Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Mick Farren

I was reminded of Mick Farren -- journalist, poet, sci-fi novelist, rockaroller, and participant witness to history -- when I stumbled upon a copy of his CD anthology People Think You're Crazy in the bins at Recycled in Denton this past Sunday. It reminded me of when I first encountered Farren in 1971, stumbling upon a copy of Disposable by the Deviants, the anarchic late '60s London band that he fronted, in the used bin at the record co-op on the Cornell University campus in Ithaca, New York, where my best friend from junior high school and I used to hitchhike to pretend we were college students, buy wine, and shoot pool in the student union.

The record co-op was the place where I also discovered such life-changing platters as the Count Five's Psychotic Reaction album (years before reading Lester Bangs' famous screed about it in Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung), Cecil Taylor's Conquistador, Don Cherry's Eternal Now, and the first Stooges album. Although it wasn't quite clear to me how, there seemed to be a linkage between the Deviants and the Stooges. Maybe it was just that the Deviants' guitarist, Sid Bishop, had a fuzz-and-wah drenched acid blooze sound reminiscent of both the Stooges' Ron Asheton and Funkadelic's Eddie Hazel (in other words, he was _right up my alley_). In the fullness of time, I'd say it was the malignant intelligence that Farren and Jim Osterberg brought to those bands. What sounded at first like uber-dumb rock 'n' roll was really something a lot deeper and more insidious.

Farren disappeared from my consciousness until 1982, when I read an article he'd penned for the Village Voice on he occasion of the Who's appearance at Shea Stadium, which he entitled "The Who Sell Out." When I read it, I was in the Air Force in Korea, but I was impressed by Farren's insight that larger venues had changed the Who's live dynamic and indeed, the dynamic of rock music in general. (He'd been an early media champion of punk with his '76 NME screed "The Titanic Sails At Dawn.")

I picked up the thread in 1996, when Larry Harrison sold me a copy of The Deathray Tapes, a live spoken word performance on which Farren is backed by his by-then-frequent collaborator, ex-MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer; Jack Lancaster, who'd played sax in Blodwyn Pig and by the '90s was making all manner of noises through his F/X-laden horn; and Andy Colquhon, a guitarist in the manner of Bishop, Asheton, and Kramer. His poetry had a post-apocalyptic sci-fi quality about it, redolent of Blade Runner and William Gibson, which was particularly impactful when rendered in a voice which my oldest daughter said sounded like "an evil Jeremy Irons."

Circa Y2K, I got to interview him for a fanzine, and he proved to be an intelligent and interesting cat who spun a good yarn -- my favorite interview after Greg Shaw. His 2001 autobiography, Give the Anarchist a Cigarette, is worth tracking down if you can find it. (Hear him tell the story of the 1968 Grosvenor Square riot in the clip below.)

After that, I eagerly devoured all of his novels. The sci-fi ones were a mixed bag; he was better at setting up situations than resolving them, although The Armageddon Crazy's fundamentalist-run America was disturbingly prescient of post-9/11 reality. Much better was the "Renquist quartet" of vampire novels. As a writing form, poetry seemed to suit him best. To these feedback-scorched ears, his masterworks are "When the World Was Young" ("And I believed in every fucking drop of rain that fell"), and "Dogpoet," which captures the sense of dark foreboding that's present in many of his novels.

Farren, who lived in the U.S. for 30 years, recently unassed L.A. for the UK to get access to healthcare (read Tim Stegall's interview with him here). He continues to blog his acerbic observations of the passing scene here. The Funtopia fan site remains the best place for newbies to begin to investigate his work. Dig him before the Aztec calendar runs out.


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