Tuesday, April 13, 2010

BOOK REVIEW!---APATHY FOR THE DEVIL by Nick Kent (Faber and Faber, 2010)

Boy do I love the seventies! I mean it!!! Yeah I know that for many of you high energy maniacs they were dog times especially if one could still remember the fifties and sixties (see Billy Miller in the opening remarks found in the second issue of his fanzine KICKS) and I certainly can see their point-of-view, but for unaware cloistered from nowheresville jerks like myself they were pretty invigorating days to have wallowed in. No, I wouldn't want to once again experience the humiliation and degradation of school and forced patterns of "acceptable" behavior that were being thrust upon me by people who claimed they "knew better", but my overall experiences of existing throughout the seventies still hold a special place in what's left of my heart.

After all, the seventies were the decade when I first became aware of just about everything rather than accept my environment at face value. During the early part of those years I began closely studying comic strip/book art and history instead of treating the subject matter as just more disposable product. Rock & roll first gained meaning for me in the seventies as well, first with the bright flash of AM brilliance via T. Rex, the Hollies and Alice Cooper and later on (thanks to my exposure to CREEM amongst other under-the-counter publications) the Velvet Underground, Roky Erickson and Pere Ubu. Television (we're talking the medium though I was fully aware of and listening to the group back then) was always an obsession of mine, but with the glory days of syndicated tee-vee bringing back the "original" Golden Age circa. 1957-67 there was plenty of exciting programming for all of us to re-live or perhaps even experience for the first time. And with an upswing in entertaining programming beginning in the middle portion of that decade (even with the usually stodgy/politically snobbish PBS airing long-neglected silent movies, MONTY PYTHON and Ernie Kovacs reruns) there was no reason for anyone to be tubeless. Yes, the seventies were a decade which I entered into a sniveling young maladjusted ADD-riddled boy, and exited a sniveling young maladjusted ADD-riddled man (who's still taken by such predictable-yet-fun puns like the one you've just read!).

Maybe that's why I really squeezed so much pleasure out of this all-engrossing book by onetime enfant terrible rockscreeder Nick Kent. It's just what the Doc (Rock) ordered, an autobiography of the man and a take on the seventies rock music scene as witnessed through the comparatively addled yet fully-aware eyes of an intelligent-if-strung out genius, the results of which are mighty invigorating. Since such things have a such a high rating w/regards to my own personal sense of energy how could I ignore a promising deep-dive into the ocean of rock & roll mythology as this?

I'm sure the majority of you readers don't really needs any introduction as to who Kent is, and it's about as plain and clear as the polyps on your hineyhole that if anything Kent, along with Mick Farren and Charles Shaar Murray, were the three heavyweights on the UK publishing scene roughly analogous to the likes of Lester Bangs, Richard Meltzer and Mike Saunders here in the United States. Proto-punk badboys of the printed page to put it mildly, and although I'm a relative newcomer (mid/late-eighties at best) to Kent's wit and wisdom (definitely due to the lack of NME's that were making their way to Sharon) I find that this book, because it covers the seventies and rock writing scene in one sitting, is definitely a rock & roll event in an age when such happenstance seems to be about as common as functioning hair follicles on our collective pates!

Yeah, I know that Kent's one of those guys who some might feel like loathing strictly for aesthetic purposes (which I can understand, in my own simpleton way), but he's well beyond the ol' Chuck Eddy stage of putting on a populist pose to stick it to the truly enlightened rock & roll snobs like us. More than a few "typical" BLOG TO COMM readers would find his championing of such mellow mush as Joni Mitchell, David Crosby and his IF I COULD ONLY REMEMBER MY NAME (heck, Byron Coley once got beat up for wearing a t-shirt with that album's cover emblazoned!) and Rod Stewart to be "beyond the pale" but really, once ya get down to it why should we care! Unlike the usual champagne-sipping rock fanboys mooching off the business types, Kent was spending most of his time in between getting wasted creating a massive legend with his contributions to FRIENDZ and later on NME as well as cultivating a whole load of starry-eyed (and often jaded) friendships with everybody from Keith Richard, Marc Bolan, Johnny Thunders and best of all Iggy and his Stooges to the point where for one stray moment we all thought Kent was going to be joining that band in a matter of moments! And really, what have I (let alone you) done lately?

Really, so what if the guy actually championed a number of surprising restrained and unexciting (at least using my own personal set of values) recording acts...I mean, you used to see Lester Bangs spilling loads of ink all over some of the hokiest Southern rock acts of the seventies imaginable (and he wasn't even from the South which always was a good excuse) while Richard Meltzer seemed to lead the rah-rah section for Mahogany Rush a little more than anyone shoulda. And even to this day Kent's onetime friend/eventual adversary Charles Shaar Murray still expresses his kinship for early Jethro Tull singles and I really don't see much of a difference between these well-respected scribes' guilty pleasures and you still having an affection for the tiresome amerindie singles that have been cluttering up the landscape these past thirtysome years. In fact in some ways seeing the seventies vanguard dabble in these commercial atrocities comes off a lot cooler in its own strange fashion than championing the same old "hip" items that helped ruin the late-eighties for me, if not you.

As we've half-expected, you get the whole sordid kitten-kaboodle lowdown on Kent about his humble beginnings from teen fan to lowdown punk who worms his way into writing record reviews for the post-ROLLING STONE fortnightly FRIENDZ whilst making quite a hot underground credo name/image for himself in the process. Of course this is all before Kent does his doody by saving the NME from total annihilation with a whole ream of definitely post-hippie rusty-eyed articles on everybody from the MC5 (OK, that one was for FRIENDZ), Can and Syd Barrett making that paper one of the most read amongst the hip thrillseekers perusing the early-seventies English weekly fishwraps. Much of it is high-lariously funny like the time he was interviewing a coke-strung Led Zeppelin and just happened to mention what most people knew about them ripping off old blues toons only to have the entire entourage walk out on him while manager Peter Grant's screaming at the top of his lungs at the poor bloke who set up the meeting! Or howzbout the time when Kent was in Detroit stoned and lost and happened to walk into some tough bar in the black section of town when three big guys cornered him only to ask if he played guitar with Elton John! (Turned out these guys really liked the guitar part on "Crocodile Rock" and Kent's Caucasian skin was saved with his little white lie affirmative which not only got him free passage but one of the men's wife an autographed beer mat!) Talk about laff-a-minnit knee-slappers! APATHY FOR THE DEVIL might just be one of the funniest books to have come out since THE MAD AVENTURES OF CAPTAIN KLUTZ!

The wild parties Kent observed first hand (sometimes as a willing participant in the decadence) and chance meetings are priceless as well, and although this book coulda been titled something like "Guys Who Took Drugs Every Second Throughout the Seventies And Lived" I gotta 'fess up to the fact that without drugs this book woulda been a lot less interesting, even if a lot less tragic in its outcome.

As one would expect APATHY's been drumming up quite a bitta controversy over in England, especially when it comes to the brief bits regarding Kent's association with none other than former-NME contributor and overall walking blunderbuss Julie Birchill. Birchill herself has made a big "stink" (operative word) in her recent "review" of the tome especially with regard to Kent's mention of not only her cutthroat "Myra Hindleyesque nature" (good one, Nick!) but Burchill's supposed lack of personal daintiness in the olfactory department. (But don't feel too left out Julie, since Kent says that his first meeting with Charles Shaar Murray at an early-seventies rock festival left him with nostrils totally reamed as well, though strangely enough nada is mentioned about onetime mentor Lester Bangs' legendary reekiness which I understand was at times just too hard to stomach!) As we'd all expect, in typical pot-calling-kettle-black fashion Birchill's response re. Mr. Accuser himself brings up the supposed (but I would believe it given the circumstances) fact that Kent wasn't one to inhale deeply next to either and that little Julie was always as dainty as a daisy and your sinuses were naturally safe in her company! Of course the Briton to end all Britons has to add to the fray the little cutting comment that if anything Kent is in all probability just another "poseur" (hippie punk word), a definitely-to-be-loathed member of the bourgeois who got into the heavy drug scene unlike Ms. Nibbs, she being the humbly proud daughter of a communist who dabbled deeply in her own English socialist/feminist wanker rockcritiquing making it into the nineties having gone neocon whilst fighting it out with Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins to see who could be the most nauseating royal subject ever!

As you'd guess these fightin' words of both Kent and Birchill have created quite a little bit of teapot tempesting on-line, but when all was said and done I guess we can just take her spleen venting to be another example of that typical menopausal feminism revealing itself at its most odious testosterone level. As if we could take anything the chub (and this is coming from a bonafide tubbie himself!) says, from her infamous English Snob assessments of El Lay in an early-eighties NME to (get this!) a particularly cringe-inducing bitchslapping of Irishmen celebrating St. Patrick's Day with a march through London. Oh, they being Irish and all even in Celtophobic England was OK, but celebrating that evil misogynist gay-hating saint...too much for this working class post-feminist yob to handle no doubt!

Boy do I love these digressions especially when dealing with that womens-"lip" blowhard as well as her ex-hubby dork Tony Parsons (who comes off as a turd, but here mostly by association), but anyway it's these juicy personal blabbermouth tidbits that really make APATHY FOR THE DEVIL such an eye-gouger. Speaking of eye-gouging, there just happens to be, for some reason or another, a lotta ink spilled on Led Zep manager Grant, a former "enforcer" who comes off at times like a benevolent yet still-to-be-feared giant who could either be Kent's best friend or worst nemesis depending on the drug du jour working its way around Grant's professional wrestler build. (A funny aside, given my inexplicable sieve-like memory I had totally forgotten about the legend surrounding this man the time Mike Snider told me about his passing way back '95 way...for some reason I had pictured him as the exact opposite to his burly maddening self, a gaffe for which no logical explanation can be given. Almost as bad as the time I totally forgot that Lou Reed's paramour of the seventies Rachel was actually a transvestite causing me much due embarrassment!) And speaking of Lou, he comes off like a zombie in this book though strangely enough nothing is mentioned of the time (recounted by Kent in a '76 ZIG ZAG interview) the rumor was out that Reed wanted to lock himself in a room with Kent and beat the tar outta him, something that never did happen though I know by the end of this book you'd think that half of the rock world would have loved to have torn Kent apart with glee! (In one of the funnier segments the Bee Gees were on the warpath after a Kent review but nothing happened then either! Of course seeing those three pansy brothers slapping Kent would have made for fun press but as far as Kent could tell, the only thing a stoned Maurice could do was sneer at the man!)

Boy I am getting carts before horses here so let me just tell you about a few other tasty bits in this read, like Kent's trek to Detroit to study rock writing from Lester Bangs himself, which also made for an exciting time on my behalf (the part where Kent espied Bangs crying after reading the ROLLING STONE expose of idol Jack Kerouac was something that I'm positive inspired ol' Lester's article entitled "I Don't Want To Be Like Kerouac And End Up Living With My Mother" for BOOGIE #6) though I certainly have my doubts about the saga Kent relates dealing with time Lester was mouthing off anti-English epithets regarding the state of the rock over there and Kent "allegedly" delivered a stinging comeback saying that while the English were creating art and culture and acting all pip pip cheerio and the like us Amerigans were shooting up whorehouses and acting like a buncha wildassed cowboys (kinda sounds like the pro-Greek/Anti-English remarks that got Taki kicked outta the place long ago!). I mean, cuh-MONH! Lester even in the worst drug haze coulda topped Kent's comeback with a real zinger 'stead of being "put in his place" like the guy claims happened! But since this is Kent's book I guess he can make himself the top dog in any situation he can get away with!

There's plenty more fun crud jammed in from the time Keith Richard was speeding all over the place in his Ferrari with Kent in tow just to show how above-it-all these decadent types could be (kinda reminds me of the story where Peter Laughner took Bruce Springsteen to the airport at breakneck speed and Springsteen was actually impressed by the recklessness of it all), or his on/off/on relationship with future Pretender/then NME hotshot Chrissie Hynde which shows her to be pretty imbalanced in her own female bitch way. Even more startling is the strange Jeckyll/Hyde relationship that the Sex Pistols contingent had with Kent, he originally helping the seemingly clueless circle of Malcolm McLaren and crew (pre-Lydon) by getting them outta their late-sixties pop rut and into the Modern Lovers and Stooges only to have the entire crew turn on him before making up then turning again in a cycle that isn't exactly "vicious" (intend the pun if you like) as it is redundant. The great amount of agony that Kent had to suffer at the hoards of fans who blindly emulated the Sid Vicious/Jah Wobble bike chain incident in their own unique ways (usually with straight out knives) seems like the worst case scenario for any writer to go through and if the guy is to be trusted Kent really had to go through a whole lot thanks to the onetime lovey-dovey generation that turned psychopathic seemingly with the drop of a hat. (But oh man I can see the reason for the ire in my own twisted way, as if I wouldn't want to "off" Anastasia Pantsios, Dave Lang or Jay Hinman myself or at least have them endure a load of humiliation that nobody could ever live down which I can tell you about first-hand!)

But then again it's when the down-home stars kick off their shoes that you find out they're just like Lawrence Welk, regaling stories that really make APATHY such a winner. Like the time Kent runs into an overweight and perhaps overwrought Marc Bolan and galpal Gloria Jones in some flophouse and Kent and Bolan have this real nice downhome chat about Syd Barrett with Bolan ranting about the time he finally got to meet Dylan who asked "aren't you in the Incredible String Band" much to the elf's dismay! Ot the part where a terminally down-and-strung-out Kent is attacked at a bar by some guys who are clearly not fans of his which, perhaps because of his nervous system buckling from all of the drugs, makes Kent break down and sob like a hurt kid when who else but the long estranged Chrissie Hynde comes to his aid...sheesh, who could ever expect warmth and kindness in a brazen and hate-strewn world as rock & roll anyway?

I dunno...let's just say that if you liked the seventies as well as discovering the new and energetic music that decade produced. and perhaps even considered the rock writers to be just as important as the stars who tried to beat them up you've just gotta get this. It's about as fun as pouring through a stack of old fanzines or even your own personal clippings of Kent and his cronies' efforts which, not surprisingly, were often shunted away in favor of something more attuned to the sickening sweet demeanor we've been drenched with ever since those days. Let's just say that buying your own copy of APATHY FOR THE DEVIL might just send a personal message to all of those nameless imitators who I assume still contribute to THE VILLAGE VOICE as to what good rock writing is!


Dee said...

Just a quick note, when we hung with Lester Bangs in Buffalo way back when....no stench!!!! Reek free!!!! Mucho beers though!!!!

The Hound said...

There was an interesting oral history of the rock press that was published in the UK in 2001-- In Their Own Write (Adventures In The Music Press) by Paul Gorman that has some funny Julie Burchill/Tony Parsons stories including the full account of Parsons attacking Mick Farren who was teaching Burchill the subtle points of S&M (a horrifying thought, I know...).
There's some stuff about the US writers but it centers on the UK and how Fleet St. used the music weeklies to train young journalists and how any ambitious wretch could worm their way into the straight press the way Burchill, an utter moron, did.
Worth checking out if you see it for less than $5.

Anonymous said...

Why have you included a picture
of Christopher Hitchens in drag?