Saturday, 4 September 2010

Rabbit Review: Apathy for the Devil

I bought this book using a books voucher given as a Christmas present by a kind cousin and promised to review it here some weeks ago so finally finishing and reporting in on the book has been a slow process. Was it worth the wait?

Yup. Apathy for the Devil is quality stuff. Mostly, it is gossip. But it is high quality gossip. Broadly, it is about rock, rock musicians, the seventies and heroin. Our man was a rock journalist who by the end of that decade was a seemingly hopeless heroin addict. In the interim, he had met the lot and seen and heard most of them perform. The title, by the way comes from a quip by Bob Dylan after seeing the Rolling Stones in concert, late seventies vintage when the drugs were causing serious havoc performancewise.

The story starts with the Rolling Stones in concert in Cardiff in 1964. The 12 year old Kent manages to pull a few strings via a young friend whose father was a promoter. Most of the acts in a rolled up programme were the less threatening, parent friendly early sixties stuff. Then enter the Rolling Stones and cue mass hysteria from the dominant female teenage part of the audience who make themselves busy screaming and - erm - touching themselves inappropriately much to the consternation of the young Kent who had hitherto led a sheltered life. Kent manages to get to meet the Stones backstage. Brian Jones is polite and friendly. The rest take no notice.

The Stones are one of the book's recurrent themes. Kent has a bit of a soft spot for Keith Richards, perhaps born out of a common interest in the ingestion of huge amounts of heroin. Richards is apparently a tolerant host, untroubled when Kent vomits over his doormat after one debauch. Keef is less generous to Eric Clapton, however. The latter found himself seriously in withdrawal when in France for Mick Jagger's wedding. Clapton asked Richards for help. 'Tell him to get his own' pronounced Keef. The sixties were truly over. Mick Jagger comes over as no more than all right, getting a worse press than the equally money obsessed Paul McCartney. Ronnie Wood comes across as a dimwit. The other two don't come across at all.

But I get slightly ahead of myself. The seventies start with Kent as an undergraduate at Bedford College, London, reading English. He isn't impressed. He describes Chaucer rather wonderfully as like a bad 'Carry On' film. He mislays his virginity and drops out to become a rock journalist. He tries very hard, and eventually succeeds, in getting an interview with Bowie. He follows Led Zeppelin around, which sounds as if it takes some nerve - they come across as downright scary. He falls in love with Chrissie Hynde and has a hopeless relationship with her. His musical heart belongs to Iggy Pop. This is a consistent theme throughout the book and Mr Pop is one of the few who emerges at the end of the narrative seeming a decent enough person. He also has a huge appendage, apparently.

Mostly, the story is a grubby one of self indulgence and narcissism by the rock elite. Kent himself hates the seventies by the end of the book. By the conclusion of that decade he is deeply addicted and a general mess. Phil Lesh in about 1968 made the silly pronouncement 'the world would be a better place if people took more drugs'. People did and it wasn't. It took most of the next decade for Kent to recover and become drug free.

The punk era comes across as pretty vile. For a couple of months before they achieved fame - or should that be notoriety? - Kent was an unlikely Sex Pistol. He is earlier a friend of Malcolm McLaren but comes to detest him. McLaren setting Sid Vicious on him with a bicycle chain for the fun of it would tend to put anyone off. Vicious comes over as a pretty appalling individual generally, but Kent's real ire is reserved for Nancy Spungen, who he plainly detested. So much for the Romeo and Juliet de nos jours. The sainted Bob Marley doesn't come across well, either. By the way, Mr Kent, in the incredibly improbable event that you read this, rasclaat is not Jamaican patois for scumbag. It literally translates as 'arse cloth'.

Kent can write though. His description of John Lydon as a 'teenage version of Albert Steptoe' is delicious as is his description of Joe Strummer as having the 'voice of a ruptured seal'. Synthesister music is dismissed as a 'brood (surely gaggle) of geese passing gas in a wind tunnel'. Erm... Quite so. Flared trousers, we are advised 'should be worn only by those unfortunate people with one leg significantly shorter than the other'.

Well, you get the general idea. Go buy! It's worth the read. As an exercise in serial namedropping it has class. There is a discography at the end. Here are a couple from it. Dedicated to Mr Kent for keeping the rabbit entertained, here are the Stooges and Fun House.

More to the rabbit's taste, here is the talented, doomed Gram Parsons with Emmylou Harris and Return of the Grievous Angel. There is a tragi-comic story of Parsons trying to get into a Rolling Stones concert but being so obliterated with drugs he blunders into a cinema instead. Moral: don't try to keep up with Keef.


sybil law said...

I am SO going to get this book! Thanks for the excellent review and recommendation!

JoJo said...

Sounds like a really great book, as I love all that music. Man, Nancy really was hated, wasn't she? Poor thing, she was so mentally ill. Did you read her mom's book that came out in the late 80's?

white rabbit said...

Sybil - Thank you kindly. It is a good read.

JoJo - Haven't read Nancy's mother's book, I must confess. I suppose one person's bitch from hell is another's unfortunate disturbed person.

JoJo said...

I think you'd like it. It's called, 'And I Don't Want to Live This Life." Nancy was a problem from the day she was born. Today she could have gotten help, but in the late 50's/early 60's, there was no help or understanding of that kind of mental illness. The cord was wrapped around her neck when she was born and deprived her of oxygen. She was never a normal child and terrorized her family.

Sarcastic Bastard said...

Ronnie Wood is a dimwit. A gross old lecherous dimwit.