Title: Syd Kitchen – Scars That Shine
Author: Donvé Lee
Publisher: Tracey McDonald Publishers
I was in my mid-teens when I went out with my parents one night to the Durban Folk Club. I don’t remember much from that evening. The image of one musician, however, has always stayed with me. He was a skinny bloke with black hair down his back. He was wearing a long black coat, a leopard skin hat and an acoustic guitar. That was Syd Kitchen.
More than deserving of a place in Durban’s pantheon of colourful characters, struggling musos and lovable rogues, his bittersweet, tragicomic life is laid bare in Cape Town author Donvé Lee’s Scars That Shine. It’s not often you come across an autobiography that isn’t written by the subject, but Lee went out on a creative limb and,writing in first person, succeeded in capturing Syd in his own voice. Moments of clarification, verification and vilification are provided by those who drifted in and out of the old skabenga’s life.
Lee first met Syd in 2001. Later, on another of his trips to Cape Town, he semi-seriously asks her to write his memoirs one day. The guitar-toting reprobate would be delighted to know that she’s done just that. Lee found her way into his hyper hippy head through hours of research and talking to his daughters, musicians, academics and long-suffering friends and lovers.
Syd spent much of his life in Umbilo. Determined to be as good a guitarist as his brother Pete, he worked hard at developing his talent. He worked even harder at developing his addictions. If it was harmful and within reach he’d have some of it. He had no off-switch and the idling was set too high. It’s perhaps fitting the final chapter is titled, Till the Engine Seizes.
To say Syd was his own worst enemy is an understatement. He did more than anyone to sabotage his career. And yet there were moments of brilliant sunshine that streamed into the murk and mayhem. At the age of 40, he gets his honours in musicology from the University of Natal. He travels overseas to record a track on a John Martyn tribute album. Documentaries are made about him. He’s the renegade in the Aquarian Quartet with Steve Newman and Tony Cox. He plays Glastonbury.
Through it all is a simmering rage that he never made it as big as he thought he deserved. Scars That Shine whips the reader through a life that leaves one open-mouthed in admiration and antipathy in equal measure.