There are some men who do know better
The culture of lads' mags is one of beer and hedonism. But, for two journalists, it wasn't just one long party.
Tuesday 10 October 2000
Last week, two books were launched that reunited a journalistic partnership from beyond the grave. Only coincidence determined that
Bliss To Be Alive: The Collected Writings of Gavin Hills (Penguin £7.99) and
Gun Nation by Zed Nelson (Westzone £30), a great journalist/photographic team separated by Hills' premature death, be published within 24 hours of each other.
Last week, two books were launched that reunited a journalistic partnership from beyond the grave. Only coincidence determined that Bliss To Be Alive: The Collected Writings of Gavin Hills (Penguin £7.99) and Gun Nation by Zed Nelson (Westzone £30), a great journalist/photographic team separated by Hills' premature death, be published within 24 hours of each other.
Nelson and Hills were the serious boys of the Loaded generation. While they had all the humour and character and life of the rest of the writers and photographers, they also put their lives on the line and their money - not just beer - where their mouths were.
Switching issue by issue between the night clubs of Sarajevo and the starving babies of Somalia, their story is also notable because of where their stories appeared, the perception being that magazines like The Face, where Hills made his name, and Loaded, where Nelson worked, only covered fashion, music and parties.
Three years ago, Hills died while fishing on some rocks in Cornwall. An unexpected swell picked him up, bashed his head and carried him out to drown beyond help. It was a great loss, and so many people attended his funeral that they couldn't shut the church doors. Gavin was a unique character. He thought nothing of walking around dressed as King Arthur, setting up a barbecue at a rave, or forming a fancy-dress band hours before a party. His writing was proof you could be a football fan and a hedonist, and care about the real world. His writings in Bliss To Be Alive marry drug culture, football violence, divorce and war.
At times, it was an uneasy load to carry. One morning in Ibiza, Gavin broke down in tears about the dead babies he had been asked to hold in Somalia. I had to coax him back from the brink before he could set off on a pedalo to try and commandeer a huge medieval sailing boat for the naked wedding of the stylist Reece Sandell. At the time, Gavin's writing in The Face stood out because the mix of interests was unusual, but it genuinely reflected the combination of self-examination and self-destruction many of us juggled with throughout the Nineties.
Before his death, Gavin had become an active member of the Territorial Army, had had an autobiographical novel commissioned by Penguin, and had just been hired to present the new Rough Guide television series with his friend Miranda Sawyer. Last week's party for Gav's book saw three generations of Face editors, including Sheryl Garrat who compiled the volume, leading magazine journalists like Miranda and Chris Heath, Hills' friends and family, and his old photo partner Zed Nelson. Gavin is the only guy I know who can still manage to throw a party three years after he's died.
The strength of the Hills/Nelson partnership was highlighted best at Gavin's funeral when Zed was perilously honest and descriptive while delivering a moving eulogy that peaked with a story of how they had both lain in bed with dysentery for three days, in an African hovel, too stubborn to go and get water.
Despite writing to a loyal audience of nearly a million readers five years ago, none of the Loaded writers - idolised at the time - have managed to get books out. Nelson's is the first and it has huge impact.
Zed had come to us in 1994, just before Loaded started with the then writer Tyler BrÃ»lÃ©e. The two set off on a split commission between ourselves and Sky magazine. They were to cover a Pakistan gun bazaar for Loaded and the International Red Cross's work in Afghanistan for Sky. Tragedy struck when Zed and Tyler's car was caught by sniper fire and both the interpreter and Tyler were critically injured.
The car and its passengers were shot to bits. The otherworldliness of it all was best reflected by my deputy at the time who, after taking the call, surreally announced "Tyler's been shot by the Moulin Rouge". Zed brought the stories home and became a popular member of the Loaded freelance team; Tyler recovered enough to launch style bible Wallpaper*.
Two years ago, Zed came to me at GQ and showed me the start of a story he had been doing for himself charting America's obsession with the gun. He wanted to photograph those that made them, those that sold them, those that used them and those that cleared the mess up. It was a brilliant story and I immediately wrote him a cheque for £5,000 and told him to go and shoot for another six months. At the time, CondÃ© Nast were keen on perfume advertorials, but this was more important. I ran Gun Nation over 18 pages in GQ and and it went on to win two of the most prestigious photographic awards in the world.
The Telegraph, Life and Time picked up the story and Zed was invited to host an exhibition in New York, go on the chat-show circuit and then lecture across the US.
Both Zed and Gavin are big characters, but while most of my generation of magazine journalists adored John Belushi and Hunter S Thompson, these guys were more like James Woods and John Savage in Oliver Stone's Salvador. They formed an unusual bridge between Loaded culture and The Nine O'clock News headlines.
James Brown is editor-in-chief of 'Hotdog' magazine and former editor of 'Loaded'
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