Dave Amitri on It’s been 21 years…….
21 years ago this week Billy MacKenzie took his own life in his Dads shed. It was the end to a sometime glorious, often difficult, sometimes beautiful but ultimately unfulfilled life. For some reason I don’t quite understand Billy affects me more than any other pop star. Something about his ridiculous talent alongside his suffocating vulnerability and self doubt constantly draws me back.
Like most of us he only came to my notice through his appearances on Top of The Pops in the summer of 1982. He laughed and pissed around while performing the still ahead of it’s time “Party Fears Two” and the impossibly catchy “Club Country”. He looked like someone with the world at his feet he had the looks, the swagger and that voice from some otherworldly place like nothing heard before or since. I went a bought “Sulk” expecting 10 more foot tapping pop songs and was left scratching my head at the likes of “Bap de la Bap” and “Nude Spoons”. It still confuses and delights in equal measure.
After that despite insane record company spending and Billy wasting time and money on his whims and fancies only a couple more minor hits followed. Billys self destruct button and self doubt began to devour him. He was sure “Waiting For The Loveboat” was about to shoot him to number one but it bombed. The truly awful cover of “Heart Of Glass” showed that no one, including Billy quite knew what to do with that voice. For any producer it must have been like being given War and Peace and asked to make it suitable for Jackanory. Billy was desperate to be a pop star but the voice was a curse as much as it was a phenomenon.
Much of his solo career while for me being his most consistent period passed without notice. A collaboration with Yello among several highs. “Transmission Imposssible” deserves a place in anyones collection.
It would appear that as his dreams moved further away, his self doubt and hair loss which prompted some hat wearing and eyebrow raising wigs became crippling, he moved further away from fame and more to his beloved whippets and ultimately to his Dads shed. A dreadful loss.
I wholeheartedly recommend “The Glamour Chase” which is a fascinating and detailed insight into his life. Even if as for many Billy MacKenzie was not quite your cup of tea its a great read.
I’ll be binge listening Billy and The Associates for the next couple of weeks and occasionally I’ll wonder what the hell it is that continually draws me towards him. This performance which I’ve posted many times is possibly my favourite and may well have been where Billy belonged. It’s him and a pianist at Ronnie Scotts and performing the stunning “No”.