Paul. Hamilton. It’s about time someone wrote a biography of this underrated poet. You’ve seen him on TV in his Shadows of Reflections special, and you’ve heard him on the radio in his Poets’ Tree poetry documentary (and if you haven’t, they’re both on YouTube). Now read all about his life in the new book by Hamilton’s comedy actor cousin Kevin Eldon: My Prefect Cousin: A Short Biography of Paul Hamilton (2014). This biography is made up almost entirely of transcripts of interviews with Paul, his family, and other people who knew him at one point or another. There is also an introduction by Eldon, recounting how the publisher approached him on this book idea, and a letter from Hamilton himself, arguing that Eldon has not portrayed him in a fair light. Well, you be the judge.
Much of Hamilton’s post-grad youth is spent following a man named Charlie in and out of bands. Compared to many of the characters, we don’t get the clearest vision of Charlie (though a banker who pretends to headbutt his boss whenever he isn’t looking gives you a pretty good idea), but it’s really Hamilton’s doting on him that stars in these scenes. For some reason, he’s decided that Charlie is the authority on all genres of music and will forever be his right-hand man, or bassist. As the reader, we can only assume that the reason Hamilton was the only person never to leave Charlie’s bands wasn’t because Charlie liked him too much to fire him but because Hamilton just wouldn’t go away. This conclusion is never hinted at in Hamilton’s own recollection of the time, or indeed Charlie’s as he wasn’t available for interview, but it would fit the pattern seen in the rest of the book.
We see it again some time later when he meets Justin Wiverly, who he decides is a renowned poet, rather than a pompous drunk. Justin doesn’t like Hamilton–that’s clear from all the horrible things he says about Hamilton’s poems, but Hamilton is only encouraged by him, all the way until his death when Hamilton reads Wiverly his poetry off into the great beyond, Wiverly gasping, “No more! No more!”
And then there’s Sophie, quite the opposite of Justin or Charlie. She’s decided to follow Paul around. Despite all her many marriages before and during their relationship, she always comes back to the truth, that Paul is her true love. Paul, though modest about his affections, doesn’t dispute the matter. It’s when they fight that he is most miserable, even once causing him to disappear for three years, quitting poetry, and re-joining the rock’n’roll scene in effort to block out the pain of his emotions. Of all the interviewees, Eldon has done the best portraying Sophie. You actually kind of get why she’d love this emotionally distraught ego-maniac.
From a tortured soul in a picturesque childhood to host and founder of a popular poetry night, this biography covers every aspect of Hamilton’s life, but probably the most remarkable part about this biography is that…there is no such person as Paul Hamilton. Well, not in the traditional sense. I mean, yes, you can see him on television and hear him on the radio, and if you’re lucky, you’ll catch him at a live show, but he is suspiciously never caught in the same place as his cousin Kevin Eldon, except in the stories that appear in this book, recounted by Eldon himself. The stories, though, do bleed into reality probably more than we realize. A large portion of Hamilton’s young adulthood is dedicated to being in rock bands. We know that Eldon has been in bands, so how much of it is true, we wonder. There’s also an intriguing bit about both Hamilton and Eldon being a part of Cluub Zarathustra with Simon Munnery, which makes me want to read Go Faster Stripe’s book on that piece of comedy history.
The vision Eldon paints of his cousin is extremely vivid, and Hamilton is right to see that the writer is implying more than what the words themselves give away: nobody really liked Hamilton, not as a child or as an adult, except maybe his girlfriend Sophie. He is pompous and has a grandiose sense of self worth, which is also his saving grace because if he realized what a prick he was, he wouldn’t bother continuing with his endeavors, like writing poetry and starting poetry clubs. However there is also a real darkness here, one I can only imagine Eldon knows a thing or two about, judging by the realness he puts into Hamilton’s three “lost” periods. There’s a moment when he’s riding his bike for a delivery and he just keeps riding, out into the country, where he stays until his bag of lunches runs out. Haven’t we all done that, or at least wanted to? Hamilton does what perhaps anyone who’s made a big mistake wants to do–he runs away and starts life over, reconnecting with the interests he had when he was younger, albeit in a hollow, unemotional way. There is no greater part of the book than when Sophie tracks him down three years later and rescues himself from himself. I wish more of the book was written in the style of this chapter–through Eldon’s retelling rather than just transcripts. But for every over-the-top vomit joke, there are five subtle turns of phrases that show off Eldon’s true talents as a comedy writer.
Finally, the book ends with a collection of poems, each with an introduction by Hamilton.