Many enjoy the salacious rock n’ roll stories, the madness, the excess, “the sights, the sounds, the smells…” as Marti Dibergi would put it. Some of us may have had a phase of indulgence and tasted the fun, along with a few salutary reminders of the consequences on neurones, finances, and one’s personal life. We also know some people in the music world have drunk and inhaled deeply, and it has not ended up well for them, with addictions, mental health problems, or even death being consequences of not keeping these things in perspective. “Bodies” is an autobiographical book which frames the misadventures of Ian Winwood, columnist for “Kerrang!” as he finds like-minded spirits in the “loud musics” (his integrative term for punk, metal, and trad rock), and explores the messes people get into. This he did whilst interviewing and reviewing for his magazine, and I suspect most of us could be easily drawn into indulgence, given the way it was enabled by complicit but purblind record companies and publicists. Winwood bounces between his own personal losses and difficulties (he is very honest about his own mental health problems and addictions) and those of his interviewees and colleagues,
Some musicians present as quite wise and sensible in relation to this lifestyle; it will come as no surprise that Lemmy, tragic though he turned out to be, was a thoughtful and solid chap trapped by the legendary excesses and success of “Ace of Spades”. Simon Neil of Biffy Clyro drinks his way into almost sabotaging a career, and Frank Turner is revealed to be a good egg. Others are tools; Guns n’ Roses and certain famously tardy members therein have a lot to answer for in modelling what went far beyond hedonism and “attitood” (as The Ramones would call it).
The section on Ian Watkins and the story of how he dragged the rest of The Lost Prophets into career failure is probably the best part of the book. Being addicted to various stimulants and ceasing to respect his audience is bad enough to destroy a band and a career in itself, but Watkins’s enthusiastically and arrogantly-conducted paedophilia was a nuclear bomb into the lives of everyone around him, as well as harming victims “fortunately” too young to remember what happened to them. Few will be sorry Watkins is now residing in HMP Wakefield serving a 30 year sentence (which indicates just how bad his offences were). His offences meant the hard work of the rest of the band over a decade and a bit was for nothing; band members lost their reputations and, more importantly, their living, harming the band’s young families. Everything the ex-band members subsequently did would be coloured by Watkins’s offences, the band could never again perform, and back catalogue would cease to sell. No reunion tour 5 years after they disappear on other projects. Game over.
I very much liked the section where Winwood described life in some of the psychiatric hospitals he was sometimes obliged to spend time in; I have worked on the other side of the desk to the patients, so hearing how mental health professionals are perceived, and the informal life between the residents was interesting. I was very much saddened, as I think was Winwood, by “Ricky”, a fellow patient who believed all the rock-n roll “elegantly wasted” decadence BS which was never going to lead someone impressed by the excesses of Ginger Wildheart (from the eponymous band) into a good place. Sadly, some people are walking accidents who willingly walk on banana skins and push doors with paint-pots balanced on them. The book comes back to the grim observation that it is only in the popular loud music business that a person can behave quite so dysfunctionally and have a support system indulge it, whether via the “fruit and flowers” writing off of the financial costs incurred, or by the cynical dismissal of the human cost if the band are on a roll. Up to recently, it has generally only when things are a bloody mess that record companies have realised they may be damaging their “investments”.
Lou Reed, himself in his decadent years a role model for people who should’ve known better, was a good one for irony, and the song refrain “her life was saved by rock n’ roll”, is very much in tune with this book. I dearly hope the author of “Bodies” is in a better place than he was, and has whatever difficulties he had are now under control. Ian Winwood has written a book that is a corrective to those who think “The Dirt” or “Hammer of the Gods” is instruction manuals, rather than warnings.
Length of Read:Medium
Might appeal to people who enjoyed…
The more serious side of music biography, and most definitely the recent book by Nick Duerden, “Exit Stage Left” (reviewed below on this webpage) on what happens when a music artist’s career becomes “more selective”.
One thing you’ve learned
Rock musicians have to work very hard to move beyond adolescence, as the whole business of loud musics is to keep this phase going, adolescence and the early 20s generally being when a musician’s best work is done in this particular genre. If an artist can reconcile these dynamics and mature into an adult, leaving behind the madness, they are a very lucky person. I’m not sure I want to be a rock star any more.