Through Thick And Thin: Miki Berenyi On Lush And Loss

Recently published memoir by Miki Berenyi, Fingers Crossed: How Music Saved Me From Success, is a survival manual for a life adventurer, finds Irina Shtreis

Before starting a band, described by 1989’s Melody Maker as “archetypal and weird”, Miki Berenyi had been on an emotional roller-coaster. Disrupted communication with family members, abuse and longing fed into the music that conjures up gothic fantasy worlds in the late 80s setting.

Today the founding member of Lush recalls the events of her turbulent past with an enviable sense of humour. Enjoying the comfort of her home in Dollis Hill, Berenyi seemingly contrasts with the restless and desperate version of her red-haired self thirty-five years ago. Still, there is that invigorating and sparkling energy that one would unmistakably associate with a lover of music and life. “I knew we were a bit crap but it didn’t matter – it was still exciting”, she sums up the early days of Lush. “And if it worked just for thirty seconds, you would say, Oh that was really good”. 

Despite the title hinting at a miraculous quality of music, the book in fact can be treated as a how-to-survive manual, whether she talks about the hostile environment of the music industry or her problematic family life. Berenyi was born in London shortly after her parents settled in the UK. Following their bitter divorce, she had to split the time between her father, sports journalist of Hungarian descent Ivan Berenyi, and mother, Japanese actress and producer Yasuko Nagazumi. With a lack of proper care from the former and some distant care from the latter (Yasuko moved to the US together with her second husband Ray Austin), Miki has to avoid the company of abusive grandmother Nora and learns how to be a good friend even when the receiving part does not appreciate it.

“My dad for all his lunacy was actually a very good friend”, says Berenyi, explaining her attitude to friendship. “I heard many people saying, ‘When I was young, Ivan took me here and did this and that for me.’ He had what I do recognise in myself. It’s a mix of warmth, hospitality and friendship but also quite demanding. That’s probably conformed my idea of friendship.”  

The ‘lunacy’ of Ivan, particularly his inability to commit to a relationship, was the flipside of his generosity as well as respect for one’s freedom and choice, including that in Miki’s life. “I know I’ve given my parents a hard time in these pages, but they were 100 per cent behind me with Lush”, she writes in the book. “They never once questioned what I was doing or pestered me to get a ‘proper job’. Unveiled in the final chapter of Part 1, Ivan’s death in 2010 divides the book into two halves.

A fervent diary writer, Berenyi gives a confessional account of her life, dashing the narrative with emotive drops of her recollections from the past. “I had my first diary in 1980 or something. I was twelve. That was when my mum moved to America. I didn’t have other siblings or family members to talk to. I didn’t stop really. The whole time I was in the band, I was scribbling away, I think I’ve got a lot of my private angst into that. It wasn’t really a diary where it’s like a kind of record of what happened or a journalistic description of what’s happening. It was more like ‘Fucking hell!’.”

While denying her interest in music biographies, Berenyi names a few that popped up in her mind during the long pandemic days of writing. “There was one about Nico by a guy who went on tour with her. It’s very sad but also poignant. When I first got it, it wasn’t a hit yet. It was quite fresh. I know quite a few people who were going, I can’t read it, she just seems such an unpleasant person. That’s what I really liked about her because she really didn’t give a shit what you would think of her. She is just going, ‘This is what happened, this is how I felt, if you don’t fucking like it, you can piss off’. Tracey Thorn’s My Rock ‘n’ Roll Friend is another one. She has a very dignified way of writing which I would like to mimic but I don’t have that kind of self-control”. 

The second part of the book focuses on the story of Lush. After the band lands on the solid soil of the 4AD label in 1989, the four find themselves confronted by the challenging forces of the music business. The bandlearns the ropes, deals with their controversial public image and its consequences. Although in an ideal world, Lush songwriters, Berenyi and Emma Anderson would complement each other – Anderson is practical and businesslike (she insists that the two get songwriting credit right from the start), while Miki is creative and animated – their de-facto collaboration turns into unhealthy competition. 

The environment, incorporating sex, drugs and media-imposed shoegaze as inevitable elements, was another impediment to stable relationships within the band and a better attitude towards themselves. By the end of excessive touring at Lollapalooza in 1992, the band had been weary and in dire need of a mental recharge. One of the pictures from that period displays Berenyi, bruised and worn out, on a hospital bed after her desperate stage diving that followed an unpleasant incident with Pearl Jam. “That was by the end of the tour, in Dallas. I had an absolutely crazy day which started with my guitar getting knocked over by Pearl Jam and its neck-snapping. I was so pissed off. I suddenly realised this divide between rock excess and modest indie attitudes. They said, ‘You can just use one of ours’. They had fifty guitars, while I had two. And one of them was destroyed. I couldn’t use any of their rocky guitars. When I started crying they looked at me as if I was some pathetic girl”. 

While the description of insulting sexual behaviour, aggressive mansplaining and the careless attitude of the band’s managers sound unnerving, all music industry bollocks pales in comparison to real losses. Although written almost thirty years after the most tragic events in the author’s life, Fingers Crossed reads piercingly emotional and, as she admits, ‘visceral’. Both parts of the book end with the deaths of loved ones, yet these events are not chronological. With the passing of Lush’s drummer Chris Acland in 1996, the story of the band draws to a close. A reunion follows in 2016 with Phil King on bass and Justin Welch on drums. Shortly after Berenyi forms Piroshka with her partner Moose, Welch and Michael Conroy. A gratifying finale of the book that convincingly describes one’s life as the way of the warrior and lover.  

“Love is rare and not to be taken for granted,” she writes. “But I’m aware it’s not enough on its own, either. Having kids taught me that simply feeling love isn’t enough, that it needs care and attention and effort – compromises to be made, demands to be met, the right environment – to thrive”.

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today