The name Ian Dury conjures up an evocative image for anyone around in the 1970s or 80s. He was a short but spritely music star who rode the waves of punk and popular music to great – and commercial – effect. A hit maker on the one hand, subversive rebel on the other.
Dury’s life was sadly cut short in 2000 by cancer when he was aged just 57, but over two decades following his death, his son Baxter produced a memoir reflecting on his life being Ian’s son. Baxter, now a musician in his own right (picture the same husky tones but more mystical lyrics), is a natural storyteller.
Across over 200 pages, he carefully constructs a picture of the seat-of-the-pants reality of living with Ian Dury as your dad. The unstable home, the litany of new and ever-changing girlfriends, and the strange and uncouth family friends with names like the Sulphate Strangler. And oh, the girlfriends. The most heart-wrenching parts of the story are when Baxter describes the unruly rotating step-mothers he had to tolerate, like the scary German Helga.
This is perhaps the most stark image of the book: the picture of a child who never really was allowed to be one
Woven in each anecdote is a remarkably frank and composed reflection on some of the most unsettling and unnerving childhood experiences unimaginable. “My relationship with Dad was a good one considering how complicated he could be,” Baxter writes (one senses putting it lightly). It becomes instantly clear that Ian was not a man naturally cut out for the hard yards of parenting, albeit caring and loving in his own way.
Baxter and his sister Jemima really had to fend for themselves and navigate childhood off their own backs. It was not a pretty sight. Drugs were ever-present, and there were a series of horrifying experiences in graffiti-gone-wrong situations to frighten a young Dury. On more than one occasion, the young Baxter ended up in hospital following attacks from a strange old man with a fearsome dog. To top it all off, there was even a car crash with a small Baxter in the car, which saw his mother fatally injure a motorcyclist (this one barely registers as a footnote in the grand scheme of the book). All while most of us were playing with Lego or video games.
This is perhaps the most stark image of the book: the picture of a child who never really was allowed to be one. Having a highly dependent father and difficult mother meant Dury had to learn fast and gain his senses quickly, his sense of home dislocated and sense of self even further away. It led to a pretty unchildlike childhood, a wayward adolescence and then a meandering early adulthood.
Chaise Longue marks a phenomenal effort from one of the most talented and interesting musicians around today
But throughout all of this there seems no doubt in Baxter’s retelling that this is a tale about love, albeit with tragic outlines. No resentment seeps from the pages – in fact, Dury Jr is quite sympathetic to his father’s misgivings. He just wasn’t very good at not putting himself first, it seems, frequently abandoning the trappings of domesticity for weird and wonderful artistic escapades. There were a string of dud arty films, endless relocations, and music tours. He was not there more than he was.
Eventually, Baxter matures to adulthood and can somewhat escape his unsteady upbringing. Time brings perspective, as they often say, and the charm and creativity of this book stems from his ability to enlighten these events without judgement. Every story is recounted both vividly and empathetically. The heart aches for the traumatic early years Baxter went through, with a bit of added envy for having had such an inside track on the remarkable life of Ian Dury. Chaise Longue marks a phenomenal effort from one of the most talented and interesting musicians around today.