A British singer-songwriter’s keenly observed memoir about growing up with his talented but mismatched parents and looking after them in their old age.
Before he became their caretaker, Everything But the Girl co-founder Watt (Patient: The True Story of a Rare Illness, 1997) thought he knew his parents. The daughter of a Methodist parson, his colorful, part-gypsy mother, Romany, had been an up-and-coming Shakespearian actress before pregnancy and early marriage stopped her career “[dead] in its tracks.” Romany’s second husband, Watt’s working-class father Tom, had been a gifted and sought-after jazz artist. With the advent of rock ’n’ roll in the 1950s, however, the big bands that had been Tom’s passion disappeared. Unwilling to embrace the pop-music sound, the elder Watt’s career fell off. He finally gave up music altogether in the 1970s to become a house painter. Romany, in the meantime, stumbled into a second career as a showbiz feature writer for newspapers and magazines. While Tom languished in his own despair, she assumed the role of family breadwinner. The at-times violent clashes that erupted between these two strong personalities became the painful background to Watt’s adolescence. Ironically, the pop music that the elder Watt rejected became the bedrock of his son’s own internationally successful career as a musician. The beginning of Tom and Romany’s physical and mental decline in the early 2000s brought with it burdens that took a heavy toll on Watt and eventually caused him to have a breakdown. He found partial healing by immersing himself in family artifacts, including private documents that recounted the destructively passionate affair that had set Tom and Romany on a collision course. The author’s new perspective finally allowed him to see his parents for what they were: “ordinary people” shaped by experiences that he would neither fully know nor understand.
A thoughtful, sensitively wrought memoir.