John Balance dies and becomes a kind of saint. This is a hagiography of sorts, though it doesn’t attempt to smooth edges or unwrinkle ravages; it’s clear in these beautifully-presented pages that he was a complex, maybe difficult man. It’s also clear that he was a flame that attracted people to him, a person so out there that he was able to continually make them feel welcome. A man full of light, or spectral kindness, of deep morality. A balance.Like many Coil fans hearing about this book, I was hooked between two poles, pulled apart by horses: on the one hand, we all want more; more insight, more detail about the processes and the paradoxes behind the music; on the other, we want to avoid being part of the picking o’er the bones of a guy who never seemed to actively court the glare of publicity; who didn’t want to be the One. This book just about nails it, I think. Jeremy Reed‘s poems and Karolina Urbaniak‘s photographs are gentle, non-intrusive little things and feel very personal. They don’t seem to be about the artists; they seem heartfelt and simple when I’d worried (even assumed) that they might attempt to find a new art in a death. This works in the book’s favour because it banishes the suspicion that this is an act of psychic(k) vampirisim. It’s clear that Reed is a friend and this feels like the work of someone missing someone and using the act of writing as an alchemical way of getting a little of them back. I haven’t felt the same way about some of the tributes to Coil and John. Of course, for many the real juice comes in the prose accounts of Reed, where he writes a memoir about his frequent visits to Chiswick and Weston-super-Mare, and, especially, in the facsimile reproduction of a selection of hand-written letters (remember them) written by Balance. Both of these sections could be expanded (infinitely) but, perhaps, there’s just not enough. Both sections are fascinating, giving details new to me (and I’ve been a voracious fan since I was 16) and giving access via the child-like, sigilistic writing, to what John Balance might have thought like, been like. I’ve always thought that Coil were such a powerful influence on people and that cynical, scientific hard-heads like me were willing to invest such emotion in following them because John and Peter Christopherson were actually such ‘regular’ (I’m not implying normal) guys; I’ll bet most people have friends who are direct analogues of them (my analogue of John is unfortunately also long gone, in similar circumstances and wrote letters scarily similar to John, full of wide/wild-eyed scrapes and colours and swathes). This book also gives an insight, therefore, into the occasionally prosaic lives of the saints, where things simply happen.
I won’t give too much away; if you need to know then you ought to find a way to get this. Just one clue: there might be a Coil cook book on the way. If you can’t afford this then I’ll lend you mine, but you’d better promise to give it back.