Book Review: Romany and Tom by Ben Watt

Romany and tom picThere comes a time when we are forced to see our parents as actual human beings, and not just our parents. And we also have to face the fact our parents are getting older and will soon leave us with nothing but memories. Musician, songwriter and author Ben Watt not only experiences both these issues but writes about them in his memoir Romany and Tom.

Without a doubt most music fans have heard of the multi-talented Mr. Watt. Along with his wife, Tracey Thorn, he been at the helm of the pop duo Everything But the Girl for several decades. But he is also an immensely gifted writer. His earlier memoir Patient, Watt chronicled his near-death struggle with Chugg-Strauss syndrome. Now his focus is on his parents, and what a tale he has to tell.

When God made Romany and Tom Watt, he definitely broke the molds. Tom Wattwas a charming rascal, a jazz musician and band leader who enjoyed a brief but notable amount of success until pop and rock began to steal the aural leanings of the listening public.

Romany was a Shakespearean actress who later turned her talents to writing becoming a notable journalist chronicling the gossipy going-ons of various celebrities. She was also a fallen woman, a divorcee, who had three children before she met and married Tom and had Ben.

Romany and Tom begins just as Watt’s parents are facing the inevitable-the end of their lives. In rich detail, Watt describes the phsyical and mental frailties of Romany and Tom, the slips and falls in the bathroom that leaves the elder Mr. Watt badly hurt and Romany completely befuddled on how to call for an ambulance. While reading these passages, I could actually envision these two once hale and hearty people decaying and feeling a great deal of empathy towards them and Watt as he attended to their care.

While dealing with his parents Watt also had to come into terms with his own rather less than orthodox childhood and his parents’ odd marriage. Sure, to a woman like myself, Watt’s childhood seemed positively glamorous! His father was a musician and his mum got to hang out with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton (and got paid to do it). But to young Ben, it was just a part of life in the Watt household. His parents also faced career setbacks and perished dreams, which often put a damper on the Watt household vibe, particularly the Watt marriage.

And it is once Romany and Tom are older that it is not just their physical and mental states the younger Watt has to deal with, it’s also their feelings for each other. Let’s just say it’s much easier to herd cats than it is to manage the tangled web of anger, love, sadness and other emotional entanglements of marriage that is not one’s one. But somehow Watt does it without puffing himself as a hero or making a himself a martyr. It’s just a part of life. There is pain, but there is also beauty in a reality a majority of us will face (if we’re not facing it already).

To say this memoir was at time a difficullt and an uneasy read is putting it mildly. At times I had to put Romany and Tom down because it made me face the concept and brutal certainty of getting older. And I know it must have been very difficult for Watt to face the demise of his larger than life parents swallowed up by the physical and mental dessication that occurs duing the twilight of one’s lives.

Yet, Ben never expresses pity towards his parents, nor does he wallow in pity for himself and his parental predicament. Romany and Tom is both beautifully truthful and truthfully beautiful, and once again, Watt proves to be a masterful writer of both music and memoirs. I can only imagine what other books Watt might write in the future. And I hope he does. In an age where D-listers and reality show cretins get book deals, it is comfort to have a celeb that actually deserves one. Bravo, Ben, bravo!