Miki Berenyi was the lead singer, rhythm guitarist and founder member of Lush, one of the truly rare gems whose music still shines from the indie music scene of the late 80s and early 90s. The band found global fame and flame-haired, mixed-race, super-charismatic Miki graced the front pages of the music press from the UK to L.A. Lush skewed more magical and mysterious than their britpop counterparts. They were one of the first bands to be feted for their ethereal sound. Although Lush now live only in memory, Miki continues to make shimmering music with her current band Piroshka.
In 2022, Miki's memoir, Fingers Crossed: How Music Saved Me From Success was published by Nine Eight Books to critical acclaim. It's an endearing and entertaining read. The book documents Miki's upbringing - which reads both painful and surreal and somewhat akin to a troubled and darker Wes Anderson saga. Her indie superstar days are here in detail of course, the upward glide path, and the spoken of, troubled relationship with Emma, with whom Miki had formed Lush while still at school.
Prior an appearance at the Wolverhampton Literature Festival Miki took some time out to talk to Outsideleft about Fingers Crossed. Here's this...
OUTSIDELEFT: I read that you were working as a proofreader. That seems like the antithesis of rock ‘n’ roll? Was that a deliberate choice?
MIKI BERENYI: After Lush split, I did a proofreading course and then a friend put me in touch with a marvellous editor and spirited socialist, Mitzi Bales, who had been knocked down on a zebra crossing by a hit-and-run driver and needed a bit of help. So I would turn up at her flat with the grocery shopping and in return she mentored me in sub-editing by giving me odd jobs. My first ‘proper’ freelance stint was a series of teaching manuals for primary schools.
Not very rock ‘n’ roll, indeed. But in the wake of Chris’s suicide, I needed to find something completely different to do with my life, where I wasn’t constantly reminded of the loss. And I felt very lucky to have found a career in which my English Literature degree had value.
People think it must be terribly dull working a ‘normal’ job after being in a band, but they’re wrong. I’ve met as many brilliant and funny and interesting people working at magazines or being part of my children’s school community as I have in the music industry. And I’ve seen a lot of people who, after being in the music biz, were put off ‘regular’ jobs by inflated self-worth and a refusal to get their hands dirty. As a result, they’ve done fuck all with themselves and have nothing to offer but tired old anecdotes about their ‘glory days’.
OL: I’m not so sure what a proofreader does? Obviously anyone who knows Outsideleft would know that I don’t. What sort of material do you proofread? What are you seeing as a proofreader? The grammar? The characters having too similar sounding names or stuff that would confuse readers… What?
Miki: I think a proofreader looks at the formatted copy whereas a sub-editor tends to come in earlier, before the text has been laid out. So it’s really the same thing but at a different stage of production. And the process varies depending on the job. Sometimes it’s just fixing typos, or adapting the copy (spelling, punctuation, grammar) to the house style and checking facts; other times you have a free hand to rewrite for clarity. Most of what I’ve worked on is fact-based – TV listings, consumer magazines, manuals… so the priority is making the text clear and direct for the reader. But it still needs to read well.
It’s all about making the writing as good as it can possibly be.
OL: Writing Fingers Crossed, which is a great and lovely title, was that something you’d been thinking about for some time? As a piece of life writing, recounting your, in some parts unenviable lived experience… I mean, everyone’s life has episodes and stories, your life is such a story! I feel kind of ashamed that I enjoyed some of your tribulations as much as I did. It’s not quite August Burroughs Running With Scissors but… I think memoirs from women or about women who have dabbled in the music industry published over the past decade or so have been more fascinating and entertaining.
Miki: No, it had never occurred to me to write a memoir. My initial thought, when I was approached by NineEight, was “who the fuck wants to read the life story of Miki from Lush?”. But once I took it on, my main concern was to make it as engaging as possible for the reader.
You can describe the most exciting, extreme life experiences and they’ll still come across as dull, look-at-me bragging if there is no insight in the writing. And there are lots of negative issues – sexual abuse, racism, bad relationships, self-destructiveness – that are part of my story, that I needed to handle with care. I didn’t want the reader to feel I was merely a victim who bad things happened to. That’s too simple and, ultimately, distancing – “Oh, look at that terrible life, poor thing”. I wanted to draw readers in, so they got to know and understand all the characters and situations, and feel the same complex emotions and ambivalence that I have felt about the good and bad in my life.
The greatest compliment I get paid is that the writing is good, and it’s ‘a page-turner’.
OL: Have you archived much, did you collect any specific things along the way? I ask because when I visited the 2-Tone exhibition in Coventry, Jerry Dammers and the acolytes of that movement had archived or held onto the weirdest pieces. Who can keep a trilby spotless, flawless for 40 years… Who knew to keep it. And Jarvis’ biography of course is all predicated on what he kept up until now… Is there one thing you have?
Miki: I am a bit of a hoarder – diaries, photos, tour paraphernalia (itineraries, passes, fanzines), a gig list of every show I went to and played from my teen years to when Lush split. But once I’m dead, the whole lot can be dumped in a skip. They’re just trinkets that trigger my memories rather than objects with any intrinsic financial value.
OL: I was looking at your 90s work schedule with your band… You guys worked so hard. Did it feel like that? It looks now, too intense. Then, I have never enjoyed work. I have been talking to a new musician from Toronto, who performs as poolblood - there’s a lot of dealing with ending and the end of friendships, and maybe how friendships are as intimate as anything we might ever have although we may not know that… Of course this then is a question about how your relationship is with Emma currently…
Miki: Emma and I stopped communicating after the Lush reunion, which ended badly, and the book has done nothing to ease that. Tbh, I think the years we spent together was more than enough for a lifetime – for both of us.
We did work very hard, which is why I resented being labelled as ‘lazy’ by the music press, who painted us as chancers who did nothing but lig about backstage at gigs. But I was always aware that I was lucky to be doing a job that I loved, with opportunities to be creative and travel and meet loads of exciting people, so it felt ungrateful to complain.
OL: Therapists, it feels like there must have been at least a few?
Miki: I’ve not had much luck (or truck) with therapists. But I realise now that my approach was all wrong. I expected instant progress and the promise of a cure, but it takes trial and error to find the right therapist, and you have to be in it for the long haul. I didn’t have the patience – or the money – so sorting out my mess has relied on self-help, a lot of experience (both good and bad) and a few wise and long-suffering friends.
OL: I read that you’ve been disparaging about facets of Britpop. There’s a very dull hauntology to the big man bands of back then. I’m not wholly averse to people doing that, maybe even when more slavishly so, it is less but more original then! Ha! There’s something conforming about that time. But I’d never ever really thought of your band as being totally part of that if at all from my vantage point at the time (in Southern California). You had something more abrasive and collectively interesting and outsider-y about the music. Like you weren’t trying to get in, you were trying to get out and take people with you. You inhabited a liminal space. There’s a credibility thing you earned. Is that really a thing? Is it worth anything? Anyway now I think of Britpop era bands as sort of like… The Watchmen, if you’ve read that… Like vigilantes, with their own rules, then suddenly outlawed… The Britpop costumes stowed in the back of the closet now, but some can’t leave them there…
Miki: I don’t blame the bands, particularly – there have been macho knobheads in every era. It’s the environment and the whole ‘business’ that changed, which facilitated the worst behaviour. It was just money, money, money and a completely unimaginative value system. I remember one Britpop bloke banging on about how their single getting to Number 2 in the charts proved their worth and meant they would be remembered in the history books as ‘important’, and my reply was that The Cocteau Twins had never had a Top 20 single in their lives and they were fifty times more important than his band.
But to be honest, drugs had a lot to do with it. And the drugs were everywhere.
Miki Berenyi appears with her book, Fingers Crossed: How Music Saved Me From Success, on February 4th at the 2023 Wolverhampton Literature Festival⇒