Into a warped world

A rock star's memoir of madness
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The Independent Culture
In 1984 Mark Manning (right), a graduate of Bradford College of Art with no musical experience, was sitting on a London bus with his bull terrier. A music manager on the same bus, Dave Balfe, liked the way he looked and asked him if he wanted to be a rock'n'roll star. For the next 10 years Manning became Zodiac Mindwarp, and with his band the Love Reaction toured the globe. Even in the competitively debauched rock world, Zodiac Mindwarp established an unrivalled reputation for drink, drugs and sexually explicit lyrics. Despite two hit singles in the late Eighties, the band's popularity waned and they split up in 1994. After a period in hospital, Zodiac Mindwarp re-emerged as Mark Manning and co-wrote a novel, 'Bad Wisdom'. Its publishers, Penguin, hailed it as a literary masterpiece but most publications, including 'Loaded' magazine, refused to review the book on grounds of taste. Manning, now 40, lives in Devon. This is his highly subjective account of the 'Z' years - and his manager's rather different version

IT WAS another place, another time. I'd given up on the notion of being a crazy drunken poet and settled on being just a crazy drunk instead. I was a lousy poet but an excellent drunk. An industrious manager called Dave "baby" Balfe thought that the poetry stuff wasn't important and figured that I might just be crazy enough to know the way to the fabled Goldmine. He gave me an alter ego and bought me a Fender pickaxe, a white one like Jimi Hendrix used to have, and told me to get digging.

I was now the lead singer in a band of borderline psychotics called Zodiac Mindwarp and the Love Reaction. Somehow, against all odds, we managed to score a couple of hit singles. At least I think we did. Our star flashed brilliant and then disappeared without trace, our personalities disintegrating with it. I eventually managed to write my way out of the psychic debris and into another sodding mess, but that's another weird tale ...

Needless to say, after Dave baby had plucked me, I took to the debauched lifestyle of demonic possession like a rat to a sewer. I'd pawned my soul and I wanted my reward stuff now. Dave baby knew where to get reward stuff, sodding avalanches of reward stuff. Bad liquor, bad women and, most dangerous of all, loads and loads of bad free money stuff.

There was something about Lenny Evels, the Fat Controller of Cosmosodomistic Records, that I didn't like. I knew Balfe wasn't really the devil, but with this Evels, this vampire soul sucker in his Chanel shades, the blood of innocent guitarists dripping from his expensive manicure, I couldn't be so sure ... On his purple breath I could smell suicide, broken marriages, fatal addictions and the shattered dreams of young soul singers. Black-and-white photographs of alcoholic millionaires hung from his office walls, established artists, big game all of them, with the haunted look of corralled prey as they posed shaking hands with their new owner. I too shook hands with the perfumed Evels and signed in blood. Sod it, I was making all this up anyway, wasn't I? I was Mark Manning. Zodiac Mindwarp? He didn't even exist.

I took my big sack of devil money and started working on my alcoholism. Part of my contract specifically stated that unless I decided to adopt a health obsession, working out in the Cosmosodomistic company gym forging a body of homosexual proportions, I had to develop a serious drug or alcohol problem. I decided alcohol was the best bet. There was more mileage in it. Most of the A-class drugs claimed you after only a few months. Even drinking at warp speed, full kidney-flaying alcoholism with accompanying delirium tremens (an alky's cold turkey and terrifying signifier of bona fide alcoholism) wouldn't really grab me, gibbering and incontinent, for another five years. I knew I had made a wise choice. It was time for the highway. I'd taken the devil's coin and now I had to burn. I was contractually obliged to make a technicolour hash of my life, to screw up gloriously and dance drunkenly with death. No problem. Most new recruits to the Devil's circus get to take a a few practice circuits around Britain and Europe before they get sent to America, the true spiritual home of spectacular soul immolation.

There is a certain amateurish charm to English groupies. They aren't quite as depraved and wholly damned as their USA counterparts - some of them even have real lives, jobs, boyfriends, kids and stuff. It's hard to be really cruel to these girls but they're OK to practise on. After a few long European tours your heart starts to harden nicely, as whatever shreds of humanity you once possessed shed themselves like the final scrapings of a serpent's skin.

Any lingering notions of treating women like human beings was soon knocked out of us by the feral American road manager who Cosmosodomistic had provided for our first tour of Babylon. Phil Sod was a monster and a legend, his name was toasted in outlaw biker bars all over the world. After Phil's first little pep talk I thought that murdering groupies was legal in America. It was only after Phil had had to pull our bass player Tex Diablo off some skanky little Denver horn smoker that I realised it was only in South America that you could pull that stuff. Little details like correct continents were important, and I made a mental note.

I saw a few good men go down out there. We had a big silverback road crew as well, and, weakened by drink, they were easy prey for the quasi- religious soul poachers that hover like carbolic vultures around groups of fried-serotonin druggies far from home. A bunch of female Jesus sluts tried to flirt me and Slam into their cash- siphoning TV church. I've got a giant black crucifix tattooed to my chest to remind me forever. Luckily Phil Sod and his bottle of Old Dead Grandad managed to rescue me back to my own insanity.

With all the sleepless drinking it wasn't long before the ragged spectre of jive-talking Paranoia Sam crept into our hermetically sealed tourbus. Coke. Even Phil Sod couldn't help us with that funky little fella. There's nothing worse than when your paranoia isn't really paranoia at all, when there is a concrete connection between your twitching suspicions and the dread world of consensual reality. Yeuch! Consensual reality, there's a thought - especially lurking in broad daylight outside the tourbus with a fistful of unpaid bills and a rucksack of paternity suits.

Somehow we knew with Colombian certainty that there was a rat amongst us. Too many bad things were connecting up in our fried world. Like, there was way too much pesky OD stuff going down in the tourbus. Cobalt, Slam, Tex and me had all had our lungs pumped during the previous fortnight. The only one of us who hadn't turned the palest shade of blue was fat- fingered guitarist Kid Chaos. It all looked mighty suspicious. Mr Smith, our great silverback stage manager, eventually beat a bloody confession out of the little punk. It was all as we suspected: Kid Chaos, Dave Balfe and Lenny Evels were in it together. Our records were selling sod-all and those creeps over at Cosmosodomistic were trying to boost our sales with the tragic death manoeuvre. Ever since it was discovered that Elvis sold more records when he was dead, record companies everywhere had been bumping off their artists.

Well, those chumps would have to get up early to get one over on me and my super-intelligent rock band. As soon as Lenny and Balfe heard we were going public about the death manoeuvre they released us from the tourbus back out into the gutter, double quick time, throwing in a bag of Devil money for us to keep our traps shut about the recording industry's more creative marketing techniques.

Somehow I made it off that tourbus in just under one piece. I threw all but one of the shrieking troupe of monkeys hanging from my back. The bastard Mindwarp, however, with his liver-shredding thirst, wasn't going to give up without a grand mal. So, the seizures of the terrifying tremens it was. I wrestled the dipso mastodon, crunching down on the sedatives like boiled sweets, and managed to KO him in the dying round. He ain't dead, though. I still see him about, hiding in the corners of mirrors and hitching rides on other young things' superegos.

And there you have it, glam puppies, one rocker's story. This was all a long time ago now, but if this reaches any young man trying on his sister's lipstick, it is not an attempt to dissuade the spunky young blade from his dream. Go boldly, electric warrior, and chase the breathless chimera. But keep an eye open for Cosmosodomistic Records Ltd. They may have changed their name and the cut of their trousers, but they are still out there, lurking in the gutter, ever patient, waiting to consume the dreams of young men and flush them down the velvet khazi. Don't say I didn't warn you. !


Zodiac's tale is, of course, 99 per cent fiction. It is also completely revealing in so far as it represents the creative denial of reality against which I contended for several often painful years. I got involved with Zodiac when he didn't even have a guitar. I got him a guitar, a band, a record deal, a lot of money (which was quickly dissipated), produced his records and toured round the world with him. For all this I have never been forgiven. Which is fair enough.

I've managed many bands. There is a dichotomy in encouraging extreme behaviour for public consumption while reviling it privately. I feel pretty qualified to state that managing Zodiac Mindwarp and the Love Reaction was undoubtedly my own most extreme rock and roll experience. This will undoubtedly make Z's breast burst with pride.

It would be unfair not to admit that the early days of the band were times of intense excitement. In their heyday they were as great a live rock band as I can imagine ever existed. I was enormously proud to be involved and still saddened that between us we messed it up.

To understand Zodiac you have to know he was magically obsessed with one thing - his own greatness. He was already in his late twenties and he had not yet been hailed as the supreme artistic genius of the age, most of the world's beautiful women had not yet thrown themselves salivating at him and he was not a billionaire.

He was and is undoubtedly very talented and intelligent. He's an expert cartoonist, he's very well read and a profound thinker. Unfortunately, he was also completely screwed up. His raging ego undermined nearly all areas of the management of his career. I was always very curious to see how he'd grow old. Would that ego rage against the dying of the light of his celebrity or would he go quietly? It's nice to see he hasn't given up the fight yet.

One anecdote kind of sums it all up. We were out for a dinner with our new Ameri-can co-manager (brought in to help us conquer the States). Zodiac got drunk and screamed abuse at this important new addition to our team. I eventually escorted Z out of the restaurant. We staggered down Tottenham Court Road with Z's l7-year-old girlfriend trailing behind.

On reaching the bus-stop, I gave up try- ing to hold him up and he literally collapsed into the gutter. My bus arrived and, having had enough, I jumped on it and went home. Looking behind me, I saw the girlfriend putting the boot into the prone Z. And that's rock'n'roll, kids.

David Balfe, Columbia Records