Wednesday, September 04, 2013

BOOK REVIEW DOUBLE HEADER! THE TEXTS OF FESTIVAL (Avon, 1974) and THE TALE OF WILLY'S RATS (available as an e-book via Funtopia) by Mick Farren

The recent death of Mick Farren sorta nudged me (OK, gave me a cheap excuse) to latch onto a couple of his early novels which have eluded me for a longer time than my feeble mind could imagine. Well, not quite since it ain't like I can afford to dish out upwards of three digits for Farren's bril rock 'n roll novel THE TALE OF WILLY'S RATS (now available free an an e-book anyway---see link above), but given Farren's own rock 'n roll legend as one of England's premier hippoid-punk nutters I just knew I hadda read these efforts before it was too late, whenever that would be.

Gotta say that I'm glad that I did. Now I ain't exactly the SciFi/fantasy/fiction guy some of you reg'lar BLOG TO COMM readers may be, but given Farren's writing talent and rather encompassing tastes I was willing to take a chance on both of these reads and ya know what? They both proved to be fairly good, even if I do have the attention span of a six-year-old and there ain't any pretty pictures here to help me "understand" what the people in the book are doing like there were with Dick and Jane (not to forget Baby Judy). Reading Farren's vivid text conjures enough images in yr mind anyway, and both books can make your brain come up with some mighty bizarro visions if I do say so myself.

THE TEXTS OF FESTIVAL, besides being a name later lifted for a Hawkwind collection of early seventies live tuneage I'm gonna hafta dig outta the crate more sooner than later, was Farren's premier novel and for being an initial effort the guy did a rather good job of it if I do say so myself. So good that, despite the fact that the rock 'n roll presence in yet another post-apocalyptic sci-fi romp is rather subdued, I managed to make it through the at-times slow and dull bulk of this to get to the fiery conclusion, perhaps in hopes of finally getting to that rock 'n roll climax I was so hoping for. Yeah you've seen/heard it all before ad nauseum whether it be on TWILIGHT ZONEMAD MAX and ZARDOZ not forgetting the "Yangs" and "Cooms" episode of STAR TREK,  but in this 'un has enough originality and spark to transcend all those Cold War ruminations and come off like a fevered post-hippie calculation of just how the decaying minds of a rock 'n roll-bred anti-civilization would live and breathe in the wake of the Great Disaster.

Festival's the city in an area not quite specified...methinks it's the London of the future yet the drawl-esque slang-filled language might even suggest an Ameriga reduced to its Wild West origins. A place where sacred rituals based on the gods of the past are re-enacted as ancient discs are spun and crackly, low fidelity music is blasted out while grotesquely-masked spiritual guides hold strange phallic-like objects as one mimes to the words being sung by Djeggar, "the figure of evil who would 'stick his knife right down your throat.'" Kinda like the Joujouka Festival carrying on ancient pagan practices under the guise of Islam, and perhaps just as distant from the original intent even if the style is remarkably similar.

Meanwhile the ever-growing band of outlaws whacked out of their minds on "crystal" and led by the evil Iggy are heading to Festival ready to take it for themselves, bringing death and destruction to all that stands in their way anticipating with drooling cakehole their imminent arrival and pillage. Sorta like THE WILD BUNCH a few hundred more years down the line. Frankly the plot can get confusing with all the characters from Harry Krishna, Jo Jo, Oltha and Elly-Mae to Joe Starkweather (the defeater of "the Christies") being introduced and offed before you know it (and in typical postmodern fashion there just ain't any discernible good or likable characters to be found) but I gotta admit that despite the plot twists and lack of an identifiable person to back like a sports team I kinda like it. Even when things get slow and Farren just has to inject his rather sad political points regarding Angela Davis and Chairman Mao (I think they used to matter back when I was a kid...I'm not sure) THE TEXTS OF FESTIVAL will keep even a marginal fiction fan like myself semi-captivated. Only wish there was more rock 'n roll in the thing other'n the occasional song quotes not to mention Farren lifting his own "Let's Loot the Supermarket" as a half-remembered number that the denizens of the future hazily murmer, giving us hope that, after the Big One is finally dropped a copy of DISPOSABLE thankfully will survive. Now that's what I would call a sacred text!
Like I said, I may be a foolhearty spendthrift when it comes to rock 'n roll artyfacts I so truly desire, but in no way am I gonna spend megabux for a paperback book I coulda snatched up for fifteen cents in some 1975 flea market! But thanks to the miracle of technology I can now read THE TALE OF WILLY'S RATS for free on the very computer I am now pecking this very review out on, and man is it a wild ride. Maybe it is a bit too heavy on the obligatory s-x scenes (that is, unless you actually get off on refs to sand sticking to some nekkid beach girl's bullseyes) but driving enough when Farren sticks to the rocking angle of it all. And really, that's why you all came here now, isn't it?

Willy's Rats are perhaps thee group any red-blooded BLOG TO COMM reader would want to spend his last shekels on. Imagine a cross between T. Rex, the Stones at their maddest, the Dictators and perhaps Farren's own Deviants and you'll get an pretty good idea of just who these Rats are. Told through the first person of guitarist Lou Francis, Willy's Rats are perhaps the quintessential concept of over-the-top early-seventies English rock taken to its logical conclusion, a high energy act for a world just begging for something a little harder than the pop pap of the days. A balm for the soothed nerves of too many James Taylor and Cat Stevens albums cluttering up the landscape. A shot of hard drugs for a granola fed clientele.

THE TALE OF WILLY'S RATS also serves as a good histoire of just how English rock evolved (undoubtedly echoing Farren's own musical epiphany), with Francis himself being the kid who discovered the early wild rockers of the late-fifties via radio before trudging off to a "public school" Shadows copycat band before the specter of Dylan had him buying an acoustic and going the disheveled route. From there it was the Stones and harder forms of sonic embellishment leading up to the Rats, a act with the anti-police politix of the MC5, the on-stage obscenity of the Doors and the teenage girl pant-wetting mania of T. Rex all rolled into one and boy is the world glad about it!

Yeah they may seem too good to be true considering how a real life Willy's Rats probably wouldn't have been able to muster up anything greater than an acetate demo that'd eventually appear on a BONEHEAD CRUNCHERS album, but we can always dream now, can't we? And as far as rock fantasies go WILLY'S RATS really gets down to the bare fanabla of it all capturing a whole load of that hard, driving feeling that made adolescent wretches like me thumb through aisles of record bins just dreaming about what the sounds they held inside would reveal, never even fathoming that in a good thirty year's time we'd be able to listen to whatever we wanted that came outta the fevered scenes of the sixties and seventies via free downloads and youtube videos.

And in typical Farren fashion the gritty underside of the biz is revealed not only with the gratuitous dirty stuff (which ain't as dirty as anything you can snatch up for free onna web these days, but still tsk-tsk!) but the behind-the-scenes movers and shakers including group manager Jimmy DiAngelo, a fellow whose tactics and connections undoubtedly stretch all the way to Sicily and back. After all, DiAngelo obtained the Rats from their previous manager by sending him a pair of plastic artificial kneecaps, just in case the guy were to need em!

I will fess up to the fact that I did find some parts unnecessarily yawn-inducing, but in all this was as exciting as reading any of Farren's pieces on a choice rock group we all could agree on. Only instead of Hawkwind we're glomming on a fictitional act that seems to have drawn all of the good and negative about our faves and rolled it into one large booger. And when it does get hot, like in the final chapter when Lou and another Rat are lured into the California wilds at the invitation of a satanic Mansonoid cult, your heart'll be beating as fast as a cornered rabbit once that scimitar comes swinging down to decapitate a hapless victim with our rock star heroes being next in line!

In a world where the sixties/seventies rock novel might have been a bit too heavy on the peace 'n love and lite on the natural barbarianism of it all THE TALE OF WILLY'S RATS pretty much sorts the flower power from the punk, and throws the former away. A fantastic read with loads of insight, energy, realism (I'll bet this book was at least partly autobiographical, though considering some of the things that did happen maybe Farren was holding back a bit!) of all...more typos than an average BLOG TO COMM post!

No comments: