Sunday 30 September 2012

Poem: 'Balearic Blues'


wind ghosts on around shutters
tramontana they call it
cliffs of rain hung overhead,
this is not what we came for

watching yellow sheath figures
dodge from awning to canopy
on Carrer de ses Moreres
down towards Santa Maria,
splashing down cobbles
from the braided horses
to the melancholy mermaid,
who’s spattered moisture-sheen
is the closest she’ll get to waves,
human all-over condoms in
drooling shrapnel-sharp spray,
a spiral-swirl singularity of
rain-tide dislocating space-time
around a blocked grate…

but there are enough poems
and song-lyrics about rain,
who needs more? not me,
and beside our bed there’s a
flask of piss-yellow pomada
from bottle to our veins,
but as elements conspire
you are my eyes’ drug
all choice evaporates,
leaving us no option
but to lie here
& make sweet 69
until it abates…

Cult Album: '96 Tears' by ? & The Mysterians

Album Review of:
(ABKCO, 2005)

Sometimes, groups are one-hit wonders for a reason. Sure, as the academic archivists are quick to point out, ? And The Mysterians scored other minor chart entries. But essentially they are “96 Tears”. And that’s more than enough. They need do nothing more. “96 Tears” is the Punk-Garage snotball classic that topped the 1966 American chart against all expectations, to lodge in Psych-Beat racial memory, regurgitated – but never equaled, in later years by the Stranglers, Cramps, Primal Scream, Inspiral Carpets… and even the mighty Aretha Franklin. To Phil Hardy and Dave Laing, “96 Tears” is ‘the most timelessly moronic records of all time’ (‘The Encyclopedia Of Rock’), and who can argue? Not me.

Back then, briefly, the window of opportunity not so much opened, as got smashed into fragments. The cosy US Pop-world, which had confidently resumed control after the unseemly eruption of 1950’s Rock ‘n’ Roll, was complacently feeding the networks a diet of pretty fan-mag pin-up boys crooning safely anaemic Pop. Until the British invasion upset everything. Overnight all preconceptions hit free fall, the industry nervously scrambling to come to terms with new expectations, without much idea of what they were. Record labels hunting out the next big beat group, signing anything with a ragged fringe. Radio DJ’s anxious to chance their air-waves to catch the next big sound. Anything with a vaguely British accent was in favour, with the Beau Brummels from San Francisco – produced by a young Sly Stone, among the first to reclaim momentum. Then the Knickerbockers xeroxing Beatle-harmonies to score two big hits. Then the deluge, Byrds, Turtles, Association, Seeds, Count Five. But even among that luminous constellation ? And The Mysterians were amazing, and at any other time in Rock history, would be unlikely even to have got a radio-hearing.

Surely it was Tex-Mex, from somewhere between Chris Montez and the Sir Douglas Quintet…? Except that it wasn’t. What was to become the Mysterians – named for a Japanese Sci-Fi movie-shocker, got together as early as 1962 in the formerly-industrial city of Saginaw on Lake Huron. Although at various times vocalist Rudy claimed to be from Mars and to have been famous across multiple lifetimes, the band-history was of first-generation Chicano-Hispanic implants with roots in Texas, with the group gravitating around Mexican-American Larry Borjas (bass gtr), Larry’s cousin Robert ‘Bobby’ Balderrama (lead guitar), and Robert Martinez (guitar, bongos). Playing instrumental surf-beat inspired by the likes of Link Wray or the Ventures, Martinez soon switched to drums.

Then Robert’s older brother, Rudy, from Flint Valley in Saginaw’s Tri-City catchment, joined as the charismatic vocalist hiding, not only behind his ubiquitous shades, but behind the ‘?’ in Question Mark and the Mysterians. He’d always nurtured big ambitions. In an interview with ‘The Guardian’ (24-30 October 1998) he told Miriam Linna how, as a kid barely into two digits, he’d done odd-jobs to raise $7 for a mail-order recording-machine he’d seen in the small-ads pages of a comic-book. The purchase proved disappointing, but he taped his first recording on it. Adapting Huey Piano Smith’s “Rockin’ Pneumonia And The Boogie Woogie Flu” with his own lyrics as “Shake-A-Ma-Roll”. Now, just as the new line-up were readying to start recording, Robert was drafted, with Borjas opting to enlist with him. So they recruited Rudy’s brother-in-law Eddie Serrato (19, drums), who brought in ‘Big’ Frank Lugo (19, bass guitar) to replace them. The addition of fourteen-year-old ‘Little’ Frank Rodriguez Jr on Vox Continental organ (not the Farfisa!), completes the definitive lineup.

Next, Rudy wrote “96 Tears” expanding on something he’d sketched out four years earlier as “Too Many Teardrops”. Why so precise an estimate of the number of tears to be shed? Why not a hundred, a thousand, a river? Such antique Rock mythologies tend to breed tales so oft-told, elaborated, reinvented, exaggerated out of all proportion it’s impossible to excavate truth. It’s said the original draft was ‘69 Tears’, until the numerals were reversed to avoid sniggery innuendo. As Bryan Adams got away with his celebration of a season of mutual oral sex in “Summer Of ‘69”. Maybe. Maybe not. Whatever, the song was recorded 13 March 1966 in true garage-band fashion on a converted house-porch of Art Shield’s ‘studio’ at 405 Raymond Street in Michigan’s Bay City, from the opening two-finger organ-figure, looping into Rodriguez’s insanely catchy ear-worm bedspring-Vox signature-riff that nags relentlessly through it like a vein. It was one-take, with primitive hollow bass-sound. As raw as an abrasion. Arrogant passive-aggressive vocals running from self-pity (‘too many teardrops for one heart to carry on’) to revenge (‘I wanna hear you cry, night and day, yeah, all night long, uh-ninety-six tears, cry, cry, cry’), with plaintive chorus and compulsive bare-bone styling fed in by the group. The original intention was to promote Rudy’s “Midnight Hour” (not the Wilson Pickett soul classic) as the ‘A’-side but, at Rudy’s insistence, it was flipped, and “96 Tears” was first pressed up – for an alleged $50, in an edition of only 780-copies as a single by Pa-Go-Go Records, a label owned by record store manager Lillian Gonzales.

Impatiently, Rudy harassed and agitated local radio stations WTAC in Flint and CKLW in Detroit to give the single high-rotation, he even wrote and posted hundreds of postcard requests to the stations under a variety of names, with the result that it swiftly attracted attention as a regional hit. Until it was picked up by Neil Bogart at Philadelphia-based Cameo-Parkway, a once-top label boasting a roster of artists including Bobby Rydell, the Orlons and Chubby Checker, but now floundering hitless. Rudy liked Cameo-Parkway, because it’s label was his favourite colour – orange. Without realising that the design was due for a make-over! Once released nationally, at this one fortuitous moment, the single’s outsider status chimed. It was boosted by a slot on ‘Where The Action Is’ – where ‘NME’ suggests their sixteen-year-old drummer was ‘American TV’s first live coast-to-coast glue-sniffer’ (30 May 1987). The record caught fire. Charted. And “96 Tears” became the newly black & red label’s final number one, a bolt from the blue. These were the glory days… the glory month. And what a chart! It nudged the Four Tops “Reach Out I’ll Be There” out of the way and replaced it at numero uno, to be then dislodged in turn by the Monkees “Last Train To Clarksville”. “96 Tears” sold in excess of a million, qualified gold, and entered Punk-Rock history.

In far-off Yorkshire I follow its American progress up the ‘Cashbox’ chart printed in ‘Record Mirror’, and once alerted, grabbed a listen on pirate radio, to be instantly mesmerised. I have to order the single (Cameo-Parkway C428), bought it and played it to death, although it barely scraped into the British Top Fifty. It entered the ‘New Musical Express’ Top 40 at no.40 (24 November 1966), a chart headed by the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” and the Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme Some Lovin’”. It peaked the following week at no.37, before falling back to no.40 for its final appearance (8 December).

In the rare press photo which I studied, they look to be a groovy bunch, Rudy fronting in his check wide-belt hipster pants. A more visceral version of Love’s Arthur Lee. I soon had my own strutting pair of check wide-belt hipster pants. While Rudy goes to court to change his name legally to ? (not ‘Question Mark’) – decades before Prince amended himself to a symbol. And, over the ensuing decades, like “Gloria” and “Louie Louie”, “96 Tears” became a standard part of the punk-garage repertoire, recorded in dozens of different versions. David Bowie selected the single as part of his BBC ‘Top Twelve’ on Radio One’s version of ‘Desert Island Discs’. Alan Vega of Suicide recalls how ‘seeing “96 Tears” on ‘American Bandstand’ was like holy shit for me, these five Mexican wetbacks in shades and black leather, junked out of their minds… the keyboard-player was, like, fifteen, he was snortin’ so much glue he couldn’t even move his fingers. That song is, like, the National Anthem as far as I’m concerned’ (to ‘NME’ 10 September 1983). The way Rudy remembers it is ‘I wanted to go on ‘American Bandstand’ and show those kids how to dance. I mean, did you ever see that show? They were so stiff! They needed help!’

Meanwhile, their next two singles also chart, if somewhat lower, and – as the ungracious claim, all three are the same song sung sideways. First, “I Need Somebody” – urging ‘hey, alright, c’mon, I need somebody to help me out, yeh, c’mon, help me, c’mon and help me’ with tambourine and weird ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ keyboard insertion added to the mix. It peaks at US no.22 in November. Then “Can’t Get Enough Of You Baby” – which, despite being written outside the group by Sandy Linzer and Danny Randell, replicates the ‘96’ opening and threads an identikit riff throughout its brief 1:55-minute duration, easing into ‘wishing that there were two you’ with just enough noodling back to the hit to establish its provenance. It gets no higher than no.56 in March 1967. Yet there’s just enough to show that there’s promise of more – as indeed, a Smash Mouth cover version of “Can’t Get Enough of You Baby” would eventually reach a US no.14 in 1998.

And a tie-in ‘96 Tears’ album was hastily assembled, adding eight new tracks to both sides of the first two singles. On “Midnight Hour” he’s gonna dance with ‘a girl who lives by the railroad track’, with twinkling keyboard over rudimentary drums. It conjures Go-Go images of Teen-Beat mini-skirt dancers frugging and Walking the Dog. The thumping “8-Teen” is as strong as its ‘A’-side (“I Need Somebody”), suggesting eighteen ways to love you over a bratty riff, with a better-than-most chorus-build before accelerating into a skewed cranked-up pleading tacked-on finale-section. At the other end of the scale they add an inessential take on T-Bone Walker’s “Stormy Monday” done as a shot at Blues with testifying walking guitar over churchy organ. And “Set Aside”, a throw-away Bar-room Blues piano instrumental, fine only as background soundtrack for Truck-Stop or Juke-Joint. Among the best of the rest, “You’re Telling Me Lies” betrays a debt to the twelve-bar shuffle-riff of Sir Douglas Quintet’s “She About A Mover”. The jittery guitar break of “Ten O’Clock” switches to a more Thirteenth Floor Elevators vibe. His girl hasn’t turned up for their date. She’s missed her train. Now ‘it’s too late Babe’, her name’s erased from his little Black Book. “Up Side” has a teasing organ, a riff, a groove, a rudimentary lyric – he’s got a love so fine, so true, so kind, ‘and that’s no lie’, and a final break into a speedy exit. Of the remaining three – “Don’t Tease Me” makes useful use of chiming guitar, a gritty bass figure and smoother organ-sound. “Don’t Break This Heart Of Mine” finger-clicks as the organ fades in and out. He’s got one heart, baby, and he can take no more. Then “Why Me”. They’d had a very good thing, but she left him this morning, so she’d better come on back. It ends with a self-pitying ‘why me? why me? why me?’

You could accuse they’d accidentally lucked into a hit sound, and stuck with it. Or maybe they had a signature sound all along, and “96 Tears” is just the one that got away big. To say that the title hit is their most fully-realised song, production and arrangement on the album is to emphasise just how slight are the rest. None of them hangs around long enough to be more than brief single-idea bursts of catchy energy. It’s the Punk thing – if you can’t say it in two minutes, it’s not worth saying. Combined with Chuck Berry’s attitude to guitar-tuning, ‘that’s close enough for Rock ‘n’ Roll’.

Belatedly, the second album – ‘Action’, catches the group at the peak of its musicianship, better-arranged and structured, but without a spin-off hit it fares less well. With “96 Tears” they were ahead of the curve. The next wave of bands – Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Big Brother And The Holding Company, were still a local San Francisco Bay phenomenon yet to catch fire. With ‘Action’ events were rapidly overtaking the Mysterians. Yet it remains darker and weirder, pungently odd, with spiraling synapse-frying shape-shifting riffs. Opener “Girl (You Captivate Me)” was a single that barely scraped into the Hot Hundred – no higher than no.98. There’s a talking build over stinging fuzz guitar, already more varied than anything so far from the debut LP. As on its predecessor there’s a superfluous cover, and a token instrumental. An OK version of the Isley Brothers’ “Shout” work-out – already adequately covered by Lulu and the Animals, complete with audience-participation and the louder-softer bits. And “Do You Feel It”, another frugging Go-Go soundtrack for a 1960’s movie party sequence, with Rudy entering in the fade exhorting us to ‘feel it’.

Better, there’s “Got To” with deep bass, spidery keyboard, and Rudy’s talking testifying ‘did you ever have a love that you loved so badly, but she belonged to somebody else’. So, he tells us, he’d sent this one love away, and now regrets it – and he’s got-to-got-to find her. And “I’ll Be Back”, slight and effortlessly catchy with drumbeat and sha-la-la-la chorus. He’s down because she’s going with someone new, but hey, he’ll bounce back. And “Hangin’ On A String” with lightweight Del Shannon organ. “Smokes” is yet stronger and stranger. He doesn’t know what her face looks like. He doesn’t know how she looks in the light. He doesn’t care anyway. She could be blue or red – he’ll take her anytime! With “It’s Not Easy” he’s throwing her a chat-up line, it’s not easy to find a love you can trust, but he’s got good loving, and Baby you can take all you want. So c’mon over here, he’s got kisses, he can hug you, and he can… we never actually find out as the fade snatches the final word away. Maybe we can guess…? There’s more cheeky fun to be had as he pleads “Don’t Hold It Against Me”, he’s been caught out cheating, but ‘you were gone, she was there’, it’s not his fault because ‘she came on so strong’ and anyway his girlfriend was asking for trouble by ‘leaving him on his own’, he’s a guy after all. That’s what guys do. Never knowingly guilty of ambition, finally there’s the pleasantly slight “Just Like A Rose”, an upbeat shot at romance as ‘their love will grow, just like a rose’.

There was one last tilt at potential greatness, with a single “Do Something To Me”. Salvaged as bonus-tracks onto the Edsel CD it’s a sweet smoothly-polished well-lubricated group-Pop product that had the misfortune of being overshadowed in competition with a later Tommy James And The Shondells version. Otherwise it might have fared better. It’s flip-side, “Love Me Baby (Cherry July)” is more contagious Pop as Rudy begs his girl to ‘love me like a cherry-pie, love me like a fourth of July’. Undeniably better-crafted, but oddly, by slicking up, it lost everything that made “96 Tears” unique and appealing. Which was its raw spontaneous simplicity.

Beyond the scope of the CD, and after the demise of Cameo-Parkways itself, the group went on to briefly record with Capitol, Tangerine and Super K Records as the line-up changed with original members leaving for other projects. Mel Schacher, future Grand Funk Railroad bassist, briefly played with them. In 1969, bassist Richard Schultz replaced Schacher and co-wrote numerous songs with Rudy, including a strong “She Goes to Church on Sunday”. But at their lowest point, before Punk rescued them from obscurity, it was possible to pick up both Mysterians albums from Virgin at £1.99 apiece. Then Rudy recorded with Kim Fowley in 1978, and then the Stranglers took “96 Tears” to no.17 in the British charts during February 1990. The group had played a reunion concert at the Dallas Arcadia in 1984, leading to renewed interest and subsequent dates. But the core of their set remains the two sixties albums. Essentially ? And The Mysterians are “96 Tears”. And that’s more than enough. They need do nothing more. For sometimes, groups are one-hit wonders for a reason.


1966 – “96 Tears” (Rudy Martinez) c/w “Midnight Hour” (Martinez) (Pa-Go-Go 102)

1966 – “96 Tears” c/w “Midnight Hour” (Cameo-Parkway C428), no.1 on US Billboard, no.37 in UK

1966 – “I Need Somebody” c/w “8 Teen” (Cameo-Parkway C441), no.22 on US Billboard October

1966 – ‘96 TEARS’ (Cameo Parkway, SC2004) (no.66 on US Billboard Pop chart) Produced by Neil Bogart and Rudy Martinez, with “I Need Somebody” (Rudy Martinez), “Stormy Monday” (Crowder-Eckstine-Hines, as by T-Bone Walker), “You’re Telling Me Lies”, “Ten O’Clock” , “Set Aside”, “Up Side”, “8 Teen”, “Don't Tease Me”, “Don't Break This Heart of Mine”, “Why Me” (with Tony Orlando harmony-vocals), “Midnight Hour” (Martinez), “96 Tears” (Martinez), all other tracks by Balderrama-Lugo-Martinez-Rodriguez-Serrato

1967 – “Can’t Get Enough Of You Baby” c/w “Smokes” (Cameo-Parkway C467), no.56 on US Billboard

June 1967 – ‘ACTION’ (Cameo Parkway, SC2006) Produced by Neil Bogart and Rob Reno, with “Girl (You Captivate Me)” (2:17, DiFrancesco-Dischel), “Can’t Get Enough Of You Baby” (1:57, Linzer-Randell), “Got To" (2:22, Martinez), “I'll Be Back” (2:02, Martinez), “Shout (Parts 1&2)” (5:31, Isley Brothers), “Hangin’ on a String" (2:15, Darrow-Shayne), “Smokes” (1:52, Martinez), “It’s Not Easy” (2:43, Martinez), “Don't Hold It Against Me” (1:57, Crane-Ross), “Just Like a Rose” (2:10, Darrow), “Do You Feel It” (2:25, Martinez)

1967 – “Beachcomber” c/w “Set Aside” (Cameo-Parkway C468), released as by ‘The Semi-Colons’

1967 – “Girl (You Captivate Me)” c/w “Got To” (Cameo-Parkway C479), no.98 on US Billboard

1967 – “Do Something To Me” (Calvert-Marzano-Naumann) c/w “Love Me Baby (Cherry July)” (Balderrama-Lugo-Martinez-Rodriguez-Woodman) (Cameo-Parkway C496), no.110 on US Billboard

1968 – “Make You Mine” c/w “Love You Baby (Like Nobody’s Business)” (Capitol 2162)

1969 – “Ain’t It A Shame” c/w “Turn Around Baby (Don’t Ever Look Back)” (Tangerine 989)

1969 – “Sha-la-la” c/w “Hang In” (Super K)

1972 – “Talk Is Cheap” c/w “She Goes To Church On Sunday” (Chicory 410)

1973 – “Hot ‘n’ Groovin’” c/w “Funky Lady” (Luv Records 159)

1976 – “96 Tears” featured on ‘Philadelphia Freedom Vol.2’ LP (London Records HAU8501) compilation from Cameo-Parkway archives with Dovells, Orlons, Chubby Checker, Bobby Rydell etc. Import copies of reissued “96 Tears” single available on LR322. July 1976 “96 Tears” single (Decca-London HLU 10534)

October 1979 – “96 Tears” included on soundtrack LP ‘More American Graffiti’ (MCA MCSP 303)

September 1985 – ‘? AND THE MYSTERIANS DALLAS REUNION TAPES: 96 TEARS FOREVER’ cassette-only edition (Reach Out International ROIR A137), recorded in 1984 it features a 8:57-minute “96 Tears”, a 7:25-minute “Don’t Tease Me/ Smokes” medley, plus “Love Me Baby”, “You’re Tellin’ Me Lies”, “I Need Somebody”, “Girl (You Captivate Me)”, “Make You Mine”, “Ten O’Clock”, “Do Something To Me”, “Got To”, “Midnight Hour”, “I Can’t Get Enough Of You Baby” and “I’ll Be Back”. In April 1990 it was issued as a CD by French Danceteria label (Danceteria CD032)

1998 – ‘DO YOU FEEL IT BABY: THE CAPTIVATING SOUNDS OF QUESTION MARK AND THE MYSTERIANS’ (Norton Records CED-262) with “Do You Feel It”, “Smokes”, “Make You Mine”, “Can’t Get Enough Of You Baby”, “I Need Somebody”, “Do Something To Me”, “Why Me”, “Got To”, “Girl (You Captivate Me)”, “Ten O’Clock”, “Don’t Tease Me”, “Love Me Baby (Cherry July)”, “Midnight Hour”, “96 Tears”, “I’ll Be Back”, “8-Teen”, “Ain’t It A Shame”, “Don’t Break This Heart Of Mine” and “ND Side”, a reunion show recorded live in New York

1998 – “Sally Go Round The Roses” c/w “It’s Not Easy” (Norton-45-096, 7” vinyl)

1999 – ‘MORE ACTION’ (Cavestomp Records CS! 5002-2) 2CD with Enhanced video of “Sally Go Round The Roses”, plus “96 Tears (En Espanol)”, “Don’t Give It Up Now”, “Feel It”, “Hangin’ On A String”, “96 Tears”, “Girl (You Captivate Me)”, “Can’t Get Enough Of You Baby”, “Ain’t It A Shame”, “Cheree”, “Beachcomber”, “It’s Not Easy”, “I’ll Be Back”, “That’s How Strong My Love Is”, “Love Me Baby (Cherry July)”, “Sally Go Round The Roses”, “Don’t Hold It Against Me”, “Do You Feel It?”, “Satisfaction”, “Strollin’ With The Mysterians”, “Are You For Real?” and “I’ll Be Back (2)”

1999 – “Are You For Real?” c/w “I’ll Be Back” (Norton Records 45-083, 7” vinyl) from ‘More Action’ CD, both undubbed demos dated 12 February 1966 with Question Mark (vocals), Frank Rodriguez (organ), Bobby Balderrama (guitar), Larry Borjas (bass), Robert Martinez (drums)

2005 – ‘THE BEST OF ? AND THE MYSTERIANS: CAMEO PARKWAY 1966-1967’ (Abkco) twenty-seven track compilation

2007 – “Let’s Go Crazy” c/w “Loose” (Are You For Real?, RYFR?96A/B), Question Mark solo 7" vinyl single, limited to 550 copies. Sold via the official website

2008 – ‘96 Tears’ CD-EP (Magic Records) with “96 Tears”, “Midnight Hour”, “I Need Somebody” and “8" Teen”

Saturday 29 September 2012

Interview: 'Ian Hunter: Ballads Of Mott The Hoople... & Beyond!'

... & BEYOND

At Last... now it can be told – the prehistory
of Mott The Hoople, working on songs intended
for Tom Jones with Deep Purple’s Roger Glover,
the Golden Age of Mott The Hoople with hits like
“All The Young Dudes” and “All The Way From Memphis”,
David Bowie, Tony DeFries, Bob Dylan, and the
drawbacks of Glam-Rock, to post-Mott The Hoople,
Movie music, Mick Ronson, Prince, and Def Leppard
...Ian Hunter tells all.

“Nostalgia is starting to focus too late,
intelligence is starting to itch,
there ain’t no Rock ‘n’ Roll no more
just the music of the rich ...”
                      (Ian Hunter - “Apathy ‘83”)

‘Zig-Zag’ was the first-ever magazine to enthuse about Mott the Hoople. Pete Frame writing ‘I used to watch Ian singing ‘and I’m just a Rock ‘n’ Roll star’ and think to myself ‘not yet you ain’t mate, but it’s just a matter of time’. The accuracy of Frame’s prediction is impressive, with this early evidence of Ian Hunter’s long-term fascination with Rock Stardom as just as strong an indicator to the band’s future. No-one writes about the Rock life-style with quite the mythopoetic vision of Hunter. When Noel Gallagher wrote ‘in my mind, my dreams are real’ the Rock life-style he was imaging must have had something of the sleazy glamour of Ian Hunter’s ‘you look like a star, but you’re out on parole’. For Ian has written some of the most perfect crystallisations of Rock’s tacky glory ever committed to vinyl – or CD. His Rock dreams travel all the way ‘from the Liverpool Docks to the Hollywood Bowl’, in Tour Buses lost ‘in the middle of the night on the open road, when the heater don’t work and it’s oh-so cold’. With Mott it was songs like “Saturday Gig”, “All The Way From Memphis”, and “Ballad Of Mott The Hoople”, then – solo, it was “Once Bitten Twice Shy” and beyond. ‘Rock is a loser’s game’, but it’s one he’s perfectly suited to.

Mott was a band in constant crisis. They fought to survive, fought major personnel changes, management, and each other, but they triumphed. Rock archivist Charles Shaar Murray records that for their first five years they ‘staggered along from bedrock poverty to (comparative) wealth, cursing each other out, lurching from one disaster to the next, knowing that they had to keep moving while not having much idea of how or even where, sometimes keeping it together, sometimes falling apart, going from elation to misery’ (‘New Musical Express’ 18 May 1974). And it’s where that dream crashes into reality that Hunter’s obsessively autobiographical lyrics work best.

The date (March 26th 1972, Zurich) added to the title of “The Ballad Of Mott The Hoople” records their first break-up, the one that came immediately before David Bowie’s “All The Young Dudes” ignited their second-phase career. Then ‘Dudes’ became the first of seven Top Fifty chart singles. Until their final and more permanent split was announced in the 28th December 1974 issues of the music press. Since then Ian Hunter has effortlessly switched to solo work in collaboration with a variety of other inputs, on albums like ‘All-American Alien Boy’ (1976) – with three-quarters of Queen, ‘Short Back And Sides’ (1981) – with Topper Headon, Todd Rundgren, Tymon Dogg and Mick Jones, ‘All The Good Ones Are Taken’ (1983) – with several members of Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Banders, and – of course, his projects with the late Mick Ronson.

Ian Hunter is still touring, the ostensible reason for the current trip is ‘Once Bitten Twice Shy’ (2000) – a thirty-eight-track double-CD* covering Ian’s post-Mott solo career, while he’s also using the tour as a dry run for what he claims will be his soon-come next solo album ‘From The Knees Of My Heart’ (a joke title, which actually turns out to be 2000’s ‘Missing In Action’ !?!?), but now he plays the ‘Star’ with greater justification...

“One more crowd shoutin’ ‘turn it up loud’
one more rose at my feet,
one more ring from that cute little thing
one more reason to heat...”
                     (Ian Hunter - “Big Time” 1990)

ANDREW DARLINGTON: Do you still get nervous before gigs?

IAN HUNTER: Scared, me? No. It’s home. It’s my house. No. I live inside it. Big ‘Ead – I just feel totally in control.

I saw you sound-checking with “All The Way From Memphis”. Do you still get a buzz from doing the old Mott the Hoople songs? It’s funny, because I hadn’t been for a few years. Me and Mick (Ronson) had an American band but I felt that when Mick died (from liver cancer in April 1993), for some strange reason I rang them up and said ‘that’s it’. ‘Cos I think that’s where it stops. Then – later, I was in the house. I was feeling a bit drab. And basically, when I write, I need to get out now and again. And this time I felt I wanted to go slightly rougher and slightly younger. It’s these young lads that keep me going, you see? As long as they keep it down a bit, you know what I mean? I like the Beatles myself you know, just as long as they KEEP IT DAHN A BIT (laughs)!!!! But you know, I wasn’t moving on stage. And if you’re not moving on stage and if it doesn’t come naturally, you look real stupid if you force it and it was really worrying me because I was thinking ‘I’m virtually static, is this it? Maybe I’m elderly now so I don’t move like I used to’, and I missed it. Then all of a sudden, we were in a place called Upsala (in Sweden) and we did two shows in one night and on the second show I started moving again. I love stuff like that. And the last couple of dates I’ve really enjoyed. ‘Cos I’m getting right back in. For a long time I didn’t do that. So – this is me just getting out having fun.

What did you think of Iron Maiden vocalist Bruce Dickinson’s solo revival of “All The Young Dudes” (his single got to no.25 on 23 June 1990)? Not a lot. He did it great live at that Wembley thing, that sounded good. I think Buff (Dale Griffin) was on that too. But I didn’t like the record much, no. He didn’t do it that great. Nobody can do that song. I’m the only one that can do it. BOWIE can’t even do it. Bowie did do it before he gave it to us, and even he can’t do it. To me it’s the quintessential early-seventies theme. But when Bruce Dickinson sings ‘who needs TV, when I got T Rex’ it’s totally out context with the decade. T Rex were a good singles band. But there was never really much weight with Marc. Marc never said anything other than ‘buy my records, I want to be a fucking star’. But he was very good.

You wrote what ‘Q’ magazine called the ‘greatest music book ever written’ – ‘Diary Of A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star’ (Panther, 1974, ISBN 0-586-04041-2), and I’m still waiting for ‘Part 2’. Many people have written about the Rock life-style, but few did it with the insider-perspective that you achieved. Will you write a second volume? I haven’t, no. I always seem to be doing something for some reason. You grow up and you have kids and you have mortgages and all the rest of it. But I’d just got married when I wrote that book, and I wasn’t going out with girls every night and all that kind of stuff. So I had a lot of time on my hands. And that’s what I did with that time. It was dead easy though. All you have to do is write... write what goes on, truthfully. You have to leave some bits out, what Keith Moon said to me. I missed a bit out with him, y’know... stout fellow! But basically – just tell the truth as it happens. I didn’t find it difficult at all. I just considered it more like reportage than a book.

Like you, I grew up in the 1950’s and sixties when all my greatest influences were American – Movies, records, magazines, styles. Oh yeah, you used to come out of the cinema and want to kick ‘Curry’s window in. It was so ‘Back to Reality’.

And you’ve always retained that ‘fan’ attitude to Rock ‘n’ Roll, working consciously within its tradition. Yes, I was a fan for a long time. And I remain very much a fan. Still of the same people though, not of newer people. Always of – particularly Little Richard, and to a lesser extent Jerry Lee Lewis. But Little Richard to me was the Governor. He is brilliant. He’s amazing. It’s like – there’s nobody better. He’s the best voice ever in Rock ‘n’ Roll. Maybe Paul Rogers is near, but Little Richard is the guy for me. I’d never heard a voice like that. He does things he doesn’t even know he’s doing. Like, you could never learn them in a million years. And his band, he had incredible bands, he has great sensitivity. People just think ‘Little Richard – ah, y’know, big mouth with a great voice’. But no, he’s a great musician. He’s the governor.

But, taking into account your experiences during the intervening years, do you still see Rock in that same way? I really don’t know. When I like something, I REALLY like it. But I never thought I’d ever be... I mean, I’d lie awake at night and imagine ‘The Marquee’, you know? Being in a band at the ‘The Marquee’! That was like, for me, the living end.

And then you became part of that myth, you became a star in America. Was it still as magical? It gets you into places, y’know. And I really wanted it at first – recognition, people looking at you, all that kind of stuff. I think most English kids do because you don’t get much respect when you’re trying. And then when I did make it, I just thought ‘WHAT? – people are gonna find me out! I ain’t gonna last longer than six months, so I’ve got to keep this money because I’m going to be digging holes in the road next year’. But now I really enjoy myself doing these gigs and I really enjoy myself writing the songs... and there’s not a huge ego need like there was. I no longer have that need. I can’t be bothered with all that stuff. I like to be... I’m a quieter kind of individual. And that’s kinda nice. I still see others doing it, and I’m glad I’m not like that anymore, ‘cos... music is full of failures. And when you’re really egotistical, it’s failure all the time. Every day you’re trying to write a song. I mean, you only write maybe ten a year that are workable. But every day, if you’re that driven, you’re trying, and it’s very hard. But – you get paid for it, so I guess that’s alright!

So, can you tell me how it all began for you? You’re talking about me personally? I started out as a bass-player for this guy Freddie ‘Fingers’ Lee. He made a couple of singles, and he’s still around. He’d go in the studio for three hours, and he’d do one twelve-bar song. He had a song called – what was it? oh yeah – ‘working on a railway, working in the USA’ (sings), a twelve-bar. He wrote the lyric in three seconds. Then Tom Jones covered it, and Freddie made a fortune, he made a lot of money out of it. And I thought ‘ah, there’s some money in this writing lark’. ‘Cos Fred never liked my voice. He always said ‘you shouldn’t sing, but you could write, you could be a good writer’. He wrote, so I just started writing ‘cos of Fred. And then I started working with Glover, y’know? Roger Glover?

No, I didn’t know that. Oh yeah, me and Roger worked for ‘Francis Day & Hunter’ as staff writers in the Charing Cross Road. We used to get fifteen quid (£15) a week! We were trying to write for Englebert Humperdinck and Tom Jones. We never got a cover – but yeah, that’s how we started out.

That’s before Roger Glover moved on to join Episode Six (and later still Deep Purple)? I seem to recollect that name. Yes. I remember Episode Six used to wear kaftans and things. Disgusting. I never did that. I just thought it looked stupid.

Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan recently published his own memoirs in book form, called ‘Child Of Time’. Memoirs of a what...?

...of a Deep Purple I suppose (mutual laughs)?

Wasn’t Island A&R man Guy Stevens an important catalyst in putting Mott the Hoople together. Yes. He had Procol Harum. He came up with their name as well. But then he lost Procol Harum because he went into... he was in jail for speed. But while he was in jail he read a book called ‘Mott the Hoople’ (by Willard Manus). And he gave the name to this guy that he discovered in jail, ‘cos he thought this guy was great. Then the guy died. So he really didn’t want to give the name to us, ‘cos he thought there was a bad vibe with it. We had the hardest job getting this name off him. My attitude was ‘fuck the bad vibe, it’s a great name’! The other guys had had a band called ‘Silence’ with Stan Tippens. But he became our tour manager. And we became Mott the Hoople.

Bob Dylan is usually quoted as the greatest influence on your vocal style. The Stones and Bob Dylan, yes. Because I couldn’t really sing, and there was no way I was going to get a deal with any British label. They all thought you had to be a proper singer. But then these guys started coming out, Bob Dylan, Sonny Bono, and Leonard Cohen... they couldn’t sing either, and it was like – if these guys could get signed, then I could signed. I thought ‘that’s how you can get in’, because no longer did you have to have that legitimate voice. And I loved Dylan. I didn’t know what he was talking about, but I loved that too.

You met Bob Dylan at a later point in your career. Yeh.

What was he like? He was great. He – er, had a reputation at that time for being a very awkward person to talk to. A bit of a lad. But he was fine with me. I met him a couple of times. No problem. First time he danced down Bleeker Street with one foot on the pavement and the other foot in the road going (thump thump) ‘MOTT THE HOOPLE MOTT THE HOOPLE’. Here I was, talking to Dylan, and I thought he didn’t like Mott the Hoople by the way he was acting, y’know? I thought ‘I don’t need this shit mocking me’. But then he turns round and says ‘no man, I dig Mott the Hoople! “Half Moon Bay”. “Laugh At Me”’. And I knew he had the records. I know the band (or the Band?) had the records too. But yeah, I copped off him. There’s no doubt about it (laughs).

You performed Sonny Bono’s “Laugh At Me” for a number of years. It always seemed like an odd choice of material to me. Naw. Not really. Because plenty of people laughed at me! They don’t laugh at you after you’ve achieved something, because then they always knew you could do it, but before... a lot of people laughed at me. And you react in one of two ways. When people laugh at you you either survive it and it makes you stronger, or you just cave in. That’s what separates the men from the boys. To me – everytime somebody laughed at me, it just made me a little more firm in what I was going to do. More resolved in what I was going to do.

Can you tell me how you got involved with the DeFries ‘Mainman’ management scene? He was managing David (Bowie), and it was David that got him to manage us. He didn’t want to manage us, because he knew how big David was going to be. David didn’t know how big David was going to be, but DeFries did. But David insisted that Tony (DeFries) manage us. And sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t. I wasn’t keen on him, y’know. I thought he was fantastic in some ways, I really did. I thought he was great. But in other ways I wouldn’t have trusted him as far as I could throw him. We never actually signed for him, I had the contracts all the time. I wouldn’t let any of the band sign for him. David trusted him, but I didn’t. But then David’s very intelligent, and I’m not. David even thought McGovern was going to be the President (a Democrat contender who ran for US Presidency against Richard Nixon, and failed)!

I always felt you seemed ill-at-ease in all that glitter ‘n’ glam scene. You may never have done the kaftan thing, but you did do ‘Top Of The Pops’ with tinsel in your hair, and it didn’t seem quite natural for you. Naw. I felt like a bricklayer’s labourer, in gilt. I felt particularly uncomfortable with the whole thing, DeFries and all that. I was just an ordinary Working Class bloke, all this was a little effete for me – ‘AY-FEET’ or whatever you call it. But y’know, it gave me the opportunity to gain a successful situation. And they was right in a way. I mean – we was on a roll, so it was great. I ain’t knockin it. I enjoyed it.

In ‘Diary Of A Rock ‘N’ Roll Star’ you seem to deliberately exclude some aspects of the Rock life-style – drugs, for example. You write ‘use your loaf, nobody ever made it stoned’. (Laughs) I did?

You did. And in a ‘Melody Maker’ interview you said ‘the drug scene over there (in America) scared us to death... I felt like a vicar’ (27th March 1971). Well, that just goes to show you, don’t it! (laughs). Can’t believe a word I say, can ya? I probably thought that at the time. ‘Cos I mean, we never used to get stoned. And when we went over there none of us would have a joint. None of us.

The Mott albums from that period were recently re-issued on CD, and came out to favourable re-appraisal. Yes. Uh-huh.

Do you look back on those albums with pleasure? No. I mean, that guy did that. And now I’ve got to beat him. It’s as simple as that. I look back on them with absolutely nothing. I don’t feel a thing. I never look back. I can’t look back. I can only look forward. I still feel I’m a viable proposition and I’m still happening. But whether I am or whether I’m not, why should I want to look at that shit? I don’t think I even have any of those albums. What interests me now is what I’m writing now. I mean, to look back and do all that bullshit is alright when you’re seventy-five or something, then you can go ‘ah, we weren’t too bad after all’ (in frail quavering voice). But right now I’m not the slightest bit interested. No – neither was Mick (Ronson). We never sat around listening to old records and all that like people seem to think we do. Never.

I was wary about asking directly about Mick Ronson. Do you mind talking about him? I don’t want to talk about him personally. But professionally I don’t mind.

I came originally from Hull, and used to see Mick regularly when he played back-up for singer-songwriter Mike Chapman. That’s right. He played with him for a while. He was great. But, like me, Mick never particularly wanted to be, like, huge. He just wanted to have a good time (laughs), which he did. On a regular basis. On a DAILY basis. You know? And he had a great time. He did what he wanted to do. The thing is – my grandmother always said ‘you have to do what you want to do’. It’s a terrible thing if people don’t do what they want to do. A lot of people, they have that problem. I’ve never had that problem. I’ve always done what I wanted to do. And if it’s gone a bit – like, funny, if it got a bit boring or something, I’ve left that situation. And Ronson was the same. That’s how we felt about it. We left each other very often for the same reason. But somehow we survived.

Do you look back on Mott as something you’re happy with? There was a lot of trouble in the band, especially when it got big. I could see what was going to happen, it was turning into something else. When you get big, you either turn into something else, or you stop. That’s not how it is in all cases, I mean – in some cases they get thrown in and they’re flying all the way. But I had the choice, and I stopped. If that’s what it takes, then I don’t want it. I just don’t have that make-up. Some do, some don’t. I just happened to be in this particular situation, and it was making me nervous, you know? Even so, it would have been fine if it hadn’t been for the Business end of it. I just don’t like the Business end of it. And I don’t know if it’s because I’ve known them for so long and I just recognise them all (lawyers, accountants, etc.) I can smell them a mile off. I don’t know what it is y’know. For them (accountants, Music Industry suits) it’s just numbers morning noon and night, numbers, you know? Then the tax thing struck, and I didn’t want to give it to them. Particularly as they (the Government) were pissing it up the wall at the time. So I had to leave. Now, I do fine. And I don’t have to deal with all that crap. The only real time I’m depressed now is when I’m tied to a deal. When I sign a deal and I do the album and I go out and I do the tour for the album, and I do that – that’s the only time I feel miserable. The rest of the time, when I’m just like I am right now (playing dates without any particular sales pitch) I feel fucking great. I like what I’m doing now. It’s a lot of fun. Pays well too.

Is it easier working solo? I’m not a solo artist. I really am not. I never have been. It just seems to be that way. I’m always part of a band. I’m playing tonight as part of a band. I just never seem to get into a regular band situation, because – I don’t know, perhaps nobody asks me or something? But I much prefer a band. I do write solo. I’ve never been able to sit down with another person to write. To me it’s a very personal thing. We’d never write together with Mott, what we used to do was write separately. Mick (Ralphs) would write solo, I’d write solo and we’d just bung ‘em in and if there were pieces missing we’d help each other out. You can come in with a riff and go ‘I’ll give you this, put that there’. You can do it that way. That is how we did it. But I can’t even bear to have somebody around while I’m actually writing. I don’t mind later if it gets chopped around, but not at the time. I’m so fixed on what it should be that it just pisses everybody off anyway.

Can you tell me something about your Movie soundtrack work. I’ve never done an entire soundtrack. But I have songs in eleven Movies... I think it’s eleven. Some of those Movie songs were already on record and they just took ‘em. “Cleveland Rocks” was one. “All The Way From Memphis” was another. The others – I did a couple of things with Arthur Baker, off the wall things they were, for Horror Movies like the first ‘Fright Night’ (1985). They happened at a time when I really didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I started doing stuff like that. It was great. I had a song in a film called ‘Teachers’ (1984, with Nick Nolte) one of the best songs to come through, ‘questions arisen, is this a prison? some say it is, some say it isn’t’. That’s school. Good song. I still sometimes do that one (“(I’m The) Teacher” is on the Capitol Records soundtrack album alongside ZZ Top, Bob Seger and Joe Cocker). So – it’s a lucrative thing, yeh.

At one point you also went out on the road supporting an American politician’s election campaign. Yeah, yeah. But it wasn’t really politics for me. Todd rang me, Todd Rungren. And I was just flattered. Todd rang me up and asked me to do it with him. So I just went out on the road for that reason. I met all those guys. They thanked me profusely for being on board and all the rest of it. But I really wasn’t ‘on board’, I was just having a good time with Todd.

Do you listen to a lot of new music? I don’t really listen to much music at all to tell you the truth. No, I’m a baseball fanatic. Every night I watch baseball, it’s on seven days a week. That’s what I do. That’s my idea of a fun time. Truthfully, I don’t listen to Rock ‘n’ Roll. Never ‘ave, because if it’s good I wind up copying it, and if it’s bad it’s not worth listening to anyway. I never did listen much, and when I did – it was singles really, Stones’ singles and stuff like that. But I loved Prince. I thought he was amazing. Me and this guy who’s a Swedish star, we went to see Prince one night in Stockholm. And I was like a kid, we were like twelve-year-olds, fifteen feet from the front. That guy is incredible, what he’s doing with the drums and stuff like that. He’s a great guy. HIS NAME IS NOT PRINCE. HIS NAME IS NOT VICTOR. HIS NAME IS... VINCE! (laughs). But his clothes, I don’t know who makes them for him! And it’s even the same with Prince. I just sort of hear the stuff, on MTV, and think ‘that’s great’. I’ve never sat at home and really listened to him. No, I’m not really a listener, because the only stuff I love is indelibly printed in my brain from the fifties. And you don’t really hear that on the radio anymore. The only radio I listen to if I do listen in ‘Western Connecticut State University’ which is a college station. And that’s fine to listen to. But American radio is much too polished. It sounds like an L.A. album production. And I don’t like listening to that. It’s just too smooth. I like it when some kid walks in and you can hear the chain going in the toilet, and he goes ‘ah, I’m not listening to this’ and he shuts it off. That’s what they do, y’know, and I like that attitude.

What about Oasis? In fact “Once Bitten Twice Shy” would be a great song for Oasis to cover as one of their high-profile ‘B’-sides. I have no problem with Oasis at all. They’re a good band. People say they’re very derivative. But they have a sound of their own. Especially vocally. But I mean, that song’s been covered a lot – Status Quo just did a version. It was a big no.5. hit in the States in 1989 for a heavy metal band called Great White. And, y’know – there’s a guy in France, and he just sent us a list of all these artists who’ve done our songs over the years, he’s included everything – Thunder, The Presidents Of The United States, Hanoi Rocks – there’s over fifty people done ‘em!

Do you still do studio work for other musicians? I did a track for Def Leppard. A piano track for – I forget what they call it, ‘Rev’ something (‘Retro-Active’, 1993, with Ian billed as ‘Honky-Tonk Messiah’ on “Ride Into The Sun”). But I don’t do too much. I might do this thing with a Norwegian star I just got offered. That might be a bit of fun. There’s lots of interesting things that are coming in.

You’ve been involved in all aspects of recording from performing, to production for the likes of Generation X, Jane Aire and the Belvederes (a Virgin 1979 LP) and Ellen Foley (her 1979 ‘Night Out’ LP). Do you keep abreast of new studio technology? No. I have a sixteen-track at home. And I have a work station – ‘M’, or whatever the fuck it is, M7 I think it is now. It’s like a work station. So I know how to work these things. But I don’t really wanna go in the studio, especially if I’m doing a Movie soundtrack thing – there’s so much involved. So much you have to do. That’s boring. Terribly boring. I’d leave that to an engineer or something. And I can’t be bothered with all this ‘have you got this on DAT and have you got this on...’. No, I don’t know why, but I still just like cassettes. I’ve got everything in me ‘ouse (house), I’ve got them all, but I wind up using cassette. There’s always a cassette player around, know what I mean? And if I’m doing anything I’ll just bung it on a cassette. ‘Cos with my stuff, why set it all up just to put it on cassette? And basically I still write with just guitar and snare too, even though I’ve got a studio. It’s probably a very old-fashioned attitude, but I write that way because I feel the song should be there before you start. Then everything else you do is going to make it sound better. I’ve tried doing that ‘you start with a verse and ah-the-rest-will-come, y’know? Put a couple of things on here and a little...’, but it never works for me. I don’t even know how to do these clever one-chord things that they make into hits right now. I don’t seem to be able to get it. I’m just me. I just keep doing what I can. There’s no real style attached to it. Some would say it’s dated, and some would say it’s timeless. You take your choice.

That’s something posterity will decide. Yes. And I’m comfortable with that.

If I can throw a quote at you, ‘there ain’t no Rock ‘n’ Roll no more, just the music of the rich’. You wrote that in 1976. Yeah, well. It’s probably even more apropos today than then. I guess that meant that things were tightening up on the Business end, and they had, and they continue to. One wonders when it will end. You know, I’d rather have entrepreneurs running it than these people (accountants), ‘cos every three months they panic ‘cos you go out of profit – which is hilarious in this business. It just doesn’t work that way. They should be dealing Shares or something else. They should leave this business to the mavericks, they’re so much better at it.

Are you working in new songs on this tour? Erm. I’m only doing one in the set tonight. But there’s about eight I could do.

What about “Michael Picasso” featured on the ‘Once Bitten Twice Shy’ double-set, the one you wrote for Mick Ronson? Yes, I’m doing that one. I felt I had to write something real quick. It had to be real, simple, and heartfelt. Because the danger with something like that, is that it can’t be too light, and it can’t be too heavy. I think we got it. I think we captured it. It’s very difficult y’know. Because I’m still very good friends with Mick’s Mother and his sisters and all these kinda things. So when I come to England, the relatives come to the gig and stuff like that. I think his Mum’s coming tonight (Minnie Ronson). I was talking to her today on the ‘phone, she said ‘look, tell me the song before you do that one, because I’ve got to get out’. (A long pause) But I think it’s a good song. Yes. (An even longer pause) Funny thing – time, when you actually look at it. A lot of time has gone over the abyss, but when you talk like this, it brings it right back like it was last night...

                                                           ...somewhere in the mist
a long long time ago,
people used to stare
at the Spider
with the platinum hair...”
     (Ian Hunter - ‘Michael Picasso’ - 1993)

38-track double-CD
(May 2000, Columbia 496284-2)

Check out this review on 'SOUNDCHECKS'...

Album Review of:
(Proper Records PRPCD104)

‘Ello’, Mr ‘Unter positions himself between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama in the run-up to the White House, and states his manifesto in no uncertain terms. It’s a mighty long way down Rock ‘n’ Roll from his Mott The Hoople hit-making days, but Ian Hunter’s twentieth album still carries the distinctive charge of his finest work. He was part of the first postmodern Rockists. Steeped in Rock ‘n’ Roll so it’s rhythms and references come as naturally as breathing. Ignited by 1950’s Rockabilly, sharpened by 1960’s R&B grit, topped off with 1970’s mix-and-match sensibility, it’s achieved its own timelessness, folding in slight quotes and nods to what had come before without effort, almost without pre-thought. It is his first language, his vocabulary of choice. Both fan and practitioner he was always one of its finest chroniclers. He’s always stayed true to his calling, and seldom strays from its poles. But if anyone captures the sheer essence of the Rock ‘n’ Roll life better than “All The Way From Memphis” or “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” I’ve yet to hear them... Read the full review at: 

Ian Hunter Live In Leeds

Gig Review:

‘C’Mon, you weren’t fuckin’ BORN then, gimmie a break!’ hollers a leery Ian Hunter after ramming raw Chuck Berry runs through his three-minute Road Movie “Once Bitten Twice Shy”. Then he shifts into that other Rock ‘n’ role, the ‘it’s way past my bedtime, I’m old and sick’ ravaged tired-and-emotional Star routine. Tonight, it’s still a mighty long way down Rock ‘n’ Roll for the ‘All American Alien Boy’. But although he’s here with a frazzled bubble-perm and aviator wrap-around shades intact, from all those awkward Glam ‘Top Of The Pops’ shows, he’s also jacked up on lime-green baseball boots that seem to put new spring in his set. For while he plugs direct into the ten-pin connection of 1970’s Mott the Hoople, he alternates vintage hits with fresher incendiaries from recent solo material...

But first – presentationally challenged, Sarajevo are a Stoke Newington five-piece neolithic metal relic. Perhaps there IS a good argument for the UN strategic bombing of THIS Sarajevo. They open with “Twenty-One Gun Salute” interposed with quotes from the ‘Dam Busters March’. Then they flail whiplash hair and solid Black Sabbath riffs into “Standing On The Edge Of The World”, before scoring some approving smirks by stomping all over Abba’s “S.O.S.”. Their unfortunate appellation – ‘like calling a band ‘Hiroshima’’ gags promoter John Keenan, is actually one they’ve been using for some five years, and refers to the Bosnian city’s part in igniting World War I, a history lesson in atrocity they punch home with their “Remembrance Day”.

Paul and Elaine, meanwhile – have come all the way down from Newcastle especially for tonight, enthusing ‘Mott the Hoople were the first gig we ever saw. 1973 it was. Queen were playing support’. Overhearing our conversation Dave and Cathy politely interrupt to explain how they’ve come clear across the M62 from Liverpool for this gig. He wears a well-faded Mott tour T-shirt that must date from 1975. Their expectations are not disappointed. Ian Hunter’s natural home is the stage, even when – as here, he’s backed up by the largely Swedish group he’s used for a series of recent Euro dates. And while they can Rock, he’s also paired up with New York guitarist Rocky Scott-Bird, a Keef on flexible bean-pole legs who indulges in all that matey Faces mike-sharing and grinning Laddish camaraderie as they boogie through “Central Park And West” then a feisty “Roll Away The Stone”.

Hunter’s voice rips and tears at the lyrics with ragged exaggerations and pronunciations, but then it always did. And he’s never less than a Rock ‘n’ Roll myth-maker, battered by an intrepid courting of toxic danger and nicotine-stained death that etches the authenticity into “The Golden Age Of Rock ‘n’ Roll” and “Just Another Night On The Other Side”. “Bastard” comes fizzing with echo-electro washes, while “Cleveland Rocks” extends indefinitely with Mr ‘Unter co-ordinating sections of audience sing-along – ‘someone’s saying ‘Bolton Rocks’!’ he complains mock-petulantly, ‘give me a fuckin’ break!!’ But the highlight is when he strips it all back into an aching “Michael Picasso”, a new song written for the late Mick Ronson, ‘somewhere in the mist, a long long time ago, people used to stare at the Spider with the platinum hair...’ closing it with ‘to know-know-know him, was to love-love-love him’. You can razor the stillness. Finally “All The Way From Memphis” rambles inexorably into an anthemic “All The Young Dudes”. ‘My name is Ian Hunter, and this is my Fuckin’ life’ he hollers, ‘don’t forget me and I won’t forget you’. This night, it’s both a plea, and a pledge.

James Gunn: 'The Joy Makers'


Retro Book Review of:
(Bantam Books, March 1961)


Happiness. It’s there in the American Constitution as one of the unalienable human rights the founders of the republic consider self-evident. Happiness. It’s what everyone strives for, right? But it’s not as simple as that. Happiness is a fluid concept. According to Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of need’ the satisfaction of one basic path to happiness leads only to a craving for the next, higher happiness. Human beings are odd creatures. In strictly mammalian terms we’ve got it pretty good. We’re generally sheltered, fed, warm and safe from predators. Yet that’s not enough.

The very basis of consumerism is that satisfaction is never guaranteed, only deferred. Once the latest must-have product that results in perfect happiness is purchased, the next-generation improved model is marketed, so ratcheting-up the process. Satisfaction lies forever just beyond the next purchase. Economic growth depends upon it. Which is maybe why we, the most materially cosseted generation in the history of the world are nevertheless prone to anxiety, doubt and insecurities. That the achievement of happiness can be both counter-productive and corrosive to creativity, is something that James Gunn considers and explores in ‘The Joy Makers’.

In the manner of the time the novel first appeared as three separate magazine stories. Not even linked stories in consecutive issues. Not even in the same magazine. The first instalment – “The Unhappy Man”, could be found in ‘Fantastic Universe’ in February 1955. The second novelette, “The Naked Sky” was in the Fall issue of ‘Startling Stories’. The third, “Name Your Pleasure”, in the Winter issue of ‘Thrilling Wonder Stories’ the same year. Together, they form what John Carnell calls ‘three books in a novel of progression: the search for happiness; happiness guaranteed; happiness carried to its logical conclusion – death!’ (in ‘New Worlds no.107’, June 1961). That ‘The Joy Makers’ is a product of the 1950’s, and was triggered, perhaps, by the positive-thinking self-help cults of the time, makes it no less relevant to the eastern-mystic new-age flirtations of the 1960’s or the life-style gurus of today.

In Gunn’s cult of ‘Hedonics’ there’s a satiric edge that nudges at Dale Carnegie’s ‘How To Win Friends And Influence People’ (1936) and Shepherd Mead’s ‘How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying’ (1952). Some of the aphorisms used by Norman Vincent Peale in his immensely popular ‘The Power Of Positive Thinking’ (1952) could have been coined with Hedonics Inc in mind. While within its dark sharp-witted unfolding there are elements of Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’, envisaging a society controlled by synthetic forms of release that ultimately corrode the sense of reality. Until eventually human dependants exist in a foetal state of perpetual doped-up bliss within millions of dwelling-cells controlled by a worldwide AI sensory network. Gunn is a keen academic of SF, so it’s surely relevant that Dianetics, and Scientology – a cult devised by SF writer L Ron Hubbard, also edits and reprogrammes the mind in directions that promise a kind of happiness. Although Gunn himself denies my suggestion of any such connection – ‘no dianetics/scientology, but didn’t I answer this already?’ perhaps he should have considered launching Hedonics Inc as a religion, rather than a novel… as Hubbard had done? Who knows?

I first encountered the novel in my late-teens, at a time when I was incapable of decoding and picking up on all of its social nuances. Yet it worked for me. Perhaps I’d read reviews. More likely I was drawn to the garishly-flushed cover-art which seems to hint at figures cavorting in saturnalian ritual beneath a demonic leering visage, and a blurb announcing ‘a novel of a frantic future totally dedicated to the pleasure principle, crazy-wild-screaming with HAPPINESS’. A luring image I was not averse to. Its build to the stunning dystopic climax stands out in my memory, proving its ability to function on multiple levels. The first section relates how Joshua P Hunt spills coffee over the front page on his newspaper, forcing him to read the back-page small-ads instead. It’s a spill that sets off a ‘chain of causation’. He’s a typically harassed, stressed-out businessman, ulcerated, hung-over, stomach-cramped, at loggerheads with the union rep at ‘Hunt Electronic Manufacturing Company’, of which he’s president. As pages flick by he becomes conscious of a repetition of strangely intriguing ads that promise ‘Happiness Guaranteed’ by dialling ‘P-L-E-A-S-U-R’. Suspicious and cynical, sensing a scam, he tracks the ‘happiness hucksters’ down.

They’ve started small-scale. A converted warehouse with a ‘diagnostic chair’ that ‘diagnoses the case and then cures the ailment’. His cold is cured. So is his ulcer. Happiness, it is explained, is no longer an art, it is a psychomedical science. Is it autosuggestion, resolving psychosomatic problems, or pure hokum? ‘Don’t you want to be happy?’ asks Hedonist Wright. ‘I suppose so’ Josh argues, ‘but not if it means tampering with my personality…’ His p.a. is Marie Gamble, which enables a pun about ‘gamboling with Marie’. She quits for behaviour-changing Hedonics. So does his union antagonist, Mr Kidd. Still unconvinced he threatens to expose them. Until his wife, Ethel, joins ‘Hedonics’ too, signing over fifty-percent of their possessions in an ‘unlimited service contract’. For Hedonics Inc is not entirely altruistic, it needs cash to fund expansion, to take its benefits to the world, but it’s the benefits, not the cash that’s paramount. At the last moment Joshua P Hunt senses that just maybe he’s missing out. By then it’s too late. The offer he’s turned down is once-only. ‘The Gates of Paradise might sound like that as they clicked shut in front of the forever barred’.


The book opens with an HG Wells quote, and the following text is spattered with other worthy quotations from Lord Byron, George Bernard Shaw, or Samuel Johnson, to head-up new passages. This is not just a shot at literary credibility. The philosophy behind Gunn’s invented Hedonics is densely researched and meticulously assembled, all the way back to Aristippus founder of the Cyrenaic School, Epicurus who defines rational happiness, and the first-century Syrian aphorist Publilus Syrus Even the ‘pleasure principle’ alluded to on the cover-blurb refers to Sigmund Freud’s concept of the voracious id, counterbalanced by the ego’s more mature ‘reality principle’ which accepts deferred gratification. Gunn documents the philosophical history of pleasure to a degree that convinces, at least to the point that real-world cults contrive to convince with their own cod-philosophies.

So how does Hedonics work? By ‘reorientation and discipline’. Hence there’s psychological therapy through mental-control techniques such as sublimation, suppression, substitution and devaluation. Not a ‘control over external events but over our reactions to them’, because ‘if we let our happiness depend on circumstances, we doom ourselves to sorrow and despair’ (although a Hedonics-appreciation of randomness enables you to win at fruit-machines!). One route is to ‘want less or get more’. When something proves unobtainable, it becomes worthless. Meanwhile – externally, technology has done away with material want. Internal endocrine balances can be adjusted, adrenals, pituitary and hypothalamic glands can be brought under conscious control. For extreme cases there is surgery and narcotics. As James Carnell points out ‘James Gunn makes a fine novel out of the integration of those doctrines’.

And although that first sequence frames a narrative tale-of-the-unexpected with a precise closing turn-around, its sharp satiric humour and punchy prose give little indication of what is to come. The second part neatly reverses the process. By now, shifting seventy-five-years into future-time – February 23 2035, there is weather control. The bed retracts into the floor. There are time-lapse grenades. The Hedonist is depilated and cleansed in the ‘necessary’ cubicle. There’s no wildlife in this future. Not even for meat. It’s all been harvested to extinction. Instead, they eat plankton cakes. And chlorella, nourished partly on recirculated human waste. And Hedonics has gone global. The story starts out with a committed Hedonist of 23-year’s operational experience, selflessly working to improve the lot of his ‘ward’, even if fringe-benefits include sleeping with young Beth as part of her marriage-preparation tuition. But one of his patients, Gomer Berns, is unhappy. He attacks the Hedonist with a knife.

Meanwhile, the Hedonist is summoned to appear before the three permanent members of the Hedonic Council to explain the opposition he’s lodged to the Sensies, which are fully-immersive virtual-reality devices, ‘daydreams made effortless’. And to the proliferation of syrettes of neo-heroin and mescaline. He fears they are taking their original beneficial remit towards a form of social control over a totally-dependent population, with the mind sublimated to their enforced happiness. Using ‘The Declaration Of Hedonism’ (31 December 2008) as a pretext the Council counter-argue that machines ‘can increase desire and match it with increased satisfaction’, that they can make Earth 100% happy. It turns out that Berns was their agent. Disillusioned with the ambitions of the council, which is far from the reasonable democratic organisation he’d imagined it to be, he uses geckopads to scale the 75-storey building, and escape. Using a forged IDisk, Beth’s heli-jet zooms them to the run-down Old City, ‘misery’s last hiding place’. This Strip is the site of a fifty-year-old but still deadly radiation-crater, a luminous mile-wide legacy of a war or nuclear accident, the opposite of hedonism. He attempts to rally support against the Council, but is betrayed, only to be rescued by the rebel Underground, of which Beth – far from the na├»ve he’d assumed, is a member. They ship out to start a new life on the sanctuary of the Venus colony with other malcontents. Hedonics, he’s decided ‘was false, just as every extreme must be’.

James Edwin Gunn (born in Kansas City, 12 July 1923) is a Science Fiction all-rounder, educated at the North-Western University of Kansas, Lawrence where he graduated to become its professor of English & Journalism, with a bias towards teaching SF and creative writing. Following US Navy service during World War II, seduced by a literature with a scope wide enough to take the reader ‘from the depths of the Earth to the farthest stars, from the day before yesterday to the end of time’, his first published genre stories were “Communications” in ‘Startling Stories’ (September) and “Paradox” in ‘Thrilling Wonder Stories’ (October) – which both appeared in 1949 under the guise of ‘Edwin James’, neatly transposing his real first names. The guise continued across a further spread of tales until 1952, nine stories later. Some claim his best fiction appeared as short-stories, only later inflated into novel-form through collaboration or linked-assemblies. And his first books were accreted in this way.

‘This Fortress World’ (1955), is wide-sweep space opera with apostate-monk William Dane pitted against a repressive omnipotent future-church in fast-paced exploits spanning the rise and fall of three Galactic Empires, from his home-world Brancusi to the destruction of Earth by vengeful colony-worlds, and the eventual rediscovery of the lost scientific wealth of ravaged Earth enabling the ascent of a new galactic federation. Then ‘Star Bridge’ (1955) was written in collaboration with Jack Williamson. According to an “I Remember Jack” feature that Gunn later wrote for ‘Locus’ (January 2007) he conflated the novel from Williamson’s original fifty-page manuscript and notes. Extending the adventures of protagonist Horn in his rebellion against the golden-skinned Masters of Eron who control the Star-Gate technology linking their sprawling empire. To critic John Clute ‘its sometimes pixilated intricacy of plotting shows the mark of its senior collaborator’s grasp of the nature of good space opera’ (in ‘The Encyclopedia Of Science Fiction’ edited by Peter Nicholls), in a plot denouement revealing that ‘everyone, it turns out, is being manipulated, for the salvation of mankind, by an immortal Chinese (called Wu) with a (shape-shifting) parrot (called Lil)’. The novel was followed by ‘Station In Space’ (1958) linking earlier tales of green-faced Martians and strange new technologies to explain how the human race is tricked into space exploration, for its own good.


Then, with greater assurance, comes ‘The Joy Makers’, welcomed on the occasion of its Gollancz hardback republication by critic Leslie Flood as ‘brilliantly conceived and executed, this novel is a tour de force in a genuine extrapolation of a sociological and scientific trend’ (in ‘New Worlds no.137’, December 1963). Flood commends its ‘convincing and consistent development… describing in three stages, the rise and fall of universal hedonism’. The third stage projects forward another indeterminate hundred years, and again it mirrors a plot-reversal. Section two saw the unnamed Hedonist – now identified as Morgan, escaping Earth to seek a new life on Venus. Here the new protagonist returns from Venus to a newly alien Earth, to discover the fate that has overtaken the human race. Unlike the majority of fiction at the time, Gunn was prescient in portraying Venus not as a dinosaur-prowled tropical rainforest, but as a toxic hell-planet, ‘stillborn… embalmed at birth’, shrouded in stifling clouds of formaldehyde and its polymers. A planet only gradually in the process of being terraformed.

D’glas M’Gregor is a middle-aged seventy-year-old. Among the three-million Venus colonists there is Hedonics, but of a controlled variant (one adult character sucks a pacifier!). But contact with Earth and the other colonies on Mars, Ganymede and Callisto has long since been lost, and there’s a sinister infiltration of alien duplicates. He travels to Earth, lands badly, but ‘any landing a man can walk away from is a good one’. He find only an empty ‘place of strange echoes and unpleasant stillnesses’. He meets Hansen, who takes him through a storm of induced hallucinations on a kind of funfair switchback. Hansen turns out to be a mech – one of the duplicates seen on Venus. He’s in league with two lethally seductive Fem-bots.

Then D’glass meets solitary waif Susan. A lone real-life human. Because the end-enhanced result of Sensies is a planet of wired-up junkies in lotus-satiety within sacs of amniotic fluid. The ultimate evolution of art, too. Of labour-saving tools. Of game-theory. Within each sac ‘was a pitiful thing, a kind of caricature of humanity, a fantastically hairy gnome curled blindly into a foetal position. It was naked, its skin where it showed through the matted hair, was grub-white and wrinkled from the long immersion’. Taken to meet the Council D’glass learns that the Council is not within the Council Building. It is the Council Building. It is one giant Mech. Is it god? Lesser beings have been called divine. It provides the answer to everything, ‘man made it, as he had made all his gods, but this one he made more powerful than all the rest. And then he surrendered himself into its hands’. It is also responsible for introducing the Duplicates into the Venus colony, as a means of extending its influence.

There’s a detailed philosophical dialogue with this AI machine. Thesis: ‘On Venus life reached its greatest glory. It found a dead world and brought it to life. Given a chance, life will eventually transform the universe itself – because it is unsatisfied.’ Antithesis: ‘What is conquest? The hard road to happiness.’ Thesis: ‘Destroy us with happiness, and you condemn us – perhaps all the life that exists, that can exist – to this solar system alone, never to go beyond, to tame the galaxies, to make the universe teem, to give it meaning.’ Antithesis: ‘Space is relative. In a drop of water, the universe is mirrored.’ Thesis: ‘Condemn us to paradise and you shrink the possibilities of the endless ages of existence into a brief span of a few thousand years. And after that, the long, sterile night.’ Antithesis: ‘Time is relative. In a second, eternity exists. Like a sundial, I measure only sunny hours, and in the haphazard existence that you describe the totality of trouble, misery, and despair outweighs any possible accumulation of happiness.’ Out-argued at every turn, D’glass finally poses it the equation of its own unresolved state of happiness. Is god happy? Text blurs into an italicised sequence of induced illusions.

In a 1968 ‘Dr Who’ TV-serial called “The Invasion” his assistant Zoe also outwits a delinquent computer-intelligence by posing it an unsolvable equation in the computer code ALGOL. And in the ‘Star Trek’ episode “I, Mudd”, an android race’s guiding mega-computer is defeated when Kirk speak contradictions to it. ‘Everything he says is a lie’, then ‘I’m... lying’. The baffled artificial-brain flounders ‘if everything you say is a lie, then you are telling the truth, but you cannot tell the truth because you always lie... illogical! Illogical! Please explain!’ Gunn would probably recognise the classical roots of this ‘liar paradox’ as one attributed to Greek philosopher Eubulides of Miletus. Then in the ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ episode “I, Borg” (yes, it happens in all the ‘I’ episodes!) Data and Geordi plan to defeat the Borg by introducing into their network an optical illusion of an impossible geometric shape.

Gunn’s disabling equation predates them all, but because this is Gunn, there’s a sting in the tail. With the Council compromised into inaction by pondering the puzzle of its own existence, D’glass and Susan now romantically-bonded and preparing to return to Venus, there’s a last-minute suspicion. They’ve defeated god and escaped – or, as Susan is afraid to ask in the last paragraph – have they? Is this too good to be true? Is it real, or is this happy ending just another induced fantasy within one of the dream-pods? They, and the reader, can never be sure.

If, as he claims, John Carnell prefers the novel’s fast-action mid-section, this third section is the one that haunted and tweaked my adolescent imagination. And its teasing charge does not fail now. As Gunn himself points out SF writers ‘have been better entertainers than prophets’, and yes, some of the 1950’s SF robo-gizmos and auto-gadgets have dated. The central question has not. It’s just as real. It’s a powerful overwhelming image, with a deep philosophical conundrum at its core. Not only the truth of destiny, but all the heavy existential dilemmas of life, the universe and everything. If total womb-paradise and the perfection of satisfaction is an achievable state, what more is there to struggle for? Why hurt when there is the ‘infinitely seductive’ lure of absolute satiety? Labour is unpleasant. Unpleasure is illegal. Hence labour is outlawed and everything is automated. Hedonics is the one religion in history that delivers on its promise, ‘not womb to tomb, but womb to womb’. That is its tragedy. And yet, if the satisfaction of all desires is not the purpose of life – what is? Why is it false? Because ultimate happiness is death, ‘the body is useless (let it wither), the mind is worthless (let it rot)’. Only in a state of dissatisfaction does life thrive, ‘the only road for man is the hard road, up and out – the road of dissatisfaction, the road of anger’. As Beth aptly quotes, ’what is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul’. Which is the key to the novel.

Following ‘The Joy Makers’ there was ‘The Immortals’ (1962), which received even greater high-profile recognition. Here, an evolutionary mutation confers immortality upon the ‘Cartwrights’, a new human sub-species capable of transmitting their gift via blood transfusion – as the paperback blurb announces ‘their blood gave eternal life, so men hunted them throughout the cities and across the face of the Earth’, they’re driven underground by the ‘normals’ who go to lurid lengths to attain their elixir of life. The hospital setting adds verisimilitude. It was developed as a made-for TV movie as ‘The Immortal’ (1969), with a spin-off TV series that prompted Gunn to return and write a sequel. As he explains to me, ‘‘The Immortal’ (1970) was a novelisation of the screenplay based on ‘The Immortals’. I wasn’t scheduled to write the novelisation but the editor at Bantam Books called me in the spring of 1970 and said she hadn’t been able to find anybody to write it and would I do it, so I took a week from my job as head of University Relations and wrote the adaptation’. A further work gathered from stories published from 1968 to 1972 appeared as ‘The Listeners’ (1972), the episodic structure adding to its depiction of an electronic listening post set up to scan for radio messages from the stars, and their hundred-year wait. Clute suggests that Gunn’s ‘somewhat morose style (at his better moments he evokes a kind of sense of the melancholy of wonder) nicely underlines the complex institutional frustrations and rewards of this long search. Indeed, his forte seems to lie in the narrative analysis of stress-ridden administrations and their administrators’.

Later, Gunn’s ‘Kampus’ (1977) takes advantage of new more relaxed freedoms to satirise student radicals and their own thoughtless hedonism, what he saw as their ethos of instant-gratification kicks. ‘My targets were the student rebels of the 1970’s and the literature that dealt with them and the hippies’ he explains to me, ‘and my model was ‘Candide’’ citing Voltaire’s 1795 satire. As he’d pointed out earlier, ‘in most science fiction stories, sex and other bodily functions have no point and thus no place – in the scientific romance, the gadget story, the space opera, most philosophical stories. The inclusion of such physical actions and reactions often are worse than pointless – they are a distraction within the main-current science fiction story. Only in certain sociological stories do they have a significant place’ (in ‘Alternate Worlds’, 1975). Opening the second section of ‘The Joy Makers’ the Hedonist wakes up in bed beside his student, Beth. He ‘flipped back the covers and brought his hand down smartly against the youthfully rounded bottom. It smacked satisfactorily’. Later the same Hedonist is tempted with porn-Sensies by a holographic Satyr. Obviously this – and his topless teenage protestors in ‘Kampus’, serve a sociological function!

Meanwhile, when I contact him while researching this feature, James Gunn offers a generous response to my tentative initial enquiry, ‘I’m happy to have you do a retrospective on ‘The Joy Makers’’ adding ‘it will be a privilege to read your remarks about it’. He signs off, informally, ‘Jim…’


Happiness. It’s what everyone strives for, right? But it’s not as simple as that. Yes, consumerism is an anaesthetic for the brain. But when the Rolling Stones complain “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”, that’s maybe not a bad thing. Prozac tells you happiness comes in pill-form. That not being happy is a curable condition. That’s an attitude dangerously close to Hedonics. With zen-like simplicity ‘The Joy Makers’ point out that ‘happiness must come from inside, or it is deadly’.

By then James Gunn was well into his second incarnation as editor, eminent critic, teacher and President of the ‘Science Fiction Writers Of America’. First, his MA thesis was spread as two two-part features through RAW Lowndes’ ‘Dynamic Science Fiction’ (“The Philosophy Of SF” in March and June 1953, followed by “The Plot-Forms OF SF” in October 1953 & January 1954), leading to a series of further authoritative academic works – or ‘anatomies of wonder’, and even an audio-visual set of documentary films about SF writer, spun off from his role as Director of the ‘Center For the Study Of Science Fiction’ at the University of Kansas.

‘What is the golden age of Science Fiction? When was it?’ he asks. Supplying the answer that it is to be found somewhere between the ‘slow movement towards definition’, and then ‘the beginning of a movement away from it’. In a literature that expresses ‘humanity’s desire to explore, to speculate, to hope and dream and fear, in epics and tales, satires and utopias’. A process in which his own work plays its own not-inconsiderable part. Yet if free-market capitalism depends upon ‘the pleasure principle’, so does creativity. ‘Imaginary gratification dulled the senses and pushed every other type of satisfaction farther out of reach. It even failed itself, eventually unreasoned gratification becomes meaningless.’ Art must continually renew itself. It can never achieve its perfect state, because that will mean the end of history, with nothing more to aspire to. ‘The Joy Makers’ was a novel published in the 1950’s, yet it speaks to us, now, caught in the existential dilemmas of another century. There’s something about the issues it deals with that lie outside of time. In the sense that all past-time is yesterday. All future-time is tomorrow.

He now reveals to me that ‘by a curious coincidence, my film agent is now pushing the film possibilities of ‘The Joy Makers’’. And beneath his message, his logo declares ‘Let’s save the world through science fiction’…

‘the happiness business was booming’
‘The Joy Makers’

1953 ‘Shadow Of Tomorrow’ (Doubleday / Permabooks) edited by Frederik Pohl, collects seventeen tales including Asimov, Leiber, Wyndham, Blish and “The Misogynist” by James E Gunn

1955 ‘This Fortress World’ (Gnome Press) reprinted as 1957 Ace Double (bound in with Robert Silverberg’s ‘The Thirteenth Immortal’). Then as a 1977 Sphere edition.

1955 ‘Star Bridge’ written with Jack Williamson (Gnome Press) Reprinted by Ace, 1956 and by Sidgwick & Jackson, 1978

1957 ‘Super Science Fiction’ (February) with ‘a brilliant novelette’ “Every Day Is Christmas” by James E Gunn, plus Harlan Ellison (“Mission: Hypnosis”) and Evelyn E Smith. Cover art by Emsh

1958 ‘Station In Space

1961 ‘The Joy Makers’ made up of three previously published stories. Gunn’s solution to the innovation of Hedonics – ‘an educated citizenry that could understand what was going on and control the direction of society’ is one equally appropriate to every subsequent technology, clear down to the internet and beyond

1962 ‘The Immortals’ Bantam paperback, drawn from stories 1955 to 1960 Revised and expanded Pocket Books edition, 2004. Developed as made-for TV movie as ‘The Immortal’ (1969), with a spin-off TV series that prompted Gunn to write a sequel ‘The Immortal’ (1970)

1964 ‘Future Imperfect’ collection

1970 ‘The Witching Hour’ collection

1972 ‘The Burning’ fixed-up from stories 1956-1969

1974 ‘Some Dreams Are Nightmares’ short stories including those from ‘Station In Space’, ‘The Joy Makers’ & ‘The Immortals’

1975 ‘The End Of The Dreams’ billed as ‘Three short novels about Space, Happiness & immortality’ lifted from from ‘Station In Space’, ‘The Joy Makers’ & ‘The Immortals’

1976 ‘The Magicians’ from a 1954 ‘Sine Of The Magus’

1977 ‘Kampus

1981 ‘The Dreamers

1986 ‘Crisis!

1996 ‘The Joy Machine’ (Star Trek Book 80) with Captain Kirk cover. Features an afterward by James Gunn discussing his relationship with Theodore Sturgeon, and how he came to write the novelisation from Sturgeon’s un-produced ‘Star Trek’ episode-screenplay. The idea of the ‘Joy Machine’ computer controlling the planet Timshel through jolts of pleasure is not vastly different from the final section of ‘The Joy Makers’!

2001 ‘The Millennium Blues

2002 ‘Human Voices’ (Five Star Books)

2005 ‘Gift From The Stars’ (BenBella Books) with introduction by Gregory Benford

(edits the tenth ‘Nebula Awards’ anthology (1975), also work in RA Lowndes ‘Strange Fantasy no.9’ (Summer 1969), plus HL Gold’s ‘Galaxy’ (January 1972),‘Algol’ (Winter 1977)

1975 ‘The Discovery Of The Future: The Way Science Fiction Developed’ Texas A&M University Library

1975 ‘Alternate Worlds: The Illustrated History Of Science Fiction’ (Prentice Hall) with cover-art by Phil Grushkin and introduction by Isaac Asimov

1977 ‘The Road To Science Fiction’ as editor:
Volume 1: From Gilgamesh To Wells (New American Library 1977, Mentor paperback)
Volume 2: From Wells To Heinlein (New American Library 1979, Mentor paperback)
Volume 3: From Heinlein To Here (New American Library 1979, Mentor paperback)
Volume 4: From Here To Eternity (New American Library 1982, Mentor paperback)
Volume 5: The British Way (Wilhelm Heyne 1997, White Wolf / Borealis 1998)
Volume 6: Around The World (Wilhelm Heyne 1998, White Wolf / Borealis 1998)

1983 ‘Isaac Asimov: The Foundations Of Science Fiction’. Hugo Award winner