Apathy For the Devil, By Nick Kent
A rock journo does his best to remember the 1970s
Sunday 28 February 2010
Nick Kent was the louchely charismatic head boy of that school of music journalism which saw it as a rock writer's professional duty to emulate the decadent excesses of his subjects. And the first 45 pages of his long-awaited "1970s memoir" might make an effective recruiting tool for the Salvation Army.
Kent's initial attempts to reach back across the opiated canyons of his memory and re-establish contact with the precocious innocence of his formative years feel so clumsily generic that they might as well be ghost- written. His once elegantly barbed prose style is now almost Clarkson-esque in its clunkiness. And the solipsistic metaphor-mixing arrogance of Apathy For the Devil's opening chapters reaches its apogee in the following excuse for a sentence: "It was in January of 1972 that my future destiny as the Zeitgeist-surfing dark prince of Seventies rock journalism actually started to experience lift-off." So how is it that a book which starts out promising a vainglorious wallow in the debauched exploits of "one of the championship-level London-based substance-abusers of the late-20th century" ends up as a surprisingly clear-eyed and courageous dismantling of the very Dionysian rock mythology which was at once Kent's meal-ticket and his downfall?
In the course of their therapeutic odysseys, recovering junkies often develop the knack of appearing to be fearlessly self-critical, while actually absolving themselves of all responsibility for their actions. But this is one trap that Kent has somehow managed not to fall into. From the moment that his wildly ambitious 20-year-old self exults at a chance sighting of blatantly narcotised (and, as it turns out, doomed) Free guitarist Paul Kossoff on the streets of Ladbroke Grove, Kent's hard-won understanding of the fragile equilibrium between charisma and self-destruction illuminates an increasingly, and unexpectedly, gripping narrative. For where his widely praised collected writings, The Dark Stuff, sacrificed much of their original pungent immediacy on the altar of their author's determination to revisit material which would have been better left untouched, this autobiographical follow-up benefits greatly from the X-ray spectacles of hindsight.
Kent first made his journalistic name with elegiac yet unsparing celebrations of rock's "lost boys" – Brian Wilson, Syd Barrett, Nick Drake – and now his willingness to confront the extent to which his own considerable talents were dissipated rather than sustained by the self-conscious pursuit of decadence allows him to bring a welcome new perspective to the all-too-familiar contours of the addiction memoir. When he describes the experience of re-reading the articles he wrote at the height of his drug-addled notoriety as "like watching a man trying to swim his way through an ocean of mud", you can almost feel the barnacles of chemical dependency being stripped away from the steel hull of his intellect.
Kent's destiny might seem to have been written in the stars from the moment in early 1964 when, at the age of 12, he managed to wangle himself an introduction to the Rolling Stones after a show at Sophia Gardens in Cardiff, and as he made his way backstage, he clearly heard an angry female fan demanding, "Why is that little cunt getting to meet them and not us?" But the extent to which he allows that aggrieved inquiry to echo down through this compellingly rueful account of his formative encounters with (among others) Led Zeppelin, Iggy Pop and David Bowie – not to mention his ill-starred two-month stint as guitarist in an early version of the Sex Pistols – suggests that he has now attained a measure of self-knowledge and humility beyond the dreams of his cocksure pomp.
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