Culture Trips

The mystery of ‘lost’ rock genius Lee Mavers

Whatever the reasons for Mavers’ decision to retreat from the music industry, perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise. The lyrics on The La’s hint at a soul unhappy with his situation. Throughout the album Mavers sings of being lost, bound, chained, tied, looking for freedom, needing a melody to unblock the thoughts circling his mind. Some lyrics seem to predict what was to come: given his reported preoccupation with rerecording the album, the very opening lines “If you want I’ll sell you a life story/about a man who’s at loggerheads with his past all the time” now sound particularly prophetic. 

Yet the image of Mavers as the tortured artist needs reassessing. From Brian Wilson to Syd Barrett – to whom Mavers is often compared – the myth of the doomed musical genius suffering for their art pervades popular culture, perpetuating the idea that anguish equates to greatness. But Mavers has rejected that characterisation of him in the past. He told Rachel mockingly: “All the Syd Barrett [stuff]… thanks for giving me that card. I’ll play it every time… I couldn’t have invented it”.

In truth, Mavers is happily living in a suburb of Liverpool, long since clean from drugs and a committed family man. “I’m a father now,” he told Rachel. “I haven’t done any of that [drugs] for decades… I’m just a fellow that’s got four kids and just living and observing as anyone could”. Mavers seems content with a quiet life, interested in music purely for its own sake, free from its commercial shackles and expectations. As much as the narrative of what might have been keeps fans interested, perhaps this remarkable talent has given all he wishes to give. “I don’t think we’ve lost anything,” says Rachel. “He gave me something that’s stayed with me all of my life.”

Even as the concept of the reclusive genius gets closer to extinction in this oversharing, social media age, it is arguably to Mavers’ credit that he remains as unattainable and unknowable as ever. But for all the myths and legends surrounding him, perhaps it’s worth remembering what Mavers told Macefield: “I’m just a man, la. Just a person”.

The La’s Callin’ All: 1986-1987 LP is available on Mike Badger’s Viper Label.

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