In February 2005 the brilliantly witty and articulate singer and songwriter Edwyn Collins suffered two catastrophic brain haemorrhages which could easily have killed him, or left him without any higher brain function. Instead, partly through sheer luck, partly through the skill and efficiency of the staff at two London hospitals and partly through the dedication and bloody-mindedness of Collins’s manager and wife Grace Maxwell he survived with his basic identity intact but with large swathes of the normal mental connections that allow one to move and communicate wiped out. For months Collins was unable to stand, walk or feed himself, and, perhaps equally distressingly for someone whose life and work had demonstrated a passion and talent for using words creatively, he had also lost his ability to use and understand language.
Falling & Laughing is a brisk, funny but in places very moving account of Collins’s stroke and subsequent extraordinary recovery – these days, he’s not only writing and recording again but singing on stage and giving interviews, although the loss of movement in his right hand means that he can no longer play guitar. Maxwell starts with a summary of Collins’s career, from the days of Orange Juice in the early 80s, through the freak worldwide hit A Girl Like You (the revenue from which has allowed them to weather the expenses and disruption occasioned by the stroke) and onto the Home Again album that had just been completed before the crisis. This then leads on to an honest and harrowing description of the circumstances of the collapse, and the subsequent dread-filled days as the doctors do their best with no guarantee, or even expectation, of success. Maxwell uses her managerial skills to make sure her husband gets the best treatment possible and to fight absurd hospital protocols and makes no attempt to paint herself as a saint. Later, as Collins starts his recovery, the focus shifts to his impatience with his situation and the incredible tenacity of his efforts to re-equip himself with the tools he needs both to function normally with his family and friends and to go back to the music making he loves. Throughout, there is a lack of sentimentality and acknowledgement of human weakness in the book that keep it from being an exploitative exercise, and the insight one gets into the resilience of both human brain and human spirit is inspiring. Highly recommended.
Footnote: I stumbled across this book in Poundland, while buying toothpaste. Weird, huh?