New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Review: ‘Fingers Crossed’ is a stripped portrait of a shoegaze icon

Miki Berenyi’s memoir, “Fingers Crossed: How Music Saved Me from Success” recounts the seasoned musician’s complicated upbringing and tumultuous journey navigating the British alternative music scene in the late ’80s to ’90s.
Allina Xiao
(Allina Xiao for WSN)

Amid the current shoegaze resurgence brought on by nostalgia-fueled TikToks, new fans of the 30-year-old subgenre are indulging in its ethereal soundscapes by way of Cocteau Twins and Slowdive. Unlike the aforementioned bands, Lush escaped mainstream success, but had a dedicated cult following of veteran shoegaze fans. 

Two years ago, and 24 years since Lush’s official breakup, the band’s fire-haired frontwoman, Miki Berenyi, published her memoir, “Fingers Crossed: How Music Saved Me from Success,” which was since released in the United States on April 9, 2024. The memoir unravels the seasoned musician’s searingly candid tale about navigating her childhood and career — both equally tumultuous. Berenyi’s confessional writing style, peppered with disarming and distinctly British humor, offers an intimate and honest glimpse into an often-mythologized era of musical history. 

Born to a Hungarian father and Japanese mother, Berenyi was instantly recognizable by the poppy red locks she branded herself with in her youth. Her band, co-spearheaded by Emma Anderson and joined by the likes of Phil King, Chris Acland and — briefly — Steve Rippon, was among the most beloved in the shoegaze scene at the time. 

Split into two parts, “Fingers Crossed” is different from most music memoirs. Whereas the standard music memoir spends much of its time talking about the double-edged glamour of stardom, Berenyi dedicates half her book to her highly unconventional childhood as a biracial girl growing up in London during the ’70s.

Her mother, Yasuko Nagazumi, was a Japanese actress who is best known for her role in the James Bond film “You Only Live Twice” (1967). Because of the nature of her job, Nagazumi lived in Los Angeles while Berenyi stayed in London with Ivan, her father and a chronic womanizer. Her father enlisted the help of his mother and unapologetic Nazi sympathizer, Nora, to help care for his daughter. 

Berenyi’s early story is one laden with abuse and exploitation, first from her grandmother and her father’s friends, then in her adult relationships. In the first part of the memoir, her matter-of-fact writing style betrays glimpses of anger and pain as she processes what happened to her decades after it all happened. Easily the most despicable character in the book, Nora is sexually abusive and emotionally volatile. Berenyi’s account of their relationship is heartbreaking to read, especially as we see how her coping mechanism manifested itself in harmful, self-destructive behavior.

“Sometimes I stare at the toothless cavity of her mouth, fallen open as she snores, and want to stick my fist inside until she chokes,” Berenyi writes. Eventually, we see how her complicated and traumatic upbringing warped her idea of love for much of her adult life, as she recounts her messy sexual encounters and chaotic romantic flings. 

Amid the madness, Berenyi finds her passion in music despite having little faith in any “inborn talent” of hers, believing in the “punk-rock ethic” that anyone — including herself — could be a part of it. Upon befriending Anderson in school, Berenyi and Anderson become partners in crime as they both claw their way into the music industry, first by running a fanzine called “Alphabet Soup,” and then going on to form Lush.

The second part of “Fingers Crossed” undoubtedly marks the memoir as a must-read for any fan of the shoegaze subgenre. The memoirist intimately immerses the reader in the British music scene by way of informal footnotes that act as bits of cheeky metacommentary. Deeply entrenched in the social circle dubbed by critics as “the scene that celebrates itself,” Berenyi talks fondly about her close friendships with dozens of massive names in the history of alternative music — Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine, Pale Saints, just to name a few. 

However, Berenyi steers clear of blindly glorifying the good old days like so many music memoirs tend to do — think “Just Kids” by Patti Smith, which beautified the bohemian, impecunious lifestyle. Instead, Berenyi makes a point of criticizing the rampant sexism she experienced as a woman in a music scene that was lauded for its supposed androgyny. She recalls a time she refused to cooperate with a photographer who asked her and Anderson to pose provocatively over a toilet for a magazine as “wank fodder” — and was called “uptight” for it —  as well as numerous degrading encounters she had with men in the Britpop scene that the shoegaze crowd was gradually overtaken by.

Berenyi never intended to write a memoir, saying to WSN that it took much convincing on her manager’s part to even consider writing “Fingers Crossed.” It took the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown, and losing her office job, for her to finally cave to her manager’s pleas. Despite her initial hesitancy to write the memoir, “Fingers Crossed” is a true testament to Berenyi’s literary talents. Her unabashedly honest writing makes for a page-turning and deeply nuanced portrait of herself and the movement she rose to fame in.

Contact Stephanie Wong at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Stephanie Wong
Stephanie Wong, Arts Editor
Stephanie Wong is a junior double-majoring in Media, Culture and Communication and Journalism, with a minor in English Literature. In her spare time, she loves watching bad movies and curating esoteric Spotify playlists. You can find her at @_stephaniewong_ on Instagram, @normalstephanie on Spotify, and unfortunately, on Letterboxd as @emima.

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