Saturday 23 January 2010
Dylan Jones: 'Anyone who has ever read Gordon Burn will understand that his work will live on longer than he thought it might'
Talk of the Town
I first met Gordon Burn towards the end of 1987. He'd just interviewed Tom Wolfe and wanted to know if we wanted to run it in Arena. Of course we did – why would you not agree to publish anything by Gordon? – and over the next five years or so he wrote many fine things for the magazine, including interviews with Nik Cohn, Sting and Antony Sher. I remember him being one of the most considered journalists I'd ever met, a man who never took an assignment unless he was convinced he could actually improve our understanding of it. He was competitive, but rarely with other people; he was competitive with the ridiculously high standards he set himself.
He followed me to various Sunday newspapers, and we always stayed in contact, usually convening late at night in the Groucho Club, which he appeared to use as an unofficial office. And even when we didn't see each other, I'd always read what he had to say, even if I had little or no interest in the subject itself.
When Gordon died last summer, he was already editing what turned out to be his posthumous collection of writings, Sex & Violence, Death & Silence (Faber & Faber, £20), a rather remarkable book that slipped out without much fanfare just before Christmas. It's subtitled "Encounters with Recent Art", yet it is so much more than that, being a 35-year trawl through British popular culture, taking in everything from Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst (who always considered Gordon to be something of a genius) to The Clash, Helmut Newton and Charles Saatchi. There's a sort-of foreword to the book that takes the form of an interview with Hirst by David Peace, in which they discuss Gordon's apparent lack of interest in his legacy. But anyone who has ever read anything by Gordon – and this book is a good place to start – will understand that his work will live on a lot longer than he perhaps thought it might.
"So what do you think he'd have made of this?" asks Peace in the book. "Us talking about him?"
"He'd have hated it," says Hirst. "He'd have said, 'Shut up. Have a f****** beer.'"
Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'
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