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The definitive biography of singer-songwriter Nick Lowe, best-known for "Cruel to Be Kind" and "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding" Described as "Britain's greatest living songwriter," Nick Lowe has made his mark as a pioneer of pub rock, power-pop, and punk rock and as a producer of Elvis Costello, Graham Parker, the Damned, and the Pretenders. He has b The definitive biography of singer-songwriter Nick Lowe, best-known for "Cruel to Be Kind" and "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding" Described as "Britain's greatest living songwriter," Nick Lowe has made his mark as a pioneer of pub rock, power-pop, and punk rock and as a producer of Elvis Costello, Graham Parker, the Damned, and the Pretenders. He has been a pop star with his bands Brinsley Schwarz and Rockpile, a stepson-in-law to Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, and is the writer behind hits including "Cruel to Be Kind" and "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding." In the past decades, however, he has distinguished himself as an artist who is equally acclaimed for the second act of his career as a tender yet sharp-tongued acoustic balladeer. Biographer Will Birch, who in addition to being a music writer was a drummer and songwriter with The Records, has known Lowe for over forty years and melds Lowe's gift as a witty raconteur with his own authoritative analysis of Lowe's background and the cultural scenes he exemplifies. Lowe's parallel fame as one of the best interviews in the business will contribute to this first look into his life and work--and likely the closest thing fans will get to an autobiography by this notoriously charming cult figure. This is not an authorized biography, but Lowe has given it his spiritual blessing and his management and label are fully on board. Cruel to Be Kind will be the colorful yet serious account of one of the world's most talented and admired musicians.


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The definitive biography of singer-songwriter Nick Lowe, best-known for "Cruel to Be Kind" and "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding" Described as "Britain's greatest living songwriter," Nick Lowe has made his mark as a pioneer of pub rock, power-pop, and punk rock and as a producer of Elvis Costello, Graham Parker, the Damned, and the Pretenders. He has b The definitive biography of singer-songwriter Nick Lowe, best-known for "Cruel to Be Kind" and "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding" Described as "Britain's greatest living songwriter," Nick Lowe has made his mark as a pioneer of pub rock, power-pop, and punk rock and as a producer of Elvis Costello, Graham Parker, the Damned, and the Pretenders. He has been a pop star with his bands Brinsley Schwarz and Rockpile, a stepson-in-law to Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, and is the writer behind hits including "Cruel to Be Kind" and "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding." In the past decades, however, he has distinguished himself as an artist who is equally acclaimed for the second act of his career as a tender yet sharp-tongued acoustic balladeer. Biographer Will Birch, who in addition to being a music writer was a drummer and songwriter with The Records, has known Lowe for over forty years and melds Lowe's gift as a witty raconteur with his own authoritative analysis of Lowe's background and the cultural scenes he exemplifies. Lowe's parallel fame as one of the best interviews in the business will contribute to this first look into his life and work--and likely the closest thing fans will get to an autobiography by this notoriously charming cult figure. This is not an authorized biography, but Lowe has given it his spiritual blessing and his management and label are fully on board. Cruel to Be Kind will be the colorful yet serious account of one of the world's most talented and admired musicians.

30 review for Cruel to Be Kind: The Life and Music of Nick Lowe

  1. 5 out of 5

    Dr. Detroit

    Maybe it was the doomed marriage to Carlene Carter, who once famously spoke of putting the “c*nt into country.” Those eyes, lips, and legs were more than enough to ruin any man and leave behind a quivering, drooling, mouth-breathing, protoplasmic pile of space junk. The cover of “Musical Shapes” still makes my knees wobble. One quick listen to any Nick Lowe album after, oh, “The Rose of England,” and it’s obvious that something threw him for a loop. See also Elvis Costello, Graham Parker, and Jo Maybe it was the doomed marriage to Carlene Carter, who once famously spoke of putting the “c*nt into country.” Those eyes, lips, and legs were more than enough to ruin any man and leave behind a quivering, drooling, mouth-breathing, protoplasmic pile of space junk. The cover of “Musical Shapes” still makes my knees wobble. One quick listen to any Nick Lowe album after, oh, “The Rose of England,” and it’s obvious that something threw him for a loop. See also Elvis Costello, Graham Parker, and Joe Jackson. The anger percolating under the surface of those three guys simply went “POOF” and none of them were ever the same. Forty years ago, however, Lowe didn’t know any better, a snapshot in time exposing a pub fly content with crafting songs that twitched with the type of loose jangle and clever, warped wordplay the term “power pop” seemed invented for (if, uh, Pete Townshend hadn’t used it to refer to “I Can’t Explain” during an interview more than a decade earlier), lending a rough, ragged hand to the likes of Costello, The Damned, and The Pretenders as house producer at Stiff, and avoiding the curse of taking himself seriously. It’s all here and more and I have to say it’s about time! I’m sure there’s one out there somewhere but this is the first Basher bio I’ve come across. Loses one star for spending too much time talking about his father and his military career. Who cares?

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jack Wolfe

    "If I had yelled 'I love you' he would've heard me! Nick would've heard me!" -my wife, crushing on a 70 year old man after a pretty great live show A humble, witty, pleasant little book about a humble, witty, pleasant kinda really tall singer songwriter guy. Will Birch makes it clear up at the front that Nick Lowe is not an innovator (a lot of his great riffs are even bald-faced rips of other tunes) and that even musicheads might have trouble naming more than two of his songs. But the fact that N "If I had yelled 'I love you' he would've heard me! Nick would've heard me!" -my wife, crushing on a 70 year old man after a pretty great live show A humble, witty, pleasant little book about a humble, witty, pleasant kinda really tall singer songwriter guy. Will Birch makes it clear up at the front that Nick Lowe is not an innovator (a lot of his great riffs are even bald-faced rips of other tunes) and that even musicheads might have trouble naming more than two of his songs. But the fact that Nick has spent so much of his career out of the commercial limelight has meant that (1) his path through rock history has been one-of-a-kind and (2) this path actually makes for a pretty interesting story. Not even Bruce Springsteen's memoir could avoid the tragedy of most rock and roll lives-- the fact that your musical youth is gonna be a thousand times more compelling that your gradual descent into old age and irrelevance. The narrative of "Cruel to be Kind," however, is different. Nick achieves fame as a teenager with Brinsley Schwarz (who aren't very good, and both Will Birch and Nick himself say so), then becomes a powerpop svengali/producer of some of the all time great punk and alternative records; has a turbulent late 70s and 80s, joining two semi-legendary supergroups (Rockpile and Little Village), marrying into the frickin Carter family, and pumping out a string of iffy LPs; and re-creates himself in the 90s as an indie soul crooner. Old age brings not just wisdom, in Nick's narrative, but a whole new sort of creative flourishing; the final chapters of this book seem to promise additional bizarre twists in the ongoing Lowe saga. (When we saw him, he was touring with Los Straitjackets, and looked honestly pretty normal strumming his guitar in front of four surf-rock luchadores.) Will Birch is a friend of Nick, and he smartly gives large parts of the story (maybe half the words in the book) to Nick's own funny, fanatically detailed, self-deprecating reminisces (look out for the hilarious Keith Richards, Ray Davies, and "Blair Forward" cameos). He fills out the book with scores of interviews from just about every living major player from Nick's various scenes-- his sister Penny, his various wives and girlfriends, Elvis Costello, Chrissie Hynde, Clem Burke, Huey Lewis, Ry Cooder, Johnny Marr...just an all-star team of weird, cool people. The amount of access means the tone of the book is often kinda fawning... But it really does seem hard to hate the Nick, or to say anything bad about him. Musicians love him, songwriters love him, the ladies love him... Everybody loves Nick Lowe! (except for, like, the general public, of course.)

  3. 5 out of 5

    Nestor Rychtyckyj

    Nick Lowe is one of the most important musical figures of the last forty years and many people have never even heard of him. He has always stayed at home in England, but seems to be more popular in the USA than in his home country. He had an integral role in jump starting punk rock in the UK, but personally doesn’t like “angry music”. He wrote one of the most iconic songs of all time, but hasn’t had a hit record since the early 1980s. Yes, Nick Lowe is a contrast and a contradiction on so many l Nick Lowe is one of the most important musical figures of the last forty years and many people have never even heard of him. He has always stayed at home in England, but seems to be more popular in the USA than in his home country. He had an integral role in jump starting punk rock in the UK, but personally doesn’t like “angry music”. He wrote one of the most iconic songs of all time, but hasn’t had a hit record since the early 1980s. Yes, Nick Lowe is a contrast and a contradiction on so many levels, but his stature and significance cannot be overstated. Will Burch, a musician and confidante of Nick Lowe for many years, has taken the challenge of documenting the life and music of Nick Lowe in this new biography, “Cruel to be Kind” and has succeeded smashingly. (Ok – I know that I’m overdoing it with the British slang, but this book makes you feel that you were hanging out in London in 1976 with all these marvelous people). “Cruel to be Kind” covers Nick’s entire career and also does an excellent job of digging into his roots and showing us why Nick Lowe became Nick Lowe. As fans of pub rock know, Nick Lowe came upon the English rock scene as a member of Brinsley Schwarz, the iconic band the seemed to impress many people, but sold very few records while doing that. Lowe became the primary songwriter for Brinsley Schwarz and had already built a solid reputation before joining Jake Riviera and Dave Robinson with Stiff Records. Here the Nick Lowe legend begins to grow – he produced the first punk single in the UK by the Damned and then joined forces with Elvis Costello to produce his first and most important albums. Along the way, Nick Lowe created his own legendary albums, became part of Rockpile (the greatest band that wasn’t allowed to record) and produced a slew of fantastic records for people that you can find in the 14-page index at the back of this book. The crazy times come to an end and Nick Lowe begins to re-invent himself as a performer and an artist who puts out many brilliant albums that sell very few copies (I’m just as guilty here and will try to rectify the situation). He continues to tour and puts on brilliant shows where he manages to combine 40 years of Nick Lowe into a coherent story of life. I saw him absolutely mesmerize the crowd at St. Andrew’s Hall in Detroit (playing with Los Straightjackets) and come back for several encores – finally ending with “(What’s So Funny ‘bout) Peace, Love and Understanding”. The book is great, Nick Lowe is awesome – buy the book, listen to Nick’s records – we are fortunate to have him in our midst. P.S. The Nick Lowe discography at the end is very appreciated.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    Not a book for the non-fan. I can't imagine reading this without knowing the music. But as a fan, I loved the stories about the songs. Also loved hearing that Edmunds' production sound was intentional. So great for the fan, well written, many direct quotes from Nick. (I think the Rose of England is one of the greatest songs ever written)

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jay Clement

    103-2019. I enjoy Nick Lowe’s music, and was interested to find out about his many producing credits of records that I also enjoy. His story, though, is riddled like many rock biographies with the countless times that drugs and/or alcohol abuse sabotaged his career and made life more difficult than it should be. Well-researched and organized, but ultimately not super interesting.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Michael Sparrow

    A first-rate biography of one of the greatest singer/songwriter/musicians of the last 50 years. Birch tells the full story from Lowe's family background (at some length) through his childhood, his early musical work, Brinsley Schwarz, Stiff Records, Elvis Costello, Rockpile, Little Village--all the way through his 2019 recordings and tour. Birch knows Nick personally and it shows, but he brings together information from many witnesses, from Dave Edmunds through Daryl Hall. He doesn't pass over L A first-rate biography of one of the greatest singer/songwriter/musicians of the last 50 years. Birch tells the full story from Lowe's family background (at some length) through his childhood, his early musical work, Brinsley Schwarz, Stiff Records, Elvis Costello, Rockpile, Little Village--all the way through his 2019 recordings and tour. Birch knows Nick personally and it shows, but he brings together information from many witnesses, from Dave Edmunds through Daryl Hall. He doesn't pass over Lowe's romances either and has very interesting and moving recollections from Carlene Carter including Nick's relationship with her step-father (Johnny Cash, of course.) Birch doesn't pass over Nick's drug use (much earlier in his life) and how it affected his work. In the course of the story, there is an interesting look at the pub-rock community and a hilarious account of Brinsley Schwarz' ill-fated 1970 Fillmore date. One of my hallmarks for non-fiction is a book that tells me much I did not know about a subject I knew quite a bit about and this book fills that bill, but CRUEL TO BE KIND is also funny, moving and in the end inspirational. Highly recommended.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Joe

    Nick Lowe IS the Jesus of Cool. I've got nothing else to say. What's So Funny About Peace, Love, and Understanding; Cruel To Be Kind; "The Beast In Me" on ex-Father In Law Johnny Cash's AMERICAN RECORDINGS is just the start of the conversation. Elvis Costello worships the ground he walks upon. This is a great read, I was disappointed when it ended.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Soren Sondergaard

    Engaging and enthusiastic but also too much of the latter. The writer seems in awe of his own subject (and maybe too close to the man himself) in a way that I sometimes felt almost embarrasing, especially towards the end of the book. Yes, Nick Lowe is brilliant and somewhat underrated but a biography shouldn’t explain this to the reader all the time.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Karen Schlosberg

    A very amusing, readable bio for Nick Lowe fans.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Todd

    Before I begin this review, let me confess my bias with three disclosures: 1. I’m a huge Nick Lowe fan. Aside from Ray Davies, he may be my favorite songwriter. Both he and Davies – and Randy Newman, another favorite – share an impish, sometimes dark sense of humor, and all are blessed with the ability to craft memorable melodies. Lowe is also a terrific producer, having been the staff man for Stiff Records and behind the boards for several Elvis Costello records (including two of his best, “This Before I begin this review, let me confess my bias with three disclosures: 1. I’m a huge Nick Lowe fan. Aside from Ray Davies, he may be my favorite songwriter. Both he and Davies – and Randy Newman, another favorite – share an impish, sometimes dark sense of humor, and all are blessed with the ability to craft memorable melodies. Lowe is also a terrific producer, having been the staff man for Stiff Records and behind the boards for several Elvis Costello records (including two of his best, “This Year’s Model” and “Armed Forces”). 2. I have interviewed Mr. Lowe three times. Each time, he was gracious, thoughtful, erudite and funny. He is one of my favorite interviews. 3. I’m in the book. I was not interviewed, but there’s my name, on page 5: “Nick Lowe will not write a memoir,” announced CNN in 2015, following his interview with reporter Todd Leopold. (I hasten to add that it was CNN.com that made this announcement, not CNN. I worked for the website, and the TV network usually didn’t give a rat’s ass about the features we published online. Their loss.) I’m also in the index, just after John Lennon. With that out of the way: So, what did you think of the book, Todd? It’s breezy and entertaining and told me things I didn’t know about Nick Lowe. However, I wish it had more depth, more voices. Nick himself, who’s frequently quoted, emerges as the most colorful and engaging source Birch has. Now, Birch confesses at the outset that he’s not only a Nick Lowe fan, but a Nick Lowe friend, so it was unlikely the book would be anything but laudatory. (Which isn’t to say it isn’t brutally honest about some episodes in Lowe’s life.) And though I’m probably among several people who would love Nick given the same in-depth treatment as, say, the subject of a Peter Guralnick biography, this isn’t that kind of book. (Six degrees of Nick: Peter Guralnick is the father of Lowe’s manager, Jake Guralnick. You find a lot of that kind of stuff with Nick Lowe.) Still, when you have a subject as rich as Lowe – who’s been a part of so much pop music history despite having exactly one U.S. Top 40 hit – it’s a shame that there wasn’t room for just a few more anecdotes and a bit more context. In fact, the best parts of “Cruel to Be Kind” – oh, how I wish Birch had called the book “Jesus of Cool,” the UK title of Nick’s first album, but I’m sure his publisher would have put the kibosh on that – involve Lowe’s rise in the music business, from an ill-fated New York concert with his band Brinsley Schwarz to the days when he was establishing himself as “Basher,” the quick-witted, enthusiastic staff producer at Stiff Records. His personality was obvious long before that; a hilarious anecdote features 9-year-old Nick interviewing for a position at a boarding school and then being invited to have tea with the headmaster: “I, by all accounts, went immediately to work on his wife, offering such drivel as, ‘What a charming home. Tell me, did you choose the wallpaper yourself?’ ” Again, he was 9. His childhood, in fact, was unusual. He was the younger child of a Royal Air Force pilot and a rather free-spirited mother. In a departure from rock cliché, he actually admired his military dad, who took him up in planes and was stationed in exotic places like Amman, Jordan. (His father was actually gifted an expensive Jaguar from King Hussein.) Lowe formed bands in school, eventually creating Brinsley Schwarz with a school chum. It was Brinsley Schwarz that had that disastrous New York concert: After the band had spent just a short time together, its managers decided to fly them across the Atlantic to open at the Fillmore East, followed closely by an army of UK scribes for maximum publicity. Brinsley Schwarz was ragged, the scribes were drunk, and nobody made out well. Other bands – other musicians – may have packed it in. Brinsley Schwarz retreated to an old house away from the city and became leaders in what was known as pub rock – essentially the equivalent of a U.S. bar band but without the determination to blow the roof off the sucker. The Brinsleys had little commercial success (though one of their diehard fans was a young Elvis Costello), but one connection led to another, and suddenly Nick was recording and producing for Stiff Records, co-founded by his manager, Jake Riviera. When “New Wave” became a thing, Lowe was riding its crest. What makes Lowe’s career even more intriguing was the way he reinvented himself. Once a heavy drug user and alcoholic – an early-‘70s LSD habit made him barely functional for several months, and his later cocaine and alcohol consumption is described as “skiing down a mountain of coke into a lake of vodka” – he got (mostly) clean and decided to model his work on people he admired, musicians who were songwriters first and interpreters second. He also got lucky when a version of his most famous track, “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding,” appeared on the “Bodyguard” soundtrack, one of the biggest-selling albums of all time. Nick’s initial royalties amounted to, rumor has it, about a million dollars. Instead of blowing it on wine and women, he funded an album of his new sound – “The Impossible Bird” – and hit the road. Since then – the mid-‘90s – he’s put together a well-regarded, if not chartbusting, second (or third) act. Birch rightly singles out 2001’s “The Convincer” as perhaps the peak of late-period Lowe, when Nick’s performing matched his vision of songwriting. He’s now considered by many colleagues to be one of the finest still working, and his transformation from cocky Basher to careful craftsman is almost without precedent in pop music history. So, with all this fine information – I haven’t even mentioned the stories about his former in-laws, Johnny and June Carter Cash – what’s missing? Frankly, it’s the kind of wit and well-turned phrase that a Nick Lowe could bring to the proceedings. As I said a few paragraphs ago, I feel like I’m being unfair to Birch for reviewing the book I wanted to read – one written by Mr. Lowe himself – rather than the one I did, but other recent rock ‘n’ roll biographies and memoirs have managed to capture the flavor of their authors even if ghostwritten by others. (And yes, I know Nick, though helpful, wanted to keep this book at arm’s length … as he told me in that interview quoted on page 5.) Perhaps the market for a Nick Lowe biography isn’t as deep as, say, the market for a Bruce Springsteen or Elton John memoir, but given Lowe’s wide-ranging story and influence on ‘70s pop, I’d like to think there was room for a little more detail, a little more showmanship. Still, if the result isn’t quite at the level of “Jesus of Cool,” it’s a perfectly fine analogue of, say, “The Rose of England”: sturdy, consistent, with some nice high points and few weak sections. After all these years, the man’s still got soul, and “Cruel to Be Kind” has it in the right measure.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    A little too much “he met with this person. Then wrote this song” without depth behind it. But interesting.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley to read and review. CRUEL TO BE KIND: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF NICK LOWE is a biography by author Will Birch of the singer, songwriter, bassist and guitarist Nick Lowe. Lowe is an important but often underrated and under appreciated figure in rock and pop history that begins with his time spent in Brinsley Shwarz, a band that never really found the success it deserved but helped form the pub rock scene in Britain in the 60’s, and lik I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley to read and review. CRUEL TO BE KIND: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF NICK LOWE is a biography by author Will Birch of the singer, songwriter, bassist and guitarist Nick Lowe. Lowe is an important but often underrated and under appreciated figure in rock and pop history that begins with his time spent in Brinsley Shwarz, a band that never really found the success it deserved but helped form the pub rock scene in Britain in the 60’s, and like other bands and musicians were greatly influenced by The Band and the “Music from Big Pink” album as well as CSN&Y among others that played a style of music that today is known as Americana. Brinsley Shwarz (the band) is unfortunately most often associated with the legendary event known as “The Hype” that refers to a failed attempt to introduce the British band to the U.S. via a planned concert at The Fillmore in NYC after convincing Bill Graham to add them to a bill that was heavily promoted using a very costly approach including paying all expenses for several press members to attend, only to have the band fall flat and receive poor reviews in spite of their efforts to find fame. Lowe eventually left the band in the mid 70’s after finding his songwriting would work better with other musicians due to stylistic differences with the current lineup. Dave Edmunds, the well respected and somewhat reclusive guitarist from Wales was an acquaintance that Lowe made with Brinsley Swarz as a result of his production of a later album by the band, and eventually and unofficially the two formed the band known as Rockpile, also the name of a respected album by Edmunds recorded at the studio he was resident engineer at and where he perfected his unique recording techniques that created a lo-fi sound befitting his rockabilly and country influenced music. Several solo albums by both Lowe and Edmunds included the band, and the band was well received for their high energy live performances, although due to the inflexible management of Edmunds the band were unable to record a studio album under the bands name. Eventually the band was able to record an album as a group, but alas the timing was wrong and the group was heading for a split due to Lowe citing musical differences as a reason for his exit, which came as a complete surprise to Edmunds who had felt the band was doing well at the time. Lowe himself found greater success as a producer, and was highly in demand as someone gifted at knowing how to use different approaches to extract the best performances out of a wide range of musicians from different genres, and his ear for what would be successful was well respected over a long span of time. Several periods thereafter are covered in this book that are described using Lowe’s own thoughts of the bands, music, and his personal life at the times covered that included a lot of difficult times for the musician as an artist, even when his popularity grew with his well publicized marriage to Carlene Carter, who was well known as the daughter of June Carter and stepdaughter of the “Man in Black” himself, Johnny Cash. Something that was interesting about the information shared in this account of Nick Lowe is that he at times could be extremely confident (sometimes overly confident), yet other times failed to push forward in terms of putting his foot forward to achieve greater success; such as described in his reluctance to provide songs for Johnny Cash who made it clear he wanted Nick to do so. Great history of the musician’s life and career are captured by the author, and admittedly I set this aside early on as his family history while important didn’t hold my attention until the story picked up with Nick’s early musical career going forward. Highly recommended to fans of those familiar with the musical career, personal life, and interesting personality of Nick Lowe, and I only wish the Rockpile years could have been covered more in-depth, yet in such a long career it’s understandably abbreviated here in a book that covers so many phases in the life and career of Nick Lowe. 5 stars.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Mark Taylor

    British rocker Nick Lowe gets his due in the excellent 2019 biography Cruel to be Kind: The Life and Music of Nick Lowe, by Will Birch. Birch has known Lowe since the 1970’s, and he makes no bones about the fact that he is a big fan of Lowe’s work. Birch interviewed Lowe numerous times for the biography, and while it’s not an “authorized” biography, it was written with Lowe’s cooperation. (Although it did take Nick a long time to come around to the idea of someone writing a book about him.) I’m a British rocker Nick Lowe gets his due in the excellent 2019 biography Cruel to be Kind: The Life and Music of Nick Lowe, by Will Birch. Birch has known Lowe since the 1970’s, and he makes no bones about the fact that he is a big fan of Lowe’s work. Birch interviewed Lowe numerous times for the biography, and while it’s not an “authorized” biography, it was written with Lowe’s cooperation. (Although it did take Nick a long time to come around to the idea of someone writing a book about him.) I’m a big Nick Lowe fan, so I’m quite thrilled there’s a biography of him. In December, I was watching a YouTube video of Nick singing “When I Write the Book” with Los Straitjackets at First Avenue in Minneapolis when I thought to myself “It’s too bad Nick will probably never write an autobiography, he’s such a cool guy. I guess that article in Rolling Stone last year will be the piece with the most biographical details in it.” And then, on the YouTube sidebar, I saw there was a conversation with Nick Lowe and Will Birch at the Strand bookstore in New York City. I was shocked that there was a biography of Nick Lowe that had been out for four months before I’d heard about it. Cruel to be Kind is a fantastic book for fans of Nick Lowe. There are lots of great stories from throughout Lowe’s fifty-year career in music. There’s also a lot of detail about his childhood, which was spent in some exotic locales, as his father, an officer in the RAF, was transferred from Jordan to Cyprus to Germany. One of my favorite tidbits that I learned from Cruel to be Kind is that in the early 1980’s Lowe wrote several songs for possible inclusion in the 1984 movie Top Secret! Sadly, Lowe’s songs didn’t make it into the film. I’ve been a fan of Top Secret! since I was a little kid, as it was written and directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker, the guys who made the 1980 classic Airplane! Birch is also astute at chronicling Lowe’s transformation from New Wave rocker to the veteran musician who has turned out excellent albums like The Impossible Bird, Dig My Mood, The Convincer, and At My Age. These albums have demonstrated that Lowe has become an even better songwriter as he’s gotten older, a rarity in rock music. Not surprisingly, Lowe’s old pal Elvis Costello has one of the best quotes in the book: “There’s something about wearing the clothes that suit you at the age you are. Who would you rather be—Steven Tyler or Nick Lowe? Steven’s a good character, but isn’t that an awful lot of work before you go out in the morning?” (p.305) If you’re a fan of Nick Lowe’s, you’ll enjoy learning more about his life in Cruel to be Kind.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Robin Umbley

    I love Nick Lowe but I dislike this book. Although the book provides lots of information about Lowe's career as a biography should, it reads like something from a fanzine with all of its amateurish qualities. First, Will Birch isn't so much a writer but a compiler of long quotes and anecdotes. The book seems more like a transcript of a VH-1 "Behind the Music" documentary than a work of prose. Some anecdotes, like one that details a conflict about where to spend Christmas one year when Lowe was m I love Nick Lowe but I dislike this book. Although the book provides lots of information about Lowe's career as a biography should, it reads like something from a fanzine with all of its amateurish qualities. First, Will Birch isn't so much a writer but a compiler of long quotes and anecdotes. The book seems more like a transcript of a VH-1 "Behind the Music" documentary than a work of prose. Some anecdotes, like one that details a conflict about where to spend Christmas one year when Lowe was married to Carlene Carter, are out of place and don't advance the narrative. Secondly, the material between the quotes is very heavy on the passive voice and colloquialisms which give it a quality of a talk show host who is trying to sound simultaneously erudite and folksy--and failing at both. The excessive use of the passive voice is something that many unskilled writers use believing that it makes them sound more formal. This may be fine for a fanzine where no one is expecting prize-winning journalism but a book should be of a higher standard. It even seems that the copy editor took a vacation. Even accounting for the variations between the British and American use of punctuation, there is quite a bit of incorrect and inconsistent comma usage. This sloppiness detracts from the narrative. Especially out of place is the inclusion of author's own previously published glowing review of a Nick Lowe album. Was he hard up for material or trying too hard to convince readers of Nick Lowe's righteousness? Either way, it was a strange piece to include. As it is, Will Birch is a musician first and a writer second. He had written for magazines. But he needed to have upped his game for a book of almost 400 pages. A good editor could have made this a much better book. At first, Nick Lowe was against this book. Birch, a friend, convinced him to agree to it on the grounds that if he didn't write it, someone else would. Well, Nick Lowe should have held out for a better writer because he deserves better than this book.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jim Parker

    I love Nick Lowe’s songs and this is a good workmanlike biography. But Will Birch, alas, is not a particularly good writer and comes across as too much of the fan to offer anything really insightful about the subject. To be fair, that might be partly due to Lowe himself who has always downplayed his own talent and has always appeared more content to see himself as a honest craftsman than as an artist. To me, that should have been the angle of the book. Lowe was sort of in between every trend in po I love Nick Lowe’s songs and this is a good workmanlike biography. But Will Birch, alas, is not a particularly good writer and comes across as too much of the fan to offer anything really insightful about the subject. To be fair, that might be partly due to Lowe himself who has always downplayed his own talent and has always appeared more content to see himself as a honest craftsman than as an artist. To me, that should have been the angle of the book. Lowe was sort of in between every trend in popular music. either born too late or too early. He refused to ever take himself seriously and that led him to tend to just toss stuff off without a lot of thought. Nevertheless, his is an interesting life - the childhood following around after his air force father and most of his early adulthood in a pub rock band; the halcyon days producing Graham Parker and Elvis Costello at Stiff Records (what comes through in the book is that if ‘new wave’ had a ground zero it was Lowe), then later the years of booze and drugs before, through his understated work with John Hiatt, he found a way to grow old gracefully. Lowe’s best work has been in recent years - particularly the trilogy that ended with The Convincer. As someone says in the book (I think it was Johnny Marr), Lowe is actually a great blue-eyed soulster, but without the scenery chewing histrionics that usually go with that genre. This is a good reference work on Lowe and its best and most astute observations are from the man himself in long quoted passages, which left me thinking it should have really been an autobiography. But it seems he decided that would have been too self-indulgent and pompous, which gets us back to that theme.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Dorie

    Cruel To Be Kind: The Life and Music of Nick Lowe by Will Birch due 8-20-2019 DeCapo Books/Hachette #netgalley. #CruelToBeKind BIG KICK, PLAIN SCRAP. From his childhood, spent with his his dad Drain, in the RAF, living in Surrey to the group Los Straitjackets, Will Birch shares the like of Nick Lowe. The man who wrote "( What's So Funny About) Peace Love and Understanding", "I Love The Sound of Breaking Glass", "Half A Boy and Half A Man" and, of course, "Cruel To Be Kind". I've admired his songwriti Cruel To Be Kind: The Life and Music of Nick Lowe by Will Birch due 8-20-2019 DeCapo Books/Hachette #netgalley. #CruelToBeKind BIG KICK, PLAIN SCRAP. From his childhood, spent with his his dad Drain, in the RAF, living in Surrey to the group Los Straitjackets, Will Birch shares the like of Nick Lowe. The man who wrote "( What's So Funny About) Peace Love and Understanding", "I Love The Sound of Breaking Glass", "Half A Boy and Half A Man" and, of course, "Cruel To Be Kind". I've admired his songwriting and think some of his work is truly brilliant. He is one of the best pop songwriters today. Will writes of Nick's beginnings in Kipperton Lodge, and especially focuses on his days with Brinsley Schwarz. Its influence on Nick's future is evident. Collaborating with Dave Edmund's and Elvis Costello, both extensively. The Bay City Rollers Tribute Album. Stiff Records. Rockpile and Los Straitjackets ( his most recent group with all members but Nick wearing Mexican Wrestling Outfits, with masks). He shares Nick's past addiction problems with LSD, alcohol and cocaine until he began dating Tracey MacLeod who helped him regain his self respect and responsibility. His marriage to Carlene Carter, and later to Peta Waddington. It's all here. I loved the rich detail without it becoming tedious. It thought it fresh and fun to read and you will come away with a good idea of who this brilliant artist is. It includes an Appendix of his Real family history, and an extensive Bibliography and Discography. Recommended for Nick fans and fans of music, for sure. Thanks to DeCapo and netgalley for sending e-book ARC for review.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Phil Gray

    My daughter bought this book for me as a birthday present. I have been intrigued by Nick Lowe since the 70s and followed his career sporadically, investing in a couple of his albums. It was enlightening to read so much background detail (he doesn't come across as a particularly nice guy, especially when a younger man) and see the familial and musical elements that helped to shape him. Will Birch is an engaging and informative writer, but I feel that he is too close to his subject to make this qu My daughter bought this book for me as a birthday present. I have been intrigued by Nick Lowe since the 70s and followed his career sporadically, investing in a couple of his albums. It was enlightening to read so much background detail (he doesn't come across as a particularly nice guy, especially when a younger man) and see the familial and musical elements that helped to shape him. Will Birch is an engaging and informative writer, but I feel that he is too close to his subject to make this quite the book it could be. It was not until almost the end, when he interviewed another journalist (sorry, I don't have the book at hand to refer to) who says bluntly what Nick Lowe is, what he could have been and what he is not, that the book sprang to life. Nonetheless, a really good read for even the most tangential fan, and one that makes me want to listen his most recent recordings in great depth. PS: I was pleased to see my friend Peter Knock getting a mention in the acknowledgements!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Justin Remer

    Read an Advance copy. I'm a huge fan of Nick Lowe, and I found portions of this book enormously entertaining and enlightening. Unfortunately, it seems somewhat frontloaded with lots of material on Nick's pre-fame days and time spent with Brinsley Schwarz. After that the pace quickens considerably, and Nick's better-known eras (late '70s and post-"Bodyguard" soundtrack comeback) get a less thorough going-over. One presumes that Will Birch did his due diligence, but there's only so much you can gl Read an Advance copy. I'm a huge fan of Nick Lowe, and I found portions of this book enormously entertaining and enlightening. Unfortunately, it seems somewhat frontloaded with lots of material on Nick's pre-fame days and time spent with Brinsley Schwarz. After that the pace quickens considerably, and Nick's better-known eras (late '70s and post-"Bodyguard" soundtrack comeback) get a less thorough going-over. One presumes that Will Birch did his due diligence, but there's only so much you can glean from an only somewhat forthcoming interview subject like the one we have here. It's a shame Nick won't ever bother writing a memoir, because there seems to be plenty of life experiences left untapped. But probably, it would just be too painful. Nick Lowe fans will treasure it, because it's all we've got. But I can't help wishing for more.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kevin J. O'Conner

    Cruel to Be Kind: The Life and Music of Nick Lowe is a well-written (except for the spot where the word 'cachet' is mistakenly rendered as 'cache') biography of a musician who has long been under-appreciated by the record-buying public (at least, in the US). Whether considering Nick Lowe as an artist in his own right, as a songwriter, or as a producer, his influence cannot be ignored. Although author Will Birch goes to the trouble to state up front that he is both a fan and a friend of Lowe, he a Cruel to Be Kind: The Life and Music of Nick Lowe is a well-written (except for the spot where the word 'cachet' is mistakenly rendered as 'cache') biography of a musician who has long been under-appreciated by the record-buying public (at least, in the US). Whether considering Nick Lowe as an artist in his own right, as a songwriter, or as a producer, his influence cannot be ignored. Although author Will Birch goes to the trouble to state up front that he is both a fan and a friend of Lowe, he avoids fawning or overlooking unpleasantries. At the same time, neither does he treat his subject with excessive gravity. The result is a biography that reads well, succeeding in being both informative and entertaining.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Roger

    One of the best biographies I've ever read, but with a few caveats. • You have to be at least familiar with Nick Lowe to enjoy this book • Birch is a longtime friend of Nick so he's got some insight a normal biographer would not have. At one point, Birch mentions that Nick's longtime manager and collaborator Jake Riviera never "got" Nick's second act, where he transformed his career from a rocker to a crooner. I realized that I was the same way. I now have as much appreciation for Nick's second a One of the best biographies I've ever read, but with a few caveats. • You have to be at least familiar with Nick Lowe to enjoy this book • Birch is a longtime friend of Nick so he's got some insight a normal biographer would not have. At one point, Birch mentions that Nick's longtime manager and collaborator Jake Riviera never "got" Nick's second act, where he transformed his career from a rocker to a crooner. I realized that I was the same way. I now have as much appreciation for Nick's second act than I do for his first. Being a fan of lots of musicians of this era, in particular Elvis Costello, I really enjoyed this book as Elvis' autobio was a definite disappointment for me. Learned lots about the behind the scenes things than I did in the Elvis book.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Allan Heron

    Excellent biography of Nick Lowe which provides an overview of his long career from Kippington Lodge through to recent escapades with Los Straitjackets. As a long-term fan, it certainly helped me to understand the narrative of his career which had occasionally seemed the wrong side of random. And also his journey to the style which ultimately turned into Act 2. Birch may be friends with Lowe but it doesn't make the story seem in any way sycophantic. Indeed, Lowe himself seems to be a sharp critic Excellent biography of Nick Lowe which provides an overview of his long career from Kippington Lodge through to recent escapades with Los Straitjackets. As a long-term fan, it certainly helped me to understand the narrative of his career which had occasionally seemed the wrong side of random. And also his journey to the style which ultimately turned into Act 2. Birch may be friends with Lowe but it doesn't make the story seem in any way sycophantic. Indeed, Lowe himself seems to be a sharp critic of his own life and career.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Justin

    I became a fan of Nick Lowe a decade or so ago when Jesus of Cool was reissued. I knew a little about him before that, but hearing those songs really opened up his music for me. This biography captures the glories and the lows, the ambition and ambivalence. I found it fascinating and very readable. A word of caution, though...this book will make you want to listen to a ton of music, both his albums and the works he produced. I haven't even begun to fall down the full rabbit hole, but I will. If I became a fan of Nick Lowe a decade or so ago when Jesus of Cool was reissued. I knew a little about him before that, but hearing those songs really opened up his music for me. This biography captures the glories and the lows, the ambition and ambivalence. I found it fascinating and very readable. A word of caution, though...this book will make you want to listen to a ton of music, both his albums and the works he produced. I haven't even begun to fall down the full rabbit hole, but I will. If you know Lowe, there is a lot to recommend here.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Andy

    A genuine pleasure to read. I've enjoyed Nick's music for a long time, but only knew the bare bones outline of his career. It was awesome to learn the details about his early days in rock n' roll, his recordings, his production work and the stories of life on the road. Since Nick generally avoids the limelight, it was also great to learn about his background and personal life. A great profile of an important figure in popular music and one of my personal favorites. A must for Nick Lowe fans.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jay Gabler

    Near the end of his enjoyable book, Will Birch tries to puzzle out why Nick Lowe isn't more famous, and lands on what might be a typically British distaste for self-promotion. That could be, but maybe the answer is that Lowe is exactly famous enough, maybe just about as famous as he ever wanted to be. I reviewed Cruel to be Kind for The Current. Near the end of his enjoyable book, Will Birch tries to puzzle out why Nick Lowe isn't more famous, and lands on what might be a typically British distaste for self-promotion. That could be, but maybe the answer is that Lowe is exactly famous enough, maybe just about as famous as he ever wanted to be. I reviewed Cruel to be Kind for The Current.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Lizbeth

    I received an advanced digital copy of this book from the author, publisher and Netgalley.com. Thanks to all for the opportunity to read and review. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. Everything you wanted to know about Nick Lowe and then some. Colorful stories from one of the greatest musicians of the Brit Pub Rock scene. In depth without dragging on, a must read for any music fan. 5 out of 5 stars.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Steve Klemz

    Everything you could want from a rock bio. A writer with experience in the business, an interesting subject that you have followed forever, but really don't know all that much about.. It's all here, the girls, the drugs, the drink....but more than anything it's the songs. I been lucky to see tons of live Nick shows and will continue to see more. Highly recommended.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Ross Cumming

    I don't really remember when I first became aware of Nick Lowe, possibly it was via The Rockpile or via his own 'hit' singles or possibly as a result of his production duties on various New Wave albums by the likes of Elvis Costello and Graham Parker. However it wasn't until the early nineties that I became a big fan of his music following the release of The Impossible Bird and his subsequent releases since then. This biography tells of Nick's early life with his parents, his father a career pil I don't really remember when I first became aware of Nick Lowe, possibly it was via The Rockpile or via his own 'hit' singles or possibly as a result of his production duties on various New Wave albums by the likes of Elvis Costello and Graham Parker. However it wasn't until the early nineties that I became a big fan of his music following the release of The Impossible Bird and his subsequent releases since then. This biography tells of Nick's early life with his parents, his father a career pilot with the RAF and WW2 war hero and his mother with a background in entertainment. It tells of his early musical journey and how he met Brinsley Schwarz, how they formed the band of the same name and the disaster which was the band's infamous launch in New York. We learn how he sort of fell into the producers chair and produced some of the best albums of the punk/new wave era while continuing to write and perform, either solo or with The Rockpile or with a myriad of different musicians. Nick was and continues to be a 'cult' figure in the music scene and would appear to have a bigger following in America than on these shores. However, if like me, you dig Nick's easy listening/country/rock and roll style you'll be totally hooked and as Birch explains, Nick's style and sound seems so simple but in fact is extremely difficult to pull off. Birch is also a friend of Lowe's and he has written a wonderful sympathetic biography but he hasn't pulled the punches and points out Nick's frailties in both his musical and personal life. He has also written a wonderful epilogue in which he goes further back in time to explore Nick's family roots and how they may have unconsciously influenced him. A great biography of one of Britian's best songwriters, performers and music producers who has sadly not gotten the recognition that his talent deserves.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kay Smillie

    I will be honest and state that I haven't listened to Nick Lowe in decades but always knew that he was touring, producing and making records. Always thought he would have led and still be living an interesting life. This book just confirms that. A perfect gentleman. Ray Smillie

  29. 4 out of 5

    Cecil

    A breezy but fact-filled biography of the Jesus of Cool. Lowe is quoted in depth and frequently, as are many of his contemporaries. Birch is a fan, and that’s obvious, but it’s not a complete hagiography. But definitely sort of a hagiography 😃

  30. 5 out of 5

    Elle

    Fantastic! I’ve been a fan of Nick Lowe’s for years. My love for Nick and his music increased tenfold after reading this.

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