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August 18 2012

David Bowie: the mannequin who fell to earth

The V&A plans to use David Bowie's exotic costumes to chart his life and times in an exhibition next year

David Bowie is to part-curate an exhibition of his life and work told primarily through his extravagant costumes at the Victoria and Albert museum next year.

The show will chart his rise to cult rock star status from his early years in Brixton, south London, using his collection of outfits to illustrate his constantly changing identity.

Details about the clothes are being kept under wraps until next month's official announcement of the show, but the V&A's director confirmed to the Observer that Bowie is involved in selecting exhibits. Many of the flamboyant outfits worn by Bowie in his years as a pioneer of rock style will come from his own collection.

The exhibition is expected to draw large numbers of visitors. However, some critics lament what they see as a further descent of a serious museum into the cult of celebrity.

Bowie's look was inseparable from his sound. The 65-year-old singer and actor, who merged rock and theatre with his androgynous alter ego Ziggy Stardust, is synonymous with futuristic costumes and outlandish makeup, from space-samurai outfits to white satin kimonos, flame-red hair to eye-liner.

He achieved wide popularity with his psychedelic rock single Space Oddity, coinciding with the first moon landing, and became an international star with albums such as The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. His films include The Man Who Fell to Earth.

Speaking to the Observer, Bowie's biographer Paul Trynka said that Bowie was at the forefront of fashion, recreating his own image with the aid of cutting-edge designers.

Seeing the costumes close-up would be amazing, he said. "Although he's an artist who… doesn't tend to revisit his own past, there's a kind of contradiction in that he's collected his pieces for over two decades, lots of them historic and iconic, not just for Bowie fans but for popular fashion… He's always had a public presentation in mind." Costumes that Trynka expects to be included in the exhibition at the V&A include the "bunny leotard" created by Kansai Yamamoto, one of the avant-garde designers whose potential was spotted by Bowie.

"That was quite groundbreaking because Yamamoto wasn't known in the UK," Trynka said. "Although other pop stars had flirted with high fashion, [Bowie] was the first one to use it as an integral part of his look. He then went on to even more outrageous Yamamoto designs. There's a fantastic one with hugely-inflated legs … and I suspect that will be there … [It] is engagingly ludicrous. Nobody had that effrontery to wear those kinds of outfits before."

Among other likely highlights, he said, are homemade catsuits created by the late Freddi Buretti, a designer who described himself as a "seamstress".

Martin Roth, the V&A's director, said: "Bowie is incomparable. No one has inspired the whole world not only in terms of music but also arts, fashion and style. He created a vision of individualism for an entire generation."

Others are less impressed, particularly following the V&A's 2007 exhibition dedicated to Kylie Minogue, which included her dungarees from the Australian soap Neighbours. Critics felt that it was unworthy of a museum dedicated to showcasing the finest arts and crafts.

The Bowie show has been condemned by Michael Daley, director of ArtWatch UK, the museums watchdog: "The museum world is losing the plot. They're just crazed about numbers at any cost… Obviously you could fill the V&A every day of the week if you had a pop concert or a bunch of celebs."

Noting that the V&A also covers fashion, he added: "Fashion is a bigger thing… than the cult of one man. If Bowie, why not Liberace? It's about the cult of celebrity, particularly youth." Bowie, he added, did not fit the museum's remit for recording significant fashion.

The V&A is of course tapping into a demand, but whether a cultural museum should be meeting it is another matter. The Kylie Minogue exhibition attracted 271,000 visitors and was one of the museum's most popular shows.

Trynka, who wrote the Bowie biography Starman, said: "Bowie epitomises Britain's influence on fashion and textiles. He represents the best of it. Kylie is a wonderful pop icon, but she hasn't had a lasting effect on popular culture outside of her fanbase."

Today Bowie himself remains elusive. He has not toured since 2006, and turns down requests to appear in public – most recently, the Olympic Games closing ceremony, although his song Fashion was used.

There have been reports of ill-health. Roth said: "[People] try to build a story around him. There's a lot of gossip."

Bowie's spokesman declined to comment.


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May 09 2012

Tate announce 2013 programme

Art lovers will be able to enjoy a major retrospective of Roy Lichtenstein's work and find out how LS Lowry was influenced by the French, as the Tate galleries reveal next year's programmes

Comic strips, matchstick men and David Bowie will hit the Tate in 2013, along with Marc Chagall, Gary Hume and Paul Klee. The four galleries – Tate Britain, Tate Modern, Tate St Ives and Tate Liverpool – have announced their programmes for next year, which include the first major retrospective of Roy Lichtenstein's work for 20 years and a show that will demonstrate how LS Lowry was influenced by French painting.

Lichtenstein, whose comic-strip-style paintings made him one of the forefathers of pop art, will be shown at London's Tate Modern from February. The exhibition will include landmark works including Whaam!, his famous 1963 picture of a fighter plane being shot by another, and Drowning Girl, both appropriated from contemporary comics, as well as the Artist's Studio series which saw him bring his graphic, pop style to his own surroundings and other real-life art works. It will also display lesser known late work including a series of female nudes and Chinese landscapes.

The gallery's autumn show will be dedicated to Klee, a pivotal figure in 20th century art, who taught at the Bauhaus school and whose intense, radiant paintings, replete with symbolism and references to the unconscious, draw on cubism, surrealism and primitive art. It will be the first Klee exhibition to take place in the UK for more than 10 years.

The Lowry show will take place at London's Tate Britain from next June, the first of its kind since the artist's death in 1976. Last year, the actor Ian McKellen accused the Tate of neglecting the artist, after claiming that it had shown only one of the 23 Lowry works it owns – a claim the Tate denies. Though Lowry's images of matchstick-style workers in industrial landscapes are some of the most famous in British art, the exhibition promises to reveal how he was influenced by 19th-century French painters such as Camille Pissarro and Maurice Utrillo.

Tate Britain promises to unveil its refurbished galleries in early summer next year, including a re-hang that has already aroused some controversy, with Burlington magazine claiming that it was prioritising modern works over pre-20th century ones. It will also stage an exhibition of work by Hume alongside that of Patrick Caulfield, who died in 2005.

Tate Liverpool will approach another aspect of popular British art with its show Glam! The Performance and Style, which promises to demonstrate the influence of the glam rock era, from 1971 to 1975, on other art forms in Europe and America. The gallery will also host Chagall: A Modern Master, the first exhibition of the Russian artist's work for 15 years.


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October 14 2011

Nat Tate: my part in his art

William Boyd explains the origins of his fictional artist, Nat Tate, and why one of 'his' paintings is going on sale

"All history is the history of unintended consequences," so the old saying goes, and the validity of the assumption is particularly well exemplified in the case of the fictional artist, Nat Tate (1928-60). I deliberately didn't use the possessive pronoun there – it was no Freudian slip – not "my" fictional artist but "the" fictional artist. Yet, Nat Tate is my invention – Nat is my creature; however, a long time ago, he seemed to slip free of my imagination and take on a life of his own.

It all started in 1998. I was on the editorial board of Modern Painters magazine, then a very classy and influential art quarterly, and one day in a meeting the editor of the magazine, Karen Wright, wondered out loud if there was a way we could introduce some fiction into the mix of artists' profiles, exhibition reviews and general essays in which the magazine specialised. I don't know what made me speak out but I said, without really thinking: "Why don't I invent an artist?" And so Nat Tate was born.

Much play has been made over the years that I deliberately appropriated the names of the two pre-eminent London public galleries – the National and the Tate – for this artist's name. But, if I did so – and perhaps I did – it was done completely unconsciously. When I write fiction the names of the characters I create are extremely important to me – if the name sounds right then I feel that the character already begins to live and breathe on the page. "Nat Tate" seemed to me both punchily memorable and American – this fictional artist was to be American, I had decided, not British – and, it's worth remembering that at this embryonic stage of his existence there wasn't the remotest idea of developing a hoax – I was thinking only of a long short story, perhaps. A long short story with illustrations.

In 1987 I had published a novel called The New Confessions that took the form of a fictional autobiography, notionally "written" by its subject, a maverick film director called John James Todd, and that covered the first 75 years or so of the 20th century. One of my main ideas was to write a fiction that blurred into the world of fact – the world of documentary, reportage, history – to such an extent that the reader would be confused: was this made up, or was it real? Should I have heard of John James Todd and seen some of the films he had directed? In one of the reviews of the book the reviewer confessed to being thus hoodwinked – and claimed he had riffled through the pages of the novel "looking for the photographs". At the time, I already had a follow-up novel planned that would take this fiction/fact experiment a step further (and that turned out to be Any Human Heart) and I thought – yes, photographs, I'd missed a trick there. And so I began to collect photos from junk shops and car boot sales – photos of anonymous people taken by anonymous photographers that had been discarded and were therefore free for use. The minute I had my idea for Nat Tate I was already thinking of what photos I could use in the depiction of his short and unhappy life.

So I duly wrote Nat Tate: An American Artist 1928-1960 – copiously illustrated with found anonymous pictures of Nat and his foster parents, his friends, his lovers, his colleagues, his dealers and his patrons. And there were also some reproductions of his art – a couple of drawings. The drawings were done by me.

I put together the details of Nat Tate's life fairly swiftly. Born in New Jersey in 1928, he had been orphaned as a young boy and adopted by a rich couple who lived in Long Island. Showing some aptitude for art, he went to art school and then – funded by his doting father – set himself up as an artist in Greenwich Village in Manhattan. New York was becoming the centre of all that was fashionable in modern painting and Nat began to enjoy some acclaim in the 1950s as a young painter, and was linked with the artists who formed part of the Abstract Expressionist movement. But as the decade ended Nat Tate was in a bad way. He was drinking too much and he had been profoundly shaken by two encounters with unequivocal artistic genius – namely Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Nat had met them both in France – the one trip he took abroad in his life.

Disturbed and made insecure by the meeting with these two contemporary giants of the art world, Nat had looked again at his own art and whatever talent it displayed and had found it seriously wanting. Depressed by this self-knowledge, he gathered together everything he could find of his paintings and drawings – some 99% of his output – and burned them in a fervid auto da fé over one weekend. He then committed suicide by jumping off the Staten Island ferry as it crossed the Hudson River from New York towards New Jersey. It was 12 January 1960. His body was never found.

Another member of the Modern Painters editorial board was David Bowie (we had joined the board at the same time). Bowie, with some collaborators, had set up a small publishing company called 21 Publishing and he suggested we publish the story I had written about Nat Tate as a small, beautifully produced, coffee-table art-monograph. I agreed, unhesitatingly.

With hindsight, I now see that this was the beginning of my loss of control – the autonomy was passing from author to character. The book was printed – it looked perfect, beautifully authentic. Bowie suggested two launch parties – one in Manhattan, one in London. We would present Nat Tate straight – no tongue in cheek, no nod and wink – and see what happened. Bowie wrote the blurb. Gore Vidal – who was in on the conceit – provided a cover quote. The first launch party was scheduled for Manhattan on April Fools' Day, 1998. A week later, London would follow.

This is where the Nat Tate "hoax" was born. A British journalist from the Independent newspaper (who was one of the conspirators) toured the crowded party in Manhattan – it took place in Jeff Koons's studio and was full of the glitterati of the art world – asking leading questions. The guests responded, guilelessly and not so guilelessly, assuming Nat Tate was a genuine forgotten painter, just rediscovered. Poor Nat. What a tragedy. A truly interesting artist. The work was fascinating. A real loss.

It was all about to be repeated in London – and many people in London by then believed that Nat was genuine. However, a few days after the New York launch, the Independent ran their story on the front page. "British novelist hoaxes Manhattan art world." I was in France on a book tour. What? A hoax? It was never meant to be a hoax! But it was out of my hands. Nat was stirring, my benign Frankenstein's monster had risen to his feet and had shaken off his authorial chains. Like it or not, I was now a hoaxer and I had hoaxed everyone. It became a 24-hour news event. The New York Times ran the story on the front of their arts pages; Jeremy Paxman interviewed me for Newsnight. I gave further interviews to magazines and radio stations throughout Europe, the United States, South Africa and Australia.

I kept waiting for it to die down but it never did. Over the next 10 years we made three television documentaries about Nat Tate and the hoax. Nat Tate joined the abominable snowman, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster and the alien autopsies as among the most famous hoaxes of the 20th century. Every time there was a hoax I was approached to comment. PhD students wrote to me asking for permission to quote Nat in their theses. When Banksy was outed I was asked to describe what it was like to be similarly exposed. I had letters from deluded souls actually claiming to be Nat Tate and offers from artists suggesting we create more Nat artworks.

Last year it all reached a kind of climax. My novel Any Human Heart was dramatised by Channel 4, and Nat – who appears briefly in the book – was played in the film by the actor Theo Cross. Bloomsbury, my British publishers, and Berlin Verlag, my German publishers, reissued the book in handsome new editions. In November 2010 I found myself on stage in a notable Berlin art gallery – Sprüth Magers – in front of an audience of hundreds talking about Nat Tate, his face a hundred times life-size projected on the wall behind the podium, with the editor of the German art magazine Monopol. I was filmed and interviewed about Nat. His picture was everywhere – and often juxtaposed with a photo of me – this picture that I had found in a junk shop of an anonymous man and presented to the world as the only surviving photographic image of the artist. It was all getting out of hand, I felt. The unintended consequences of the history of Nat Tate were out of my control. Some sort of decent termination had to be found.

And so I came up with an idea. Perhaps the circle could be closed if a Nat Tate drawing came on the open market. If this fictional artist could sell an artwork for real money then the Nat Tate story would have reached some kind of apotheosis and consummation. So I "found" another Nat Tate drawing – one from his famous bridge sequence, a series of drawings inspired by Hart Crane's poem "The Bridge"Bridge No 114 (the sequence runs to more than 200 drawings). I had it elegantly framed and took it into Sotheby's and showed it to Philip Hook, senior director of the Impressionist and Modern Art department. Sotheby's had form when it came to selling art by fictional artists, having successfully auctioned a Bruno Hat painting some years previously. Hat was a spoof artist that a group of bright young things had invented in 1929 and staged an exhibition of his work in a London town-house. (Evelyn Waugh wrote the catalogue essay, Brian Howard and John Banting did the paintings.) Hook consulted with colleagues and in due course I was told the sale was on – Nat Tate's Bridge No 114 will be sold at auction at Sotheby's on 16 November. It was a strange moment – both exciting and oddly melancholy. Will this be an end to Nat Tate's curious "life"? Is his 13-year existence about to achieve a definitive full-stop? I find myself wondering if Nat's ghost will be laid to rest and some sort of quietus will ensue – for fictional character and author alike.

A key factor in the whole enterprise is that all proceeds from the sale are going to charity – to the Artists' General Benevolent Institution, which provides financial aid "for artists who are in difficulties". I'm convinced that Nat would approve.

The Modern & Post-War British Art sale is at Sotheby's, London W1, on 16 November 2011.


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August 17 2011

10 of the best films set in Berlin

Berlin has been the backdrop – and even the star – in movies from cold war spy thrillers to dramas about the collapse of East Germany. Andrew Pulver picks the top 10 films set in the city

As featured in our Berlin city guide

People on Sunday (Menschen am Sonntag), Curt and Robert Siodmak, 1930

Silent cinema flourished in Germany during the Weimar years, and Berlin was immortalised in two particularly brilliant impressionist tributes: Walter Ruttmann's Berlin: Symphony of a Great City, and People on Sunday, which aimed to create a patchwork of ordinary Berliners' lives. This film, with its cast of non-professional actors and hidden camera, gets the pick – partly because of its extraordinary writing and directing credit roll. Virtually everyone – including Billy Wilder, Fred Zinnemann and Robert Siodmak – went on to make a name for themselves in Hollywood, after being forced out of Germany during the Nazi era.
• Bahnhof Zoo; Nikolassee

The Bourne Supremacy, Paul Greengrass, 2004

Hollywood came to Berlin in a big way with the sequel to The Bourne Identity; director Paul Greengrass was no doubt paying homage to Berlin's cold war past. The convoluted plot has Bourne (Matt Damon) showing up in Berlin to try to reconnect the threads of his past: modern Berlin makes a big shiny backdrop for the high-octane shenanigans. Added to which, Berlin doubles for other stops in Bourne's globetrotting – notably, a building at the Berlin Exhibition Grounds becomes a customs office in Naples.
• Exhibition Grounds, Messedamm; Alexanderplatz; Friedrichstrasse bridge; Ostbahnhof

Germany Year Zero, Roberto Rossellini, 1948

As a record of the rubble-strewn state of the city immediately after the second world war, Roberto Rossellini's film is hard to beat. Rossellini had made his name as a neo-realist in Rome, filming while the Germans were pulling out; he turned his lens on Germany itself shortly afterwards. Germany Year Zero is ostensibly about a 13-year-old scrabbling to survive in the chaos of defeated Germany, but it's the ruined city itself, with broken buldings and dubious denizens, that is the real subject.
• Neptune fountain, Alexanderplatz; Reich Chancellery and Hitler's bunker, Vossstrasse (now demolished)

Christiane F – We Children From Bahnhof Zoo (Christiane F – Wir Kinder From Bahnhof Zoo), Uli Edel, 1981

In the late 70s and early 80s, West Berlin's reputation for radicalism and experimentation made it a mecca for youth at the time: but there was a dark side, encapsulated in this notorious film about a drug-addicted prostitute. Based on her memoir, Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo, Uli Edel's film is the last word in Berlin misery, with the David Bowie soundtrack providing a patina of cold-as-ice glamour. Bahnhof Zoo was West Berlin's biggest rail station at the time, and the film-makers also shot extensively in Christiane's home district of Gropiusstadt, the southern suburb designed by the Bauhaus founder.
• Gropiusstadt; Bahnhof Zoo

Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin), Wim Wenders, 1987

Arguably the finest film about the divided city was made by Wim Wenders in 1987 – a fable about angels floating over a traumatised Berlin, listening to its inhabitants' thoughts, and attempting, in different ways, to heal their pain. The Wall itself was reconstructed in a studio, but Wenders made extensive use of the city's landmarks – including an extended tour of the modernist Berlin State Library, designed by Hans Scharoun.
• Berlin State Library House 2, Potsdamerstrasse; Friedrichstrasse; Gedächtniskirche, Kurfürstendamm

The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen), Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006

Perhaps the most eye-opening film to have come out of contemporary German cinema's interest in raking over the communist era, this insight into the Stasi-ridden world of 1980s East Germany took advantage of the relatively unreconstructed Soviet chunk of the city. Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck managed to gain permission to film in the Stasi archives (now a museum), as well as stage a dance performance at the Volksbühne theatre.
• Stasi Zentrale, Ruschestrasse; Volksbühne, Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz

Run Lola Run, Tom Tykwer, 1998

Sprinting through the reunited city in the late 1990s, Franka Potente's Lola swiftly became an international symbol of Germany's new dynamism. Director Tom Tykwer hurled her pell-mell around Berlin, picking locations from east and west in a thriller that plays out three times, with three different outcomes. The film is very much a what-might-have-been story, with a happy ending, which is perhaps what we want to feel about Berlin itself.
• Oberbaumbrücke; Deutsche Oper U-Bahn; Tauroggenerstrasse

Goodbye, Lenin! Wolfgang Becker, 2003

A much-liked film that cleverly tackles the issues surrounding German unification – by ignoring them. A fervent East German socialist misses the Wende (reunification) as she's in a coma; on her recovery, and to spare her further shock, her son goes to elaborate lengths to maintain the fiction that East Germany is still in existence. Almost all the film was shot in the former East Berlin, including shots of lead Daniel Brühl speeding past celebrating football fans on the monumental Karl-Marx-Allee.
• Karl-Marx-Allee; Alexanderplatz

Aeon Flux, Karyn Kusama, 2005

Though it never found much favour with critics or audiences, this sci-fi thriller made superb use of Berlin's modernist buildings to evoke a post-apocalyptic society in the 25th century. One unlikely architectural spectacular after another was press-ganged into service. The Bauhaus Archiv doubled as an apartment block, the Hall of Condolence at the Krematorium Baumschulenweg was used for political meetings, and the Tierheim animal shelter became the setting for the government HQ.
• Bauhaus Archiv, Klingelhöferstrasse; Krematorium Baumschulenweg, Kiefholzstrasse; Tierheim Berlin, Hausvaterweg

One, Two, Three, Billy Wilder, 1961

Shot before the Berlin wall went up, but released after, Billy Wilder's scabrous political satire pitched itself into the clash of ideologies that the city symbolised. Wilder, of course, had left Germany in 1934 after the Nazis took power, his first film credit being People on Sunday (see above). Returning as a successful Hollywood film director, Wilder cast Jimmy Cagney as a Coca-Cola executive looking after his boss's teenage daughter. The film certainly hit a nerve, as Wilder intended it should.
• Brandenburg Gate; Gedächtniskirche, Kurfürstendamm; Tempelhof airport

• Andrew Pulver is the film editor of The Guardian


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March 14 2010

Once upon a life: Nick Kent

In 1972 he was sorting mail in a Sussex post office. Twelve months later he was partying with Led Zeppelin. Here, the hugely influential music critic Nick Kent looks back on a year in which he witnessed the birth of punk, the arrival of Ziggy Stardust and the life-changing impact of Iggy Pop

Michael Caine was recently being interviewed on French television when a question about the 1960s came up. The venerable actor set off on a misty-eyed saunter down memory lane about the early years of the decade, when he and his immediate social circle – folk like Terence Stamp, Vidal Sassoon and Harold Pinter – were suddenly catapulted from struggling obscurity to glittering blockbuster success in their chosen fields of endeavour. There was a window of opportunity back then – or so he claimed – that was magically made open to anyone who was young, slightly different-looking and imbued with a certain irreverent outlook on life and good instincts about their profession. That window was now closed, he quickly added, because the novelty of youthful self-empowerment had gone the way of all flesh and the times had simply changed.

His words stirred something in me because I'd known that window, too, albeit a decade later than Caine. It might not have been wide open in the early 1970s, when I came of age, as it had apparently been throughout the 1960s. But it was still definitely ajar – offering just enough space for the young and ambitious to squeeze through in order to go on and make their mark on the world. I was ordained to receive my catapult ride from student nonentity-dom to gainful employment as fledlging celeb journo for the NME in 1972. I began the year sorting mail in a Sussex post office to the baleful strains of comedian Benny Hill singing his No 1 hit single of the day, "Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West)" – His name was Ernie, and he drove the fastest milk cart in the west – and ended it in a four-star hotel carousing with Led Zeppelin. It wasn't what you'd call a normal or particularly healthy career trajectory to embark on, but I've never complained. Later on in the decade there would be hell to pay, but it would all seem worth it in retrospect. If I hadn't let myself get sucked up in the career tidal wave that '72 presented me with, I'd have probably stayed in my student garret dreaming my way into an underachieving life as a provincial librarian.

The key events that sparked my rise in fortune and public notoriety are dealt with in microscopic detail in my new book – specifically a long chapter dedicated to the year in question. Mostly it was about being in the right place at the right time, I now feel. From my vantage point, 1972 was the year when 70s culture truly cut itself off from the ghost of the 60s and began to express the real growing concerns and desires of its age. Films such as Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris and Martin Scorsese's seminal Mean Streets were all put into production during its 12-month duration. And there was a brand-new sensibility in rock music, too – a turning away from po-faced musical virtuosity (or middle-class prog rock ideal for post-hippie navel gazing) to make way for the emergence of something shorter, sharper, more vanity-driven and impudently audacious. In January, David Bowie first showcased his doomed peacock alter ego, Ziggy Stardust, on English stages, and it was at that moment that the 70s as we now perceive them were born. David Bowie didn't invent glam rock – Marc Bolan and Alice Cooper had both predated him as hit-making ambassadors of the form – but he was its prettiest and most musically accomplished human asset and, moreover, possessed the requisite charisma and lightning intelligence to change the whole course of popular music that year.

Bowie also had exquisite taste, particularly when it came to choosing other rising forces in the new decade to share the spotlight with. He cajoled both Lou Reed from New York's recently disbanded Velvet Underground and a wayward Michigan-born young man known as Iggy Pop to move to London that year and employ the services of his manager, a loud Colonel Parker wannabe called Tony DeFries. Reed had been Andy Warhol's house minstrel in the late 1960s and didn't waste the opportunity to instil the fey pop artist's glamour-fixated anti-utopian doctrines on British pop culture upon his arrival on our sceptred isle. And Iggy Pop imported his old group, the Stooges, from the Motor City that spring and performed just one concert, in a King's Cross cinema, that was already being called "punk rock" four years before the Sex Pistols and their scheming manager claimed to invent the genre in 1976.

Elsewhere in the metropolis a young US poetess – Patti Smith – gave her first feisty spoken-word recitation to European ears early in the year, while a bunch of snooty UK-based refugees from the halls of higher learning, known as Roxy Music, were busy re-styling art rock with bold camp flourishes and a menthol-cool postmodernist perspective. In short, those of us who'd failed to cast our shadows across the 60s creative landscape suddenly were dealt the opportunity to leave our respective signatures on the decade's trickier successor.


In my case, things took off in January when – tipped off by a friend – I'd taken an afternoon off from studying "linguistics" in a section of the University of London then known as Bedford College in order to offer my fledlging music-writer services to an underground journal based on Portobello Road called Frendz. I just turned up at their office unannounced, but the paper's editors were encouraging. When I returned with three album reviews, they printed them and then offered me the job of becoming their music editor for the princely sum of £4 a month and all the free albums I could cadge from the record companies. It seemed like a sweet deal to me, and it only got sweeter. That spring I went out on separate tours with weird and wonderful acts, like Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band, the Grateful Dead and Hawkwind. Sometime in February I met Iggy Pop and discovered in the process my very own lifestyle guru for the years ahead.

The Iggy connection was important also because it was what first drew me to the attention of the New Musical Express. The music weekly had been struggling to keep afloat at the beginning of the 1970s and in early '72 was given an ultimatum by its owners, IPC: either find a new direction and a much larger readership base or get put out to pasture. The editors had exactly 12 issues in which to turn things around and began furiously headhunting young scribes from the (then-ailing) underground press to help swell their ranks and inject a more "irreverently hip" attitude into the copy. Nick Logan – then the assistant editor – phoned me out of the blue some time in the summer and asked me to write a short piece about Iggy for their pages. Once I handed him the text, he offered me staff membership but I politely refused, preferring a role as a freelancer to a (mostly) desk-bound job in the office. He was agreeable to this less structured arrangement and I was suddenly afforded the financial sustenance and mainstream platform to really get my name out to the greater Brit-youth consumer demographic du jour.

What was it exactly that made me so suddenly sought after? I couldn't even type my own copy – I'd scribble everything out in wobbly longhand and then pass the pages over to a long-suffering office secretary to type instead – but the editors never made an issue of my (considerable) shortcoming. I had a problem with deadlines, too. In point of fact I was any self-respecting copy editor's worst nightmare. But they tolerated all this because they evidently sensed I was an overall asset to their general operation. I'd like to think it was all somehow tied in with the excellence of the work I was handing in, but I've reread most of those old early pieces of mine and they're neither excellent nor particularly good.

The truth of the matter is I wouldn't start maturing into a writer of credible "new journalism" for another two years. But I was prepared from the very outset to go to extremes in order to snag a story, and "going to extremes" always gets results (even if – most of the time – they're not the results you may have at first set out to attain). Also, I had good instincts for embracing rising talent and, recognising instantly that the paper's readers were generally afflicted by an extremely short attention span, I thus chose to affect a flamboyant, look-at-me approach to my journalistic endeavours and general comportment when in public in order to keep them (hopefully) hanging on to my every word.

But the key to it all lay in the fact that I was really just part of a winning team. Two other underground-affiliated young writers – Charles Shaar Murray and Ian MacDonald – had come on board roughly at the same time I had, and both proved to be deeply influential on the paper's rising style and substance. And Nick Logan was at the controls, honing the skills that would go on to make him one of the most visionary and successful editors of the late 20th century.

The paper's change in fortunes was practically instantaneous. By autumn of 1972 the NME's weekly sales had rocketed up from 60,000 to approximately 150,000; by year's end we'd become "the world's biggest-selling music weekly", a state of affairs that lasted throughout the decade. But skyrocketing success always brings its share of problems to whoever is tied to the rocket, and we were no exception to that rule. An unhealthy measure of divisive competitiveness soon entered into our office relationships and grew as the paper became more and more widely read. Heads started swelling – and as the youngest contributor to the journal I became more arrogant than most. In due course this would turn to premature jadedness, and soon enough I'd be heading for self-destruction.

My immediate future was blindingly bright: in '73 I'd tour with my heroes the Rolling Stones through Europe, spend two months traversing America on a hectic voyage of (self-) discovery and fall head over heels in love. But a year after that I'd fall into heroin addiction and heartache, and all that early journalistic promise I'd displayed would be hijacked and rendered dormant for the rest of the decade.


But back in 1972 everything still seemed possible. My NME co-conspirators and I were still in our brief-but-blissful honeymoon period of one-for-all-and-all-for-oneness. And I'd yet to become personally tainted by the whole pop process. At heart I was still a callow 20-year-old who'd spent his teenage years in his bedroom lost in music, and now that I'd penetrated the music industry itself and was getting records for free, free tickets to all the concerts and lots of face-to-face contacts with musicians I'd once only dreamt of encountering, I couldn't get over my luck.

When I think back to that year, the memories that shine brightest are the many times I was privileged to see shows in London – and elsewhere – that left me trembling with ecstasy. I caught the UK debut of Germany's groundbreaking Can, witnessed Captain Beefheart speaking in tongues and reinventing electric music to a bewildered Brighton audience, was bedazzled by David Bowie's first Ziggy show in London and equally captivated by Roxy Music's early showcases. Oftentimes those future historic events would attract only a handful of paying punters. Indeed one monumental concert that the MC5 performed in London's West End that summer only attracted three attendees, none of whom had paid to get in. Even the Stooges's now legendary "punk"-inducing King's Cross gig only managed to draw 150 or so spectators. But that show changed my life. Before it I'd been a cautious youth, but when I witnessed Iggy doing somersaults on a moving microphone stand that night, I realised once and for all that – in order to leave a lasting impression on the times I lived in – I had to throw all caution to the four winds and plunge headlong into the fray of whatever fate had in store for me.

By December of 1972, it was official: I'd been expelled from the University of London, exiled from academia. It was bound to happen, as I'd failed to turn up to all my lectures and hadn't even been there to sit an important end-of-term exam. In fact, I'd been out on tour with Led Zeppelin when it had occurred. My fate was already sealed, in other words.


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