Monday, November 20, 2017

THE FACE1: THE STORY OF THE MAGAZINE THAT CHANGED CULTURE / PAUL GORMAN

Published by Thames & Hudson
Some six years in the making, this oversize 350+ page paperback volume captures the story of 'The Magazine that Changed Culture'.

It's a lavish production, replete with covers and spreads, complemented by a fastidious narrative -  based on numerous interviews - that attempts to pay proper tribute to  the various staff line-ups and the multitude of contributors, to document the history and contents of the magazine and set both in a wider social context. Choices have to be taken, judgements made, a narrative assembled.

Paul Gorman has form and experience of these kind of complex tasks. Two of his previous books - 'The Look : Adventures in Rock & Pop Fashion' [Adelita. 2006] and 'Reasons To be Cheerful: The life and work of Barney Bubbles' [Adelita.2008] - are valued additions to the GENERALIST ARCHIVE.

The key figure in the whole story is of course the inventive Nick Logan, founder, editor and publisher of 'The Face' from the first issue (May 1st 1980) to his last (July 1999) - just under two decades of determined, detailed work, obsessively seeking the new. A Mod of modest habits (a complete contrast to Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone (see Previous Post), Nick didn't seek the highlife. His focus was the work - supervising every aspect of the production process, constantly pushing the paper forward, alert to the changing tones and styles of the time. Nick hated the world 'lifestyle' but loved the notion of 'style' which, of course, he would.

Nick worked his way up through local papers to the NME where he succeeded on taking the paper to sales of a quarter of a million copies a week, with its fresh, irreverent, totally informed journalism. sharp design and the best in music photography. The pressure of the job finally got to him, he suffered mental exhaustion and left.

Soon after, he got back in the saddle with a raft of new independent ideas.'Smash Hits' was a pop smash that shifted shedloads but Nick's ambition lay in creating something more grown-up, a vehicle for the best photography and for his passion in fashion. I love the story of him reading Beat International  on the Rolling Stones. He hated the live photos but loved the ones that allowed him to scrutinise their cuban heel boots and other dead cool fashion touches.

Enter stage left Neville Brody, whose breakthrough designs for two spreads in issue 23 (March 1982) formalised 'a contemporary design language at the magazine'. Several young designers at the time (Malcolm Garret for instance) were into their modernist predecessors like El Lissitsky.

Gorman reports that Brody's 'fresh and innovative ideas of page layout and type design, attracted a following'. He writes: 'Among his trademarks, according to academic Catherine McDermmott, were the use of symbols and logos 'almost as road signs to guide the reader through the page, creating a vocabulary for  magazine design of the period using handwriting marks and type that ran sideways'.

Brody was only the second designer in London that I met who was working with computers. The first was George Snow, a pioneering artist of the British underground. Traditional analog forms of layout and print production were still running alongside early Amstrads. Note is made in the book somewhere about the first fax machine coming into the Face office.

I spent most of yesterday working through the first 100 issues of The Face in my Archive, the period when I was an occasional contributor [see next post]. The 80s flow through these pages - a river of moments, incidents, feelings. This was Thatcher time (1979-1990). She left an indelible mark and triggered several smart waves of stylish (and political) reaction, beginning with the wonderful Two-Tone movement.

The book has introduced me to The Face of the 1990s, with which I was less familiar. Sheryl Garret at the editorial helm ensured the magazine was right on the hunger and wildness of the rave culture, Brit Pop, grunge and  Kate Moss. These spreads have zing, colour and energy.

It was during this period in 1992 that The Face was imbroiled in the infamous legal battle with Jason Donovan over a story they ran which the courts believed implied he was gay. He was awarded £200,000 damages and court costs. The fact that the magazine (and the staff) did not go under came from the way they adressed the issue, with grace and style. Friends emerged from all over the world and support and money poured in, Big name figures made their voices heard, fundraising events and records swelled the ranks. Donovan, in a welcome gesture reduced his claim to £95,000 which was paid over eighteen months. He later considered it the biggest mistake of his life.

The Face book is not Facebook. How far we have come. It is very much of the period and will always provide a valuable source for that very reason, to students in a wide variety of creative disciplines. It will be pored over, drawn on, digested and expanded by the new bright sparks into indie mags of the future.

With reluctance (and some relief?) Nick sold his stable of magazines - The Face, Arena, Arena Homme and others  - to media group Emap. Their last issue of The Face came out in April 2004. It's great to see his achievement properly recognised and celebrated.







THE FACE2: PERSONAL CONTRIBUTIONS.

Having digested Paul Gorman's history book, THE GENERALIST decided to try and track down all the contributions I made to the mag over what period.

My name was on the masthead [from Issue 10/ Feb1981] for several years as one of the many freelance contributors. I was very much an outrider, contributing shorter pieces to the Intro and review sections. Whatever reputation I had at this time came mainly from my work at the NME as 'Dick Tracy' where I'd staked out some territory. I got on well with Nick Logan but I was never one of his star writers. It was great to hang out at the various Face offices [Mortimer Street and The Old Laundry] and to pitch in stories to Paul Rambali and Lesley White.

I wrote three features that made it into print:



⧫A three-page piece on Montgomery Clift - now one of this blog's perennial and most popular posts [THE FACE No 9/Jan 1981]










⧫ An exclusive feature on the great Polish foreign correspondent Ryszard Kapuscinski based on original interviews. Full text on this blog.
[THE FACE No 76/August 1986]


⧫ A significant feature on the fashion designer Katherine Hamnett which helped establish her radical credentials, reprinted for the first time in FACE3 post to follow.

I was also selected by Nick to travel to Paris and represent The Face at the Actuel office for the European issue, organised by the late Jean-François Bizot (1944 – 2007). See FACE 4 post
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PREVIEW SPREAD ON 'RAGING BULL' [THE FACE No 10/Feb 1981]


THE FACE 16/August 1981]


THE RIGHT STUFF  
" . . the world was divided into those who had it and those who did not. This quality, this IT, was never named, however, nor was it talked about in any way."
THE Right Stuff is the mythic essence of America and who better to write about it than New Journalist Tom Wolfe, who has spent an entire career observing the social mores, the trends, the styles of USA as viewed from the perspective of bizarre social, private groups like bikers, surfers and acid heads.Wolfe may be the only living writer who can handle fashion and technology with equal ease. He observes the cut of an astronaut's cuff while delineating the technological statistics of a Saturn launcher. He revels in the incongruity of it all, the specialised language: the words, baby, the words.
In essence, this shimmery paperback is a history of the American drive into space, from the postwar world of the test pilots to the end of the Mercury programme, ending before the Man on the Moon became reality. For those who lived through this Space Race, here is a completely new view of events, a startling revisioning of information previously only made public through the sanitary sieve of LIFE magazine, which airbrushed out all warts and blemishes.
This is the only book that will actually give you the experience of an orbital flight round this planet, in a superb chapter that can only have been constructed from endless hours of conversation. Or was it?
Wolfe's technique is flawless, his prose propelling you along like high-octane fuel—and there are no joins. Here is a class performer at work, a showman with a serious bent. He lays bare what it meant to be an astronaut. The Flying & Drinking and Drinking & Driving cycle. What it feels like to inhale pure oxygen to cut through a hangover, and then charge out into the stratosphere to break the sound barrier in prototype needleplanes that bend and strain. What it feels like to be strapped in a centrifuge, spun at unbelievable speeds, with clusters of wires up your rectum. What it feels like to be sitting in an armchair which fits like a glove, sitting on top of an ocean of explosive fuel and pointing at the stars.
Reading Tom Wolfe in full flight is an EXPERIENCE. He lights an afterburner under your imagination—and the korker is it's all true. Don't miss this.
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THE FACE No 21/January 1982



Sadat is shot. The Pope is shot. Reagan is shot. The Yorkshire Ripper is caught and caged. Operation Bright Star sees American paratroopers playing war games in Egypt. Russians stage massive invasion rehearsals on the shores of the Baltic. Thousands die and are dying in the deadly and frightening Spanish cooking oil disaster. Youth riots in Zurich, Berlin and Amsterdam are followed by Brixton, Toxteth, Moss Side. The Springboks trigger riots in New Zealand. CND grows and grows and grows. The dole queue grows and grows and grows. Bob Marley dies, a cadet tries to shoot the queen, and the Royal Wedding brings millions of royalists onto the streets. Abel Gance and William Holden die. One by one the hunger strikers die and bombs return to London. Afghanistan grows into Russia's Vietnam. Libya plays chicken games with the White House. Europeans discover themselves to be living in the next nuclear target zone and take to the streets. The Oi! cult meets the Orange People. El Salvador. The deathly duo Haig and Weinburger. The year of Tony Benn and the SDP. Solidarity and the Space Shuttle. The Commander of Nato forces in Europe misses terrorist bomb death by inches. Voyager has a close encounter with Saturn. Lech Waleska keeps on shining. Meg leaves the motel. 1982 promises to be exciting. ■ DICK TRACY 

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THE FACE No 30/October 1982 was a good issue for me: three stories in the Intro Section and a full spread at the back of the magazine which I was proud of . Great layout. 




One of the highlights of the financially ill-starred WOMAD festival was African Expo, a blend of traditional and modern pieces in all mediums out of which Martin Lovis' pictures on the South African regime stood as one of the best contributions. They force the spectator to face this fascist reality, to see with new eyes a situation which time and familiarity have accustomed us to. Lovis' skill at blending imagery and his development as an artist stem from three sources; his training as a photo-retoucher in a South London printing company, his time at Bromley Art College where he discovered colour theory and four years spent working in advertising and marketing. This combined experience enables him to produce seamless paintings in a photo-realist style. Lovis, now 28, lives in Ladbroke Grove but we met in the dim basement bar of the Africa Centre where the sound of Soul and Lovis' naturally soft speaking voice combined to thwart detailed enquiry. However some facts did emerge: notably that all the proceeds from the sale of reproductions of the 30 paintings he produced on South Africa during 1979-80 have been donated to Medico International, a Frankfurt-based organisation which promotes basic health programs in the Third World. Anxious not to be dubbed as solely a political artist, Lovis' work will move in new directions in the future. He has produced book jackets and has just completed the cover for a Zounds compilation album on Rough Trade. Living in the material world means paying the phone bill. Art directors take note.  
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Bert Stern was at one time the highest paid photographer in the world, producing startling advertising shots and personality profiles, fashion portfolios and photo exclusives that were original, imaginative and distinctive. He wanted to make a movie before he was 30 so he took film cameras to the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival and the result is called 'Jazz On A Summer's Day', the godfather of all music documentaries, rated by Scorsese and Altman as one of the best films ever made. Featuring the first footage of Chuck Berry alongside Thelonius Monk, Louis Armstrong and a host of lesser-knowns, Stern took his skill as a photographer and applied it to the motion picture with great force. Looked at 25 years later it has a modern feel and retains its power intact. Packed with incidental detail, beautifully observed, it stands as one of the great music films.

Stern went on to photograph Twiggy in 1967, Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, Marisa Berenson and Marilyn Monroe- his pictures of her being featured in the recently published 'The Last Sitting' (Orbis £12.50). He was a patient of the legendary Dr Feelgood, who gave him B-12 shots with amphetamine and is credited as being the man who gave Cary Grant LSD. His empire collapsed, everyone thought he was dead, but his fortunes have recently revived. [Stern died on June 26, 2013. See Wikipedia]

THE FACE No 32/ Dec 1982

A less lucky legendary American is featured in 'Lenny Bruce Without Tears', a startling black and white film compiled from newsreels, interviews, snatches of his club act and intimate footage - spliced together with talking heads like Kenneth Tynan, Paul Krassner and Malcolm Muggeridge. If you've never seen Lenny in action this will hit you between the eyes. It's a powerful and disturbing document from the underground which raises the question as to where the radical protesters of the  Eighties are hiding. Both films are available through Nikon Video, an independent distribution company. Ask for them at your local video dealer. You will not be disappointed.'







THE FACE3: DRESSING FOR THE APOCALYPSE / KATHERINE HAMNETT



THE FACE No 41/September 1983.
 Interview conducted July 6th 1983
I am not in the habit of interviewing fashion designers but Katherine Hamnett sounded enough like Dashiell Hammett to interest even the most hard-boiled scribe. The fact is that when I read her rap about her next collection being inspired by the women at Greenham Common I had to know more.

Ever since, I keep running into outlying branches of the Katherine Hamnett fan club. They are everywhere and mention of her name inspires an enthusiasm in the unlikeliest people. In person she is a blast, a burst of energy and ideas, self-deprecating and autocratic by turns, loose and with a sense of humour.

She is also rated internationally alongside Yves St Laurent and Kenzo and cannot produce enough clothes to keep up with the demand. This woman is HOT and very central. She runs a thriving export business on the products of her imagination and she is anti-nuclear and anti-pollution. Her language is a mixture of the London of Mary Quant ("fabby French cigs") and the argot of advanced science ("doing a quick scan").

She says: "Now I'm 35 this is the age when you are in your strength. One's got to start doing something. When I feel good now I'm so angry."

Her workplace is in Islington, a two-floor design studio/production office behind a metal yard, reached by ascending an iron staircase. The decor is white with black rubber floors. Katherine isn't here yet so I take a seat and browse through the press clippings.

She was born in Gravesend, Kent in 1948. Daughter of an air attache, she grew up in European embassies, Cheltenham Ladies College and graduated to fashion design at St. Martin's School of Art under Bernard Nevi11. She freelanced for two years, then established a company called Tuttabankem with Ann Buck. Unfortunately her husband owned half the company and, when their marriage split, so did the firm. She freelanced further afield for a while in Rome, Paris and Hong Kong until her son William was born in 1976. Hibernation in the household lasted three years but in 1979 she was forced by circumstances back to work since when she's gone from strength to strength.

Suddenly here she is coming up the iron stairs, arms by her side, tall and elegant, wearing an African print duster coat with matching tapered trousers of her own design. We sit down on two old airline chairs in the middle of the room and pretend that there is a bubble round us so none of the other ten people in the room can hear what we're saying.

She's already checked me out on the phone with someone to see whether my affidavits stand up to scrutiny. She sends out for Special Brew and the conversation begins. I want to know why she thinks a designer is in a position of power.

"I suppose it means you dress the elite. You could say intelligent, powerful people wear our clothes, wear our message — in the end, that's what it boils down to. You can decide what they're going to look like basically and that means a lot. If they're read off totally as the clothes they're wearing, as the person they are, you're creating their persona.

"So I say let's make peace and ecology very fashionable. Everybody thinks, What can I do? You look at the situation in the world at the moment, the politicans aren't really representing the people. You've got a chance to let people represent themselves to an extent. If you change the face, if you change what it looks like, people are going to feel it really, aren't they. That's where I think my area of responsibility lies.

"I think you are in a position of power that you can just come out with a look which changes the world for six months on a certain level."

That's quite an opening speech but she apologises and says she'll get into it in a minute. She is fascinated by the relationship between the clothes you wear and the attitudes you adopt. She says: "What you represent in your clothes is your values — what you think is nice, what you think is beautiful, where you'd like to be at. Your hair can be wrong but if your clothes are saying that, you will be saying that. It's like a disguise isn't it but it's more than that. It's a complete statement about where you stand in the materialist world."

For Katherine fashion comes out of the ground, from the collective subconscious which she tunes into and sketches out the results like automatic writing. She mentions some research she read at college which has obviously stuck in her mind by a guy called Stephen Black. He showed his subjects a range of fashion garments, put them in deep trance hyponosis and then told them what they were wearing and asked them how they felt. The result was a flood of precise feelings.

She obviously relishes the business of fashion. "The reason we've been successful," she says, "is we don't just do anything. There's a terrific discipline it's got to fit into. I work very much with applied psychology, market research and then you have to think what you can bear to see. One extraordinary garment is marvellous but you can't imagine selling two thousand of them because it would look stupid.

"So it's a particular kind of garment you've got to produce which is going to look different on anybody, that you can wear different ways, that different age groups can wear. You can dress it up or you can dress it down. You can look one thing one week and another thing another. It fits everybody — which is quite difficult. That's really what's quite nice about designing clothes for mass production, the fact that it's so hard."

She works fairly constantly, always planning a year ahead always thinking and sketching. When an idea reappears three or four times she begins to shape it up, works with a pattern cutter to produce a prototype which is then "shaved down" until it's right. When everyone's happy it goes into sampling, it's shown, orders are taken and it goes into production.

Her work is very hot in the USA and Italy but over here she keeps her outlets limited because she doesn't want to see them all over the Kings Road. They would become stale and odious.. She is trying to be good, free, unrepressed, flexible, honest and eager. She admits that clothing is a youth thing and that the older you get the harder it becomes but she says "our backup is to try and produce what was English quality. Down to the nail!"

And here we have one of the taproots of Katherine Hamnett's beliefs and ideas, her concern for this country and for its future. "My father was in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp for three years. His two brothers —fighter pilots — were killed in the war. Without being sentimental those people gave their lives for what they considered was this country. Look what's happening to it now. I feel because they're dead, if I am to go on working it's because of a debt I owe them.

"Britain is one of the most uncomfortable places to he. I think it is repressive and people are very tense here. At the same time it's also the most creative place to be. Something's got to happen because it's either going to go positive or negative."

On the positive side she ranks Malcolm McLaren, a "great Englishman. He's completely inverting the system and they're lying there with their legs open, lapping it up." She obviously shares his fascinations and obsessions but brings a different insight to bear. She would have voted SDP if she hadn't moved and lost her voting papers but realises now they've got no strength.

The daughter of very ambitious upper middle class parents, she was aware of the class system from an early age and of the international power trips that go on. She says: "People think there's three classes; it's more like 300. In every class, if you get into it, there's incredible subdivisions. It's extraordinarily stratified. Bernard Shaw said: 'One Englishman can't open his mouth without making another despise him.' It's true, we've all got this awareness and fear.

"I think here we're more aware of class than any other country. I think President Carter said we invented racism and it's something that comes out of it because basically, every class hates every other class and would murder them quite happily."

But Katherine Hamnett has more than class on her mind. She begins to sound like Doris Lessing, for God's sake. "It's getting so much worse I don't see that we're going to avoid some apocalypse." That's the talk of a woman with two sons (aged seven and two) who doesn't like the look of the future and the point where she connects with the voices of Greenham Common.

Her talk is scattered with references to the Parent Teachers Association she's involved with (strong on getting lead out of petrol) and her anxieties have been increased by the fact that she's just taken her seven-year old to a second educational psychologist. He told her that the boy is above average and yet he's innumerate, basically illiterate and still reading mechanically. This has obviously coloured her views and adds energy to her attack.

"We're destroying all our future. The only thing a country's got is its youth. If you cannot afford education you get a decline in civilisation. From what I see of what they're picking up in the State Schools it's just aggression and defiance. To an extent you can't blame them. If this is all we're prepared to dish out to them, why shouldn't they?

"According to people in established positions, anybody under 25 is rubbish and ought to be killed. They don't give a shit about them. They give less than shit. They just want to keep them quiet. It's the most selfish thing you've ever seen. And for who, for what?"

At this point Katherine decides we should go downstairs and talk some more. Her brother comes in to ask about the arrangements that evening for their mother's birthday. She says she rescued him from the army and he's now working for her.

Geoffrey, the man she lives with who was also inadvertently drawn into the business, comes in to close the windows and lock up. She goes for him: "Out. Get out, you guys. I'm just doing a very crucial thing on a copyright which he might print. Please go away for two minutes. Simply fuck off." There's a hint of a smile but only a hint.

Here's Katherine Hamnett on copyright: "The Italians are founder members of the EEC which is supposed to be free trade. Their clothing industry is the size of Fiat. Our clothing industry would be considerably larger than it is if it was handled sensibly. They're copying all our styles and selling them all over Europe. We've got no comeback. We've got no right of injunction on copy, no copyright laws whatsoever.

"I think there should be because I think the creative areas in this country — whether it's music, painting or fashion design — we're stronger than anybody else in the world and we could be exploiting it. We are categorically better than they are. We could be turning it to the good of the country.

"The strongest export from this country is ideas. The guys in Silicon Valley are all English. Creativity, genius, talent and ideas —the growth industry we've got in this country right now."

The conversation takes its final turn, back to her deeper concerns. She wants to express this feeling in as strong a way as possible, burn it into the tape so that you will read it.

"I think we've got to go for world government. I think there's no other way to eliminate war. We all face extinction, our children face extinction. Nobody wants to feel that babies are dying from lack of food when they've got butter mountains, meat mountains, milk lakes. This is the only obscenity.

"People who have children are the only people that care really. Single people don't care. They have it whammed home to them that the individual, the child, the baby is the most colossal thing that anybody can produce. It's so much greater than any artefact or empire.

"Science fiction is another consumer tool, a tool of the armaments industry. It has to be. If you accept that there's no life in the entire continuous billions of galaxies — that we're the only life that exists — it's far healthier.

"The only thing that's important is survival, and it's possible. There's enough land, enough sea that everybody should be able to live on this planet and just enjoy this extraordinary gift that is life. We are stardust. This is the Garden of Eden."

Later, on the train home, I listen to snatches of the tape. I'd asked her about Radical Chic. "What was that, I missed it." I explained it was where fashion adding energy to a movement it merely sucks it off and sells it to the High Street.

Her reply is revealing: "Quite a fightening thought, really. It hadn't occurred to me before. Well we're going to do it very blatantly. I'm just going to do t-shirts. If people think they can't make a stand, at least they can wear one."
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Katherine Hamnett has revealed how Margaret Thatcher let out a 'shriek of horror' when she realised the legendary fashion designer had hijacked a 1984 Downing Street reception for fashion designers to make an anti-nuclear protest. Hamnett smuggled one of her infamous slogan T-shirts into the event, putting it on when she was inside and approaching the Prime Minister for a chat. The garment was emblazoned with the words '58% don't want Pershing', in reference to the then Prime Minister's decision to allow U.S. Pershing missiles to be stationed in Britain despite the majority of the British public being opposed.


THE FACE 4: EUROPEAN ISSUE / ACTUEL / JEAN-FRANÇOIS BIZOT


One of the most interesting issues of The Face in the 1980s was the European issue, which I became closely involved with.

Paul Gorman's writes: 'The "New Life in Europe" issue was a joint venture with like-minded Continental magazuines that shared stories or aspects of European culture as well as the cover image of a child by photographer Margit Marnul'.

The initiave came from Jean-François Bizot who had founded Actuel in Paris in 1967. The other particpants were Wiener in Austria, Oor in Holland, Etc in Sweden, Frigidaire in Italy, Tip in Germany and El Vibora in Spain.
Bizot's proposition was that each title would produce a major feature and these eight features would be shared between the magazines as would a section entitled '70 Great Ideas From Europe'.

In addition, each magazine carried out an opinion poll about their citizens'  knowledge and contacts withe other European countries. In an opening statement, The Face reported that the UK Gallup poll of 1,000 young people showed that Brits had the lowest rating. What the respondents throughout Europe shared was a longing for security, freedom and opportunity.

'These yearnings seem to be on alll of our minds at a time when we face the same economic and cukltural decline and share the same deep fears - not least of the imminent NATO build-up that threatens to turn Europe into a battleground for the superpowers.'

'Europe is a fragile idea, but not a new one. The bulk of this issue is about Europe, not somewhere we pay much attention to...but an abundance source of ideas, whether quaint, foolish, diverting or inspired.'

The then Features Editor Paul Rambali, told Gorman that The Face believed that Britain should embrace a more continental lifestyle. "We were actively militating for that. At the time pubs closed in the afternoon and at 11pm. We were living a noctural life in Soho which was much more cosmopolitan and that's what we wanted for the UK as a whole."

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Around this same time period, Gorman points out the effect The Face had on other publications. The Sunday Times magazine, for example, was enlarged to the same dimensions as The Face. He writes: 
'By November 1985, the all-encompassing interest in areas of design identified by Logan's magazine was one of the factors in the founding of British architectural magazine Blueprint by writer Peter Murray and design authority Deyan Sudjic. In tone and emphasis on presentation, Blueprint tooks its cue from The Face.'
 The following year, I was commissioned by Blueprint to write a profile/interview with Jean-Francois Bizot, published in March 1986, who I had come to know as a result of my work liasing between The Face and Actuel. It is reprinted here for the first time.




In November 1983 an historic publishing first took place when eight European photomagazines collaborated to give birth to "un gros bébé européen". For one month newsstands across the continent were decorated with the irreverent image of an upside-down mischievous child poking its tongue out.

The architect of this costly but worthwhile escapade was Jean-François Bizot, publisher and part-editor of Actuel which every month continues to disseminate its own brand of lively photojournalism to 260,000 buyers in many countries. Even if you don't read the language you get the message. Reports from Bangladesh next to Japanese style. The New Age network inside Gorbachev's Russia. Piss-takes of the leading French magazines. Serious investigations into right-wing fascist groups.

Bizot was an engineer, then an economic planner before turning to writing and journalism, turning out two novels and a book of essays before his life became Actuel. Now he owns 80 per cent of the company and surveys the rooftops of Paris from the magazine's customised offices (produced by the young architects Canal), all smooth, cream curved staircases and banks of windows, exotic plants and an air of creative business.

It is 3.30 in the morning, Paris time, and Bizot is midway through yet another all-night session. Yet he takes the time out to speak at length over the phone about the views his magazine so strikingly represents.

The current magazine is a third-generation product which has its roots in1968. Bizot says: "Out of the cultural revolution in France came the idea of the counter-culture, designed to create space and freedom for a new generation. The idea was to subvert bourgeois culture which we did for five years. Then the counter-culture became counter-productive, like a ghetto. So we stopped the magazine. It had been written, so we had to go somewhere else — further."

In the 1970s, he says, their main focus was towards England, Germany, the USA and Amsterdam where the creativity was coming from. French culture was seen to be behind the times. In search of new horizons Bizot and a small team kept publishing but in a new form, book-length almanacs composed of personal manifestos. "By the end of the 1970s we noticed a few things," Bizot continues. "French feelings were not behind the times anymore but the main media were still owned by old people and still very backwards. We wanted to go on. We had the idea that Paris could pretend to be the centre of the world and we could talk about things first. Information belongs to everyone; perspective is everything."

The "we" is important here. The final editorial decisions on the magazine are not taken by autocratic methods as in the comic books or movies, but by a group of four or five people who have worked together for a long time and who also have always written books as well. That kind of editorial depth and experience has no rival in England. Bizot says: "It is not possible to make the magazine alone.

Centre of the World 


People have special interests. We have a group who wouldn't work in other places. When it works it's better than other places. Sometimes they're demotivated by lack of space.

At the turn of the decade this team were looking for their new perspective. They wanted a magazine that would be able to tell stories at length in the way that Rolling Stone did. But as Bizot astutely observes their "new" journalism wasn't new. That kind of realistic and detailed style was a 19th century way of telling a story before television, a style of which Balzac and Victor Hugo had been exponents.

Of course Hunter S. Thompson was different as Bizot admits "He influenced us. There was more freedom there with more modern words but we wanted to adopt a less macho attitude, without the bragging."

"We decided we would tell stories at length but with a post-tv attitude. You had to tell stories with pictures then they'd read them. We had a cinematic attitude towards storytelling. The writers would live the stories like actors."

This new approach characterised the Actuel of the 1980s and won them a wide and enthusiastic readership, not least for the originality of the magazine's design. But their innovations were quickly aped by others and, says Bizot, "things we had started became vulgar or cliched. We had to start looking around for more classical ways of handling things." So Actuel became an institution and then turned that to their advantage by using the solidity to tackle big problems journalistically in a new way others couldn't match.

Now new things are happening again. "Paris is getting interesting. We have waited 15 years for our generation to become creative again. More and more people are staying here rather than going to New York or London. A new style is emerging," Bizot claims. He believes a whole historical cycle is at an end. "Paris was the centre of the main force in Occidental culture — Cubism and the rest — until 1939. For the French, losing the War lasted 40 years. They were ashamed and self-denigrating. That self-defeatism is now over."

Looking to Africa 


Pausing only to light a cigarette he adds force to his argument. "Creativity is not coming from you anymore. We still eat a lot of your products but now we are looking to Madrid, to the Arabs, to Africa, to the South. We are just at the borders." 

It is clear that this will be a major preoccupation of Actuel in the next few years. Bizot says: "If you look at demographic projections we are the only country in Europe that will be expanding in population over the next 30 years and those people will be from the South. There are some racial problems but there is also much stronger interracial contact. We have less ghettos, certainly nothing like Brixton. Only Marseille looks like disintegrating. All that energy from countries with emerging ambitions will make things very healthy if the battle is to be won." 

Bizot looks back to the European issue with regret, regret that the experiment didn't continue, as he believes it is our only chance to get rid of a tribalism that is worse, or at least as pronounced, as Africa's. As to the future Bizot is characteristically full of hope and ideas. "Our strategy is to be very visionary. I think we have to go on defending new forms, emerging cultures, the evolution of attitudes, supporting what is important, what needs to be expressed. The future leaves us with a lot of work to do." 




Tuesday, November 14, 2017

INSIDE ROLLING STONE and JANN WENNER: STICKY FINGERS by JOE HAGAN

Published by Canongate

For people of my generation Rolling Stone, first published on September 9th 1967,  was for many years the boss magazine.



Initially copies were difficult to get hold of in the UK outside of London. The first copy I managed to get my hands on was Issue 24 with the MC5 cover.


For a brief period, a British edition of Rolling Stone appeared, combining US content with commissioned British material and advertising.

When the San Francisco office demanded that all copy be vetted by them before publication, the staff left and Alan Marcuson (one of their number) set up Friends in 1969a national underground paper that initially aped the RS style and format, combining music, politics and culture, before gradually growing its own identity, look and feel. After some 36 issues, Friends mutated into Frendz, which finally died in 1972 when I was one of the editorial team on the last set of issues. 

In those days before the internet and computing, RS was a hotlink to the tumultuous happenings on the US scene. No-one caught it better. The quality of  the journalism, photography and design was superior, the whole enterprise driven by a force of nature known as Jann Wenner advised by his mentor Ralph J. Gleason, a dandyesque high-minded music writer of considerable experience, with great taste and a fabulous address book.

This 500pp+ doorstop of a book by Joe Hagan is built on a raft of celeb interviews, RS insiders. Wenner himself  and access to Jann's own massive archive. Hagan is a top-rung profile writer and investigative reporter with a long track record for toney publications like New York, the Wall Street Journal and many others - see his website joehagan.net.

It tracks the intertwined story of Wenner's insatiable appetite for fame, power. money, sex and drugs alongside his massive ambition to create a major magazine that documented the new music scene in an unprecedented fashion, that mirrored the mad velocity of the youth culture of the time and the protest and revolutionary movements against the Vietnam War and racism.

Wenner adored John Lennon and considered him his lodestar. When Lennon granted him an extensive interview providing it was only published in the magazine, he was enraged when Wenner ignored their agreement and put it out in book form as well. They didn't speak for many years but Wenner later had close connections with Yoko Ono and the Annie Leibowitz picture on the cover of Rolling Stone shortly after his assassination remains the most famous of the lot.

The book is interesting about Wenner's relationship with Mick Jagger and The Stones. Mick was not happy about the title but over the years he used Wenner's adoration of him to leverage more RS covers than any other band. During the cocaine years, the two formed part of a cabal of high rollers
who enjoyed luxury lifestyles and sexual adventures in many exotic locations.

Hagan's book also underlines the importance of Hunter S. Thompson who, by general agreement, was the hottest writer/journalist of the day, pushing barriers, opening up a gonzo universe of extreme behaviour and stunning power. Another key figure is Annie Liebowitz, whose images would come to define the era.




Altamont and Charlie Manson, both documented at length, marked a decisive shift in the culture. It has long been considered that when Rolling Stone moved from the West Coast to New York in 1977, the magazine lost its soul. The coverage shifted to Hollywood stars as the music changed from rock to disco and Studio 52 became the place to be. The more successful Wenner became, the more the music coverage fades into the background and the book puts more emphasis on his private life and his corporate manoeuvres which is less interesting.





















It's worth noting as Hagan does, that very few black bands or faces made the front covers for many years. The book reveals a great deal that has never come out before. Coke is everywhere. Hagan conducted 240 interviews which included stellar access to Jagger, Dylan, Springsteen, McCartney, Geffen and Ono. There's a meticuliousness to the book which speaks to Hagan's professionalism (and also, no doubt, the amount of time spent with the lawyers). If you want to get a glimpse behind the scenes of the music business, Hagen's account of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame which Wenner co-founded is more than a little sickening as is the story of a softball game between the Eagles and RS staffers - a heavy needle match. Wading through this hefty detailed tome is a worthwhile week-long commitment. Hagen's book is valuable and will be a prime source for years to come. I doubt that other writers will ever want to spend four years on this topic given the subject's reaction to its publication.


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Wenner hates this book and has disassociated himself from it. Two previous biographers of Wenner also had their projects cancelled. The fuller story of what went wrong is documented in this New York Times story: Jann Wenner and His Biographer Have a Falling Out by Joe Coscarelli and Sydney Ember [October 18, 2017]. Listen to audio discussion on the book by these writers.

In a great recent  interview conducted by David Marchese for Vulture.com it's clear that Hagan went into the project knowing that many people, including close friends, had been been burned by Wenner. He told Marchese  'His big thing was wanting to have control over the reporting about sex — who he slept with and whose names would come out.' Wenner was bisexual but didn't come out until 1994. He eventually amicably divorced his wife Jane - a major shareholder in his empire -  and is now married to his gay partner.

Marchese asks: For younger people who didn’t grow up reading Rolling Stone, why should Jann Wenner be relevant?
Because in a way, Jann Wenner represented the spirit of his age. All generations who are coming out into power are all alike, and given the slightest slack in the velvet rope they’ll take everything. That’s what baby boomers are about. I mean, Jann always calls himself the “First Child of Baby Boom.” And he was like the id of the baby boom. He was the raw thing of their ambition, and his life is a way of understanding how we’ve got to where we are as a culture today. At first when Trump was elected I was really blown away and wondering what it all meant, and then at some point it all made sense: Of course he was where we’ve been headed. Trump is the same age as Jann, there are parallels between the two in terms of their desire for fame and pursuit of power and our celebrity culture. It’s all become uncoupled from the idealism of the ’60s. It’s about fame and power, pure and simple, and Jann is a part of that transformation. I mean, if you look at the arc of the book, it starts with Jann and John Lennon and ends with Donald Trump on the cover of Rolling Stone. That’s the path of the culture.
Too late to be included in the book was the New York Times story  that Jann Wenner (now 71) was seeking to sell his controlling share in Rolling Stone, which his 27-year old son Gus now looks after as president of Wenner Media. In 2016, the Wenners sold a 49 percent stake in Rolling Stone to BandLab Technologies, a Singapore-based music and tech company, a  $40 million deal allowing them to exploit the brand worldwide, especially in China.

Rolling Stone's website is, says Hagan, 'well trafficked' but the print version, like many other titles in our digital world, is a pale shadow of its former self. Its reputation for first-class journalism was also recently damaged by the fact that they had to retract a story about a University of Virginia gang rape, a narrative that couldn’t be proved. That story resulted in three libel suits, one of which saw a federal jury award the plaintiff $3 million in damages in October 2016

Hagan tells Marchese: '..one of the points that I hope comes across in the book is how deeply Rolling Stone is an expression of Jann Wenner the man — his personality and his ego and his worldview. It’s almost like the magazine is a part of his body. He was having these physical ailments over the summer, and I had a conversation with friends of his and the thinking was that as the magazine was deteriorating, so was he.'

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This 1990 book “Rolling Stone Magazine: The Uncensored History” by Robert Draper which Hagen quotes from was not allowed into the Rolling Stone office. Unable to read a second history at present but from a scan of the book, there is much more about the journalists. Will report back.

 Discovered this review of an earlier book: 'Gone Crazy and Back Again: The Rise and Fall of the Rolling Stone Generation by Robert Sam Anson [Doubleday 1981].


Doug Ireland, writing this review for the 'Soho Weekly News' in New York [6th June 1981]:

'Anson paints an unattractive picture of Wenner, a weepy, coke-sniffing, man-boy from a wealthy broken home...a manic depressive boss who loves you one minute and tortures you the next.'

Time 16th July 1973.


THE GENERALIST ARCHIVE 

⧫ contains a pile of 60s/70s Rolling Stone.

⧫ 'Rolling Stone Cover to Cover: The First 40 Years' [Published Nov 2007], a full-colour paperback which comes in a box with a set of discs containing every page of the issues.