Tony Fletcher’s memoir Boy About Town is published in paperback this week. I read it when it first came out and, remarkably, it deals only with his life between the ages of about 11 and 16. I’ve known Tony since the mid-eighties, when he wrote his first book for Omnibus (on Echo & the Bunnymen) and he went on to do several more including, of course, his superb Keith Moon biography Dear Boy, so naturally I’m a bit biased, not least because along the way we’ve become very good friends. Tony began his life in music journalism by publishing his own fanzine, Jamming, in 1977 when he was a 13-year-old at school. Amazingly, at that age he talked his way into getting interviews with musicians, most notably Paul Weller and Pete Townshend. Here’s an extract from the e-mail I sent to Tony about it. It speaks for itself really.
“Tony: I love the sense of discovery that permeates almost every page – and not just music but the way you interact with the friends you make, the opening up of London, the increasing awareness of everything around you and how adolescence can be pretty scary. Re the music, I like the way you write about bands and singers from the point of view of a 12 or 13 or whatever year old and not from the point of view of your present age with the wealth of hindsight that all your experience will have brought in the meantime or the reconstructed opinions that you and I probably have about the less fashionable bands of the early seventies.
“I marvelled at your enterprise in placing yourself in the midst of the music industry through your own efforts in the way you did at such a young age and envied the fact that you lived in London and were thus in a position to do as you did while I grew up in North Yorkshire where the only gig was the semi-pro covers band at the weekly dance at Skipton’s Clifford Hall which usually ended up in a fight.
“Anyway, it was a great read… also an easy read, short chapters, a page turner in its own way. Lovely job mate.”
Those visitors to Just Backdated who have read Tony’s biography of Keith Moon will know that this book closes with an Epilogue in which he describes his visit to the 1978 Who Exhibition at the ICA in London. It was here that he met Keith who signed a copy of Tony’s Jamming fanzine and promised to grant him an interview if he came round to the flat in Curzon Place the following week. Tony did so but no one was home. Two weeks later Keith died in that same flat.
For me the most moving passage in Boy About Town is Tony’s meditation on Keith’s death. In many ways it explains his motivation for writing Dear Boy, which he accomplished exactly 20 years later. Here it is:
I heard the news from Nicky Horne, at the start of his show, at 9 p.m. on a Thursday night. Keith Moon had died at home, in Curzon Place, earlier that day. Whether it was a heart attack or something else – a drug overdose, perhaps – was yet to be determined. But the circumstances didn’t change the reality. Keith Moon was dead.
My grandfather had died when I was four or five years old. (For reasons I had never figured out, my brother and I had not been told about it until after his funeral.) Other than that, I’d never known anyone who had died. Death was always something that happened to other people.
But this death happened to me. It hit me in the gut, like a bully had punched me there, and I felt myself go weak inside, the stuffing knocked out of me. Barely a month ago, I had introduced myself to one of my favourite people in the world – one of the most famous people in the world – and he had been nice to me. He had been sweet, gentle and kind. He had written down his home address and invited me to come round and see him. In the process, he had shown that I needed not be scared of, or awed by, rock stars, that they were human, like the rest of us. He hadn’t responded to the letter I’d slid under his door in Mayfair, and whether he had ever intended to (indeed, whether he’d ever read it), I would now never know. But I felt like I knew him all the same, and I reacted to his death like it was a member of my own family. I bawled my eyes out.
Keith was all over the newspapers the next day. He dominated the front pages of the tabloids the same way the Sex Pistols had done after they swore at Bill Grundy. The Daily Mirror ran the headline ‘Drugs Death Drama of Pop Wild Man Moon’ and the other papers offered their own speculative accounts of his demise. He had been Moon the Loon, infamous for drinking and drugging his way across the world, leaving a trail of damaged hotels and ravaged women behind him, and now, they seemed to be suggesting, he had got his just reward.
They had no idea. Thousands of us looked up to Keith Moon, felt kinship with him for the way he had lived his life, free of convention, of expectations. For the example he had set to those of us who derided the nine-to-five life, who shivered at the prospect of ending up in a suburban semi-detached with 2.4 children and a dog, who decried that businessmen in Britain all wore pinstripe suits, that secondary-age schoolchildren were forced to wear uniforms, that the teachers had long stopped caring, that bullies ran rampant, that the streets were full of violence, that the buses never ran on time, that the country shut down at 11 p.m. – with the national anthem as a reminder of our pervasive monarchy – and that the sky was perpetually overcast and the air permanently damp, that the older generation clung to an Empire that no longer existed and had been built on violent conquest to begin with, that they genuinely believed that the return of National Service and beating with the birch would solve all the problems of us youth, that fascism was gaining ground, that skinheads were increasing in numbers, and that, by their very design, with their endless rows of terraced streets and parades of small-time shops, our towns and cities promoted anonymity and servitude.
Keith Moon, a working-class boy from Wembley, had emerged from all of this and shown that you could rise above it, that you didn’t have to sacrifice your dreams for the security of normality, that you could, by your talents and your determination – and yes, your lunacy – take control of your own destiny to live your life in the stratosphere, far above the miserable majority of the human race, like a comet streaking through the night sky. In his case that flame had burned out already, and I didn’t know enough to fully understand why or how. I just knew, at this moment in time, while he was being slandered and libelled and pilloried in death, that I would do anything to set the record straight.
Here's a link to the book on the web: boyabouttown.net