of working class musicians, artists and writers when faced with success that pulls their lives in a new direction, writes Harry Bines
This is a subject I reflect upon often. Whilst my own meagre artistic, musical and literary endeavours could hardly be accused of success, I often find myself precariously walking on a tight rope between craving the fulfilment of my ambitions and the potential change of fortune that might bring, or keeping it real and grafting away not caring about broader appeal/success etc.
The very essence of mainstream success involves ones art, music, writing, whatever.. becoming accepted by a broader and inevitably middle class audience. They buy into what you are selling without any real understanding of the forces that drive it.
Cruz’s book ponders this question and the repercussions of the decisions made by a host of working class performers and creators from Amy Winehouse to Ian Curtis, from Jason Molina to Cat Power. It’s fascinating stuff, the grime and the poverty from which these talents emerge leaves a mark that could not ever be scrubbed clean or painted over. Indeed it’s those birth marks and scars and the trauma that accompanies growing up poor that separates these artists from magnolia shit like Ed Sheeran or Mumford & Sons or whatever the fuck. There’s a reason that Amy Winehouse sang with the chain smoking voice of an eighty five year old soul singer. There’s a reason Ian Curtis lyrics captured the poetry of abject despair…man worked in a dole office in Macclesfield in the 70’s. And on and on. You can’t fake this shit.
The melancholia of the title is a reference to the feeling that many of us have when we have inadvertently or by design, tried to scrape the dirt out from under our fingernails of our working class origins and “become someone” in the middle class world, only to lose our own sense of identity in the process. Look at that list of characters. Massive talents their art made the world a more beautiful place, but at what cost? Suicide, the wreckage of ravaged mental health, addiction and death. Cruz punctuates all these jagged stories and compelling characters with her own experiences, her origins and her journey to find success in academia. Her story will resonate with anyone who has had to struggle, starve, steal and sacrifice to get a life where you can afford to put the heating on once in a while and make sure there’s food in the fridge. Real recognises real and Cruz immensely readable text is as real as it gets.