Book Review: “Cruel To Be Kind: The Life and Music of Nick Lowe”

Nick Lowe is one of my musical heroes who I didn’t really discover until his 1998 album Dig My Mood. It’s not that I didn’t know of him at all, simply that I hadn’t bought any of his albums or delved deep into his recorded catalog until then. In the early eighties I had heard his wonderful gem of a pop single “Cruel To Kind” plenty of times on the radio and had even seen the music video for the song in the early days of MTV. I also knew that Elvis Costello had covered a fiery rendition of what today is widely considered to be Nick’s signature song, “(What So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding”, but that was the extent of my knowledge about Nick. For some reason I just never looked any deeper into his music. In the eighties I was engrossed in the music of Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Daryl Hall & John Oates, Duran Duran, and many other artists, and I really missed the boat on Nick Lowe’s discography.

I really don’t remember what compelled me to buy his album Dig My Mood, but I’m pretty sure I probably heard one of the superb tracks from the album on Philadelphia’s WXPN radio station, which was most likely the only terrestrial radio station that I would have been listening to at that time when commercial radio had died. Whatever the circumstance, I absolutely fell in love with the album and immediately dove into Nick’s back catalog, completely unaware that this brilliant singer-songwriter was also considered by many to be the godfather of pub rock, punk rock, and new wave, having worked with Brinsley Schwarz, The Damned, Elvis Costello, and The Pretenders, among others. After buying all of his back catalog, I was hooked. The albums that followed Dig My MoodThe Convincer (2001), At My Age (2007), and The Old Magic (2011) — are not just my favorite Nick Lowe albums, but some of my favorite albums period. They are masterpieces and stand alone as tremendously rare examples of an artist creating the very best work of their career later in life. It was as if Nick had found the magical formula to creating perfect albums when so many of his contemporaries were churning out recycled “heard it before” tracks.

I recently stumbled upon Will Birch’s superb biography of Nick Lowe, Cruel To Be Kind: The Life and Music of Nick Lowe. While the book is not necessarily an “official” biography, it is the closest thing we’ll ever get to one, and it’s fantastic. Birch has known Lowe for more than 40 years and relied on many interviews that he personally conducted with the man himself as well as just about everyone who was a part of Nick’s life and career. This is one of the most informative, insightful, and thoroughly enjoyable music biographies that I have ever read. I believe that the best way to know an artist is through their work, but I’m tremendously grateful to have this book as an authoritative companion piece to Nick’s recorded works, as it tells the in-depth (but never boring) stories about Nick’s life and music in a well-written, scholarly, objective style by someone who knows Nick and many of the players in the story personally.

If you’re a fan of Nick’s music and haven’t discovered this book yet, I urge you to seek it out immediately and binge it like I did. I promise you will be delighted.

Here is a link to order the book:

For more information about the author:

www.willbirch.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s