REVIEW: Graeme Thomson: Cowboy Song – The Authorised Biography Of Philip Lynott

Authoritative, unflinching account of Phil’s rise and fall.

TODO alt text

One of the most memorable scenes in Graeme Thomson’s meticulously researched, richly detailed biography finds Thin Lizzy’s frontman surrounded by freeloading acquaintances in the control room of London’s Good Earth studios during the making of his second solo record.

It dawns on the worse-for-wear Irishman that no one else in the booth, save for producer Kit Woolven, is involved in the day’s session, and a dark rage descends. Making a show of counting out the dozen chancers exploiting his hospitality, Lynott then chops out 12 lines of cocaine, coldly eyeballs each individual in turn, and proceeds to snort every line himself. The party, for that day at least, was over.

In truth, Lynott could be his own worst enemy. Always a gregarious, charismatic charmer, by the early 80s, as Thomson’s book starkly delineates, he had become a near caricature of himself – The Rocker, The Wild One, the twinkle-eyed, streetwise Romeo – bloated by relentless drug abuse, surrounded by leeches and increasingly bitter that his star was fading fast. “He couldn’t imagine a life not in leather trousers,” fellow Dubliner Bob Geldof notes, “with a limousine taking him to work every day.”

Touring America with Queen in 1977 had offered Lynott a glimpse of true rock superstardom, a status that remained out of reach for Thin Lizzy, even as the hit singles, magazine covers and festival headline slots mounted, and the absence of a fairy tale ending for his band seemed to offend his romantic sensibilities.

But as much as he weaved poetic mythologies into his music and his public persona, Lynott was a grafter, not merely a dreamer: that Melody Maker bestowed a Best Newcomer award upon Lizzy as they prepared to make their eighth album is an illustration of the long and winding route their frontman took out of working class Dublin.

It’s bizarre to think that the classic line-up of Lizzy imploded within six weeks of the release of their landmark Live And Dangerous album, and tempting to imagine what could have become of Lynott had he stared out his demons with the same determination he showed in that Soho studio booth in 1982. But then, as his ex-wife Caroline Crowther points out in Cowboy Song’s poignant afterword, Lynott always was “a mass of contradictions”, and that’s what makes Thomson’s story of his life such a compelling read.