By Susie Bennett
It isn’t very often that an artist produces a body of work with such a level of depth and quality that you feel called to give two nights of your own life in order to be entered into their autobiography. Metapop maestro and master songwriter Stephin Merritt, however, is inspiring just that at The Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, and it’s going to be worth your temporal concurrence.
With his band The Magnetic Fields, Merritt will deliver a two-night performance of the band’s latest album opus 50 Song Memoir. It is a prolific work that explores the first half century of Merritt’s life with a song for each of his 50 years on earth. Songs 1 through to 25 will take place on 3rd September, and songs 26 through to 50 will be performed on the following evening of the 4th. This ‘stage extravaganza’ will also feature 50 instruments from Merritt’s immense collection and a spectacular set design including 50 years’ worth of musical and decorative artefacts. These will include (amongst other things) vintage computers and magazines, reel-to-reel tape decks, a tiki bar and shag carpet.
Like all autobiographies, some of their drama comes from their form as incomplete subjective documents. Merritt’s is no different in this respect. He has reportedly sought permission from those who might be ‘offended’ by his depiction of their appearance throughout the various eras of his life. Those familiar with the album will know that these depictions are often delivered in baritone with his trademark acerbic literary wit and include references to his Mother’s propensity for new age practices (with the exception of crystal healing – she doesn’t believe in that).
Merritt’s coverage of life’s minutiae is relatable and possesses the same admirable immediacy to that of a cult novel protagonist who can play guitar, ukulele, keyboards and glockenspiel. 50 Song Memoir enters us into Merritt’s relational cognitions that include game-playing with eye contact, how his scepticism contributed to him failing Ethics, and his sexual relationship with an Ex to name just a sample from his sonic document of personal nostalgia.
It will be interesting to see how this live performance opens up the boundaries of the audience/author dynamic as 50 Song Memoir lives in tension with its various depicted players and witnesses to chronology – which on these two nights this will include us the audience. In the spirit of participation, I will be wearing my most autobiographically significant underwear.