About this Item
Quantity Available: 1
Title: Boy About Town: A Memoir
Publisher: Random House UK
Publication Date: 2013
Book Condition: Fine
About this title
The author of highly acclaimed Keith Moon and Smiths biographies now tells his own story of a life in love with music, taking the reader back to the glory days of the 1970s I was no longer fitting in at school. I was unsure of my friends, and they were increasingly unsure of me. I wanted to be a rock star. But while all around, voices were starting to break, acne beginning to appear, facial hair sprouting, I remained all flabby flesh and innate scruff, with a high-pitched whine and not a muscle to my name. I was the runt of the class and rarely allowed to forget it. I had no father at home to help me out, and could hardly talk to my mum. So I took solace in The Jam.
As a boy, Tony Fletcher frequently felt out of place, yet somehow he secured a ringside seat for one of the most creative periods in British cultural history. This is the story of his formative years in the pre- and post-punk music scenes of London, told via a Top 50 countdown: attendance at seminal gigs and encounters with musical heroes; schoolboy projects that became national success stories; the style culture of punks, mods, and skinheads and the tribal violence that enveloped them; life as a latchkey kid in a single-parent household; weekends on the football terraces in a quest for street credibility; and the teenage boy's unending obsession with losing his virginity. Featuring a vibrant cast of supporting characters from school friends to rock stars, and built up from notebooks, diaries, interviews, letters, and issues of his now legendary fanzine Jamming!, this is an evocative, bittersweet, amusing, and wholly original account of growing up and coming of age in the glory days of the 1970s.
Interview with author Tony Fletcher by Dave Jennings from Louder Than War.
You've written some of the definitive rock biographies on the likes of Keith Moon, The Smiths and R.E.M. How different is it to approach this sort of 'autobiographical' book compared to your other work? Vastly different. For a start, that's me in the spotlight, although oddly enough, I feel more comfortable in that scenario. There are things I gave permission to say about myself that I would hesitate to even ask of anyone else. I started out on the process of what has become Boy About Town many years back, penning some of my experiences as short stories. When I showed these stories to friends, I got an extremely positive reaction, and so set about trying to tie the bigger story together as fiction... and failed miserably. I put the book aside, knowing I would eventually come back to it. While my Smiths proposal was out with publishers, I went back to the project, and after all these years, instantly found my voice. The fiction went out the window, the story came together remarkably quickly as Boy About Town, and I had a feeling when it was done that, this time, it was properly done. I showed it to my new editor at William Heinemann, he loved it and said that if it could wait until after the Smiths book, he'd like to publish it.
Was it difficult/painful for you to delve back into adolescence?
Difficult, yes. Awkward too. But painful, no. I found it quite cathartic. My feeling was that many of us went through similar experiences, and that at least one of us should try and get them down on paper.
There are some brilliant character sketches of school friends/acquaintances...
It was important to me that this story was about more than just the narrator, and I worked hard to ensure that my friends (and foes) were properly fleshed out, and that we had some sense of where their lives were heading as we reached the end of the book. I didn't want them to be mere walk-on characters. In the process, I reached out to most of them both for permission to write about them in depth, and to fact-check - or at least get a sense of their own memory of - certain events. These friends showed remarkable faith in me with regard to painting a portrait of our teenage lives, one that was neither rose-tainted, nor sordid.
The book examines one of the most productive periods in British music history from a unique perspective, but contains some pretty blunt analysis of some characters on the scene at the time. Are these your views looking back or was it how you felt then?
Earlier drafts of the book were written very much from the perspective of the character telling the story. So the initial chapter read as if written by an eight-year old, and so on. Reading the finished typesetting, I noticed that my adult self occasionally stepped in to offer his opinion. Still, most of my views are those that I held at the time - for example, my conflicting opinions on the mod revival and my less-than-glowing reviews of a couple of bands from that era, as stated in my magazine Jamming! at the time, haven't changed much.
The description of skinheads 'seig heiling' to ska music would probably strike a chord with many of our age who lived in cities or small towns. How big an issue was right wing influence on the music scene at the time?
It was enormous, and writing this book made that so much more apparent. 'That' being a period - most of the post-punk period in the book, to be frank - where you couldn't go out at night without worrying whether skinheads would show up and what kind of damage they would cause if they did. You always worried about how the clothes you were wearing might be perceived and you always checked to make sure you had trainers on in case you had to run fast. For those who didn't live through it: serious right-wing fascists were playing on working class insecurities and directing the (sadly prevalent) adolescent British male violent tendency against the new wave of immigrants and, to a large extent, anything that didn't represent a supposedly sacred 'British way of life.' It sickened me at the time and it continues to do so.
Your love for and access to The Jam and Paul Weller is a theme of the book. Did it affect you at all or go to your head?
There's a part of me would love to say it didn't affect me, and I do think, even now, that part of the reason I was welcomed into their inner circle was because I took it in my stride, did not act especially star-struck, and could hopefully be relied upon to behave appropriately. Later on, i.e., after this book ends, when Paul financed the Jamming! record label and I moved into the Jam's offices, the relationship changed, as it was bound to.
How would you evaluate The Jam in the context of that period looking back?
I bought into The Jam shortly after my 13th birthday; they broke up when I was 18. They were the soundtrack to my teens. They put that teenage existence into words and music. Their shows were some of the greatest experiences of my life - although I can understand why, if you never saw them in their element, and were reduced to watching concert footage, they might not appear so. I really think you had to be there - in the crowd, to deliberately use another of their song titles. Over the greater course of history, there were groups whose music may have had wider appeal, or more obvious artistic merit, or perhaps better stood the test of time. But all of that is irrelevant if you were part of their audience. They were everything to us. Everything. I thank them for that. From the bottom of my heart.
I know each generation probably thinks the same about 'their period', but I do feel that 1977-1982 was remarkable in the originality, variety and enduring nature of the music produced in Britain at the time. Would you agree or is it just rose-tinted glasses?
I love this question. Quite obviously, you and I were fortunate to come of age during the greatest period of British music, ever. For us. And that's exactly the way it should be. When I wrote my book on the history of the New York City music scene (All Hopped Up and Ready To Go), it was fascinating how every single generation, bar none, would claim theirs as the greatest music scene ever. How can I tell Ben E. King, who used to walk twenty blocks or more to challenge other vocal groups on the street corners of Harlem in the 1950s, that his culture wasn't the greatest in the world? How can you argue against someone who was part of the Greenwich Village folk scene, when the likes of Dylan and Ochs and Van Ronk and Farina would all hang out together drinking cheap wine long into the night at the Gaslight? How can I dispute Alan Vega when he talks about Suicide at Max's Kansas City and CBGBs and says that he was part of the most fertile music scene ever? We were absolutely, 100% blessed to have been part of the punk and, especially, the post-punk scene, and we're right to assume its importance. But not at the expense of other generations.
Are we moving away from music-led youth culture?
I think we are. I don't want to base that so much on my own kids - allowing that my eight-year old's love of The Who rivals that of his dad's - but when I look at my seventeen-year old and his friends, even those who are in bands and are musically talented, it's different. They don't follow acts the way we did. They don't live and breathe it. When I'm back in the UK, I look at young adults and they all seem so very similar; homogenous, even. However, there's a big part of me that refuses to pass judgment. Younger teens are, depending on background, enormously dedicated to real working class movements like grime in the UK and whatever the latest strand of hip-hop might be in the States. There may be stuff going on that we don't know about because we're not meant to know about it. But based on the small sample of you and me as parents of teenagers, your question demands a firm 'yes.'
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