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Gulley Jimson as Jim Dixon and Michael Young Refuted
on 5 August 2014
"I Brought This In Case" is a new and original version of the classic "Making It" by Norman Podhoretz, except written by a leftish pacifist visual artist of Cornish extraction with a full head of hair (which makes an early appearance in the plot: should Grylls keep his "Billy Fury" haircut or give in to the new Beatles craze?). Like "Making It," Grylls's book discloses the inward ambitions - however crass - of an outsider who is trying to suceed in a world full of idealistic pretension that pretends that there is no such thing as ambition. Like Norman, Vaughan has the wrong accent, comes from the wrong part of town (Newark, Staffs.), dresses in thw wrong way (so he wears a suit and tie to art school every day so as to save himself from trying to keep up with male peacockery), and yet he succeeds in making it in institutions carefully designed to exclude people like them: Cambridge U and The New Yorker, in Norman's case, in Vaughan's case, the Slade and the exhibition space of the Royal Academy.
Full disclosure: Although this book was written by a dear friend of mine, you will not find in my review the kind of snide fault-finding + faint praise -all propelled by envy of a friend's success - that my public expects from me. The fact is that this book is stunningly good and gripping. Its immediacy is huge, because it is asssembled from diary jottings, documents, and an unusual ability to write in the voice of an immature and insecure man that Grylls has somehow preserved against the ravages of time.
Grylls was a member of the very first generation to go through the UK's new 60s hip art education revolution - a fact he was far from knowing during most of his education. Born in Newark, Notts., he rose, despite his best efforts, from the then-down-on-its-luck Wolverhampton to the Slade, part of University College London, arriving in the capital as Swinging London was becoming Turned-On London. (Upon his arrival, a posh hippy advised him to "drop out," man - "all I could say back was that I couldn't as I haven't dropped in yet."
That we have this book is the result of a life wasted in saving insignificant trifles. VG as man and artist is a passionate archivist of words, objects, pictures, videos detailing everything in his experience (that does not prove that Reagan and GWB were right). From this hoard he has constructed an epic portrait of the artist as a young man, in which the story tells itself: conversations between VG and actual people, conversations between VG and several GFs whom one can tell were actual people though VG shows himself not able to discern at the time, and his contemporary interior monologue - much more self-accusing than self-obsessed.
I won't spoil VG's picture of himself, but so many great moments involving other people come to mind: the bewilderment of the shy art student who a posh artsy London hostess curse because he finds her family photos interesting, tho she doesn't mind the elderly QC screwing a teenaged hippie in the next BR. The American tourists, mother and teen daughter, whom he guides through London, stopping to see a Rolling Stones performance in Hyde Park. "Sally-Ann, you can see that rock-and-roll stuff at home, but you can't see Westminster Abbey at home!" And any number of fascinating women, the details of whose accents and dress whilst on dates the 60s-VG notes with care, whose inner life the 60s-VG is impervious to, but whose inner lives are fully revealed to us as we read (and no doubt as he compiled). We have his memories of his sessions with what must have been London's most confused psychoanalyst, pictures of his artworks and the reaction they caused - Professor of Philosophy Richard Wollheim seems to me to have understood them better than any of VG's professional teachers-and a portrait of how a young person acquires expertise and savoir-faire in spite of his pathetic efforts to acquire them. If you admire the early novels of Anthony Burgess, Kingsley Amis's Jim Dixon in Lucky Jim, or one of the great novels of visual artistic creation, Joyce Carey's novel series about Gulley Jimson, you must read this memoir.