Front cover of the 1965 paperback edition of Terry Taylor's classic beatnik modernists into mods novel.
Front cover of the first edition of Terry Taylor's stone-to-the-bone classic drugs and youth culture London novel.
Back cover of the first edition of Terry Taylor's "Baron's Court, All Change". The blurb beneath the author photo reads: "Terry Taylor was born in London in 1933. He was educated at Secondary Schools and Ealing Technical College and School of Art. Among other things he has been a palmist, wall of death rider, barrow boy, an actor and a photographer. This is his first novel. Photo: Ida Kar."
Terry Taylor (left) in Tangier with unidentified friend 1961. For a larger version of this photograph go to Gallery and click on image.
Terry Taylor (left) in Tangier with American beatnik poet Johnny Dolphin Allen, 1961. For a larger version of this photograph go to Gallery and click on image.
Book: The Survival of the Coolest by William Pryor (Clear Press, 2003)
Well here's a curious book, half-interesting and half-infuriating - you'll get the drift from the blurb on the front: " A great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin's death defying journey into the interior of heroin addiction in the 1960s and back out again." Yep, its one of those poor little rich boy narratives and it left me feeling contempt rather than sympathy for the drip at its centre. Given that Pryor claims his family heritage (i.e the inbred genes of upper class England handed down from landed gentry via both the scientific establishment and the pseudo-artistic Bloomsbury Group) was a burden, he doesn't half go on about it; and if he thinks going to the toff's school of choice Eton was shit, he clearly doesn't have a clue about what it is like to have been 'educated' (ha ha) in the British state system. Pryor comes across as even more of a creep when writes about his scrapes with the law where he escapes prison by acting as a prosecution witness against his fellow junkies. Yeah, it's those from working class backgrounds that end up doing the time while this posh brat gets off with no more than a smack in the mouth from a friend of those he grassed up. On more than one occasion Pryor's family are able to buy him out of trouble (good solicitors cost money), and this book could have been very accurately titled "Survival of the Richest".
However, while Pryor is a complete twerp, what he has to say about the British beatnik scene of the early sixties is worth reading, partly because of the relative paucity of information on the subject. The flavour here strikes me as 'authentic', but the 'factual' content is junkie jive of the first order. Pryor admits as much when prior to providing what is unashamedly a fantasy account of the genesis of Wholly Communion, he writes: "clear memory is one of the first casualties of sustained heroin and cocaine use" (page 82). Pryor's memories are patently unreliable, since in the spring of 1966 he claims to have met a fellow junkie whose doctor was 'Petro' (page 107). Dr. John Petro became notorious in the late sixties after the media dubbed him 'the junkie's friend'; but the innumerable column inches the British press devoted to Petro at that time make it clear he only started writing scripts for heroin addicts in 1967. It is therefore pretty safe to conclude that 28 years after being cured of his addiction, Bullshitting Bill Pryor remains an expert at what junkies do best - that is, spouting whatever nonsense comes into their heads as if it is veritable truth. So while this book is worth reading for its beatnik atmosphere, every factual statement it contains should be taken with a huge pinch of salt.
Book: Phil Spector: Out Of His Head by Richard Williams
The revised 2003 edition of this 1972 book is the one to go for. It takes the reader through Spector's life and work up to the shooting of actress Lana Clarkson at the pop producer's Los Angeles mansion on 3 February 2003. The back cover blurb is clearly constructed to lure unsuspecting readers into expecting new insights into the death of Clarkson, but since the phrase 'up to' simultaneously indicates this is the author's cut off point, it isn't that surprising the actress isn't mentioned by name and there is virtually nothing about her in the book. The words 'pop' and 'hype' are pretty much synonymous, so no surprises there. Williams has an obsessive interest in Spector's work with various members of The Beatles, but for me this pop producer's greatest achievement was his work with Tina Turner on "River Deep, Mountain High", the end of his early and most creative phase. I'm not much interested in The Beatles and personally I wasn't impressed with what Spector did with The Ramones (having dug The Ramones' first four albums, I found the fifth made with Spector a disappointment). I even prefer the early Righteous Brothers track "Little Latin Lupe Lu" to anything Spector did with them (BTW: I actually rate the Mitch Ryder cover of "Lupe Lu" over all other versions of it). Moving on, the introduction to this revised pop biog is bizarre: Williams writes that news reportage of Spector's arrest over Clarkson's death brought to mind memories of groups like The Crystals and The Ronettes and "a time when pop music seemed to express a kind of glorious innocence, when it promised to deliver to its listeners.... tomorrow's sound today." There is a refreshing honesty in this, and if one takes a cynical view then it might be read as a side-splitting aside, but did Clarkson's death really make Williams think such things? In a world that is truly post-modern almost anything is possible... Read this book and weep!