Animal Magnetism: the life and death of Andrew Tyler remembered by Charles Shaar Murray

From NME journalist to animal rights activist, Andrew Tyler’s extraordinary life and death

If you’ve ever read a more arresting opening paragraph to an autobiography than this

If all went according to plan on April 28, 2017, I ended my life in a small village in the canton of Zurich, accompanied by officials from Dignitas. To remain within the law, I had to do the deed myself: lift the cup and drink a very large dose of Sodium Pentobarbitol, together with an anti-emetic to stop me vomiting it up.

 … then feel free to tell me about it.

The para in question kicks off My Life As An Animal (Loop Books) by a dear friend and former NME colleague named Andrew Tyler. We only worked alongside each other for three or four years, but during that time I realized that he was one of the sweetest, nicest, most generous people I’ve ever known, and that what he brought to our table – apart from solid journalistic talent and experience plus an endearing deadpan wit, expressed through a poker face betrayed only by a giveaway eye-twinkle – was a unique degree of empathy. He was a long way from being NME’s most profound critic (that would have been the late Ian MacDonald), but if you wanted an interview which would touch parts of the subject no-one else could reach, he was yer man.

It was precisely that empathy which led him first to wanting to tell the stories of downtrodden people and then to addressing the plight of animals; from vegetarianism and then to veganism, and finally to the most important period of his post-NME professional life: as director of the Animal Aid charity. Some people find it hard to identify with fellow humans less fortunate than themselves; Andrew’s empathy ultimately led him to care about worms, not to mention bigger, cuter or more seriously endangered creatures. And he managed this without ever being holier-than-thou or flaunting moral superiority, with none of the haughty implied rebukage with which smaller spirits belabour those less committed.

Nevertheless, Andrew was first and foremost not only a man of principle, but one whose warm, gentle demeanour, and an easy charm which was as uncontrived as it was effortless, could not mask his iron determination to follow those principles wherever they led, and no matter how thorny the path.

In those NME days we didn’t talk too much about our personal histories: living in the continuous present as we did, we took each other as we were on the day. Thus Andrew’s book tells me far more than I’d ever gathered about his life from the odd dropped-here-and-there reference or anecdote: dumped into a Jewish orphanage as a small child after his parents split up; falling in love with music; leaving school at 14 and educating himself virtually from scratch; learning his journo craft on small trade magazines and exploring the wider world via three years hitching and odd-jobbing around the Americas, from Canada to Mexico and all points in between, including San Francisco in 1967 …

Andrew had a few years’ worth of rockanroll fun at the NME before setting off to explore a bigger world of proper grown-up crusading investigative journalism for mainstream national publications. However, it was animal activism which occupied him for the next few decades. He’d still be doing it now (and would have been far too busy to write a book) had he not been laid progressively lower and lower by Parkinsons Disease and a degenerative back disease … to the horrifying point where even as physically undemanding an activity as lying in bed reading became an agony.

A lively mind and a passionate spirit trapped in a disintegrating body … Andrew just wasn’t having that. In his letter to Dignitas, he wrote, “The alternative, because of my condition, was to eke out more years without purpose, without the work that means so much to me, shrinking into pain, infirmity and indignity. I do not want that! I want to be free of that dread prospect …”

And now he is.

Since Andrew left the building, and since I first read this memoir, two more of our former colleagues on the NME – or, as master photographer Joseph ‘Captain Snaps’ Stevens used to call it, ‘The Old Gazette’ – have also gone missing. The planet is poorer without Andrew, and also without certified good guys and stalwart companions Roy Carr and Bob Woffinden. To all three, a heartfelt ave atque vale

It was a pleasure and a privilege to work with all of those guys. I’m particularly happy and grateful that I knew Andrew Tyler, and I regret only that I didn’t know him better. My Life As An Animal goes a formidable distance towards redressing that deficiency: it’ll make you wish you’d known him too.

Rules are all right if there’s someone left to play the game

All my friends are going, things just don’t seem the same.

Nick Gravenites said that in a song he wrote for Paul Butterfield.

We only meet at funerals

Fewer of us each time

At every stop somebody leaves

As we get closer to the end of the line.

 I said that.

https://www.facebook.com/AndrewTylerWriter/videos/356462758190477/

PS: the link for Andrew’s book takes you to the Animal Aid bookshop — which may cost you a little more than Amazon would charge, but it means that more of your hard-earned stipend goes where Andrew would want it to go … to his family and to the organisation to which he committed so much of his energy. A word to the wise guy (or gal) … you know it makes sense.

Presidents Donald Trump and Lex Luthor: separated at birth?

Did Superman writers create President Donald Trump? NOT FAKE NEWS!

What becomes a super-villain most? Or: who becomes a supervillain most?

In the Oxford University Press anthology Our Superheroes, Ourselves (2013), edited by Robin S. Rosenberg and dealing with the social, political and psychological aspects of those brightly-coloured metaphors on legs, an essay by Robert J. Sternberg offers a handy guide to the common characteristics of super-villains like Lex Luthor, Dr Doom, The Green Goblin, Magneto and various James Bond bad guys.

Some of these characterics seemed eerily familiar, so I’m taking the liberty of quoting Dr Sternberg’s checklist in the hope of solving the mystery

  • Massive egocentrism. They believe that they are the centre of the universe and literally try to place themselves at the centre of the human universe. They see others as tools to serve them.
  • Lack of conscience. They really do not care what happens to others as long as their ego needs are met. If anything, they enjoy seeing others suffer [ …]
  • Exploitativeness. They exploit people shamelessly to their own ends. They have no qualms about using other people for their self-glorification and in the service of executing their plans.
  • False omniscience. They believe that they are either all-knowing or so hugely knowledgeable that there is little they can learn from anyone else. They often fail to learn from experience, which can further lead to their doom.
  • False invulnerability. They think that they are all-powerful, failing to recognize their own weaknesses.
  • False omnipotence. They believe that they are, or at least should be, all-powerful.
  • Ethical disengagement. They leave ethics to others; they have little or no sense of ethics of their own.

Hmmmm … the mists are clearing … all this definitely reminds me of someone …

Phun Phact # 1: Back in the 1980s, when the illuminati of DC Comics decided to reboot their flagship character, Superman, writer/artist John Byrne, to whom the future of the Man Of Steel had been entrusted, also decided on a makeover for Supey’s nemesis, Lex Luthor. Formerly a genius-level mad scientist in and out of jail so often that sometimes he didn’t even bother changing out of his prison greys, he was now reinvented – in the wake of Gene Hackman version from the Christopher Reeve-era Superman movies – as a megalomaniac billionaire tycoon whose superpowers were unlimited amounts of money and malevolence.

He thus became DC’s incarnation of Bad Capitalism, as opposed to the Good Capitalism represented by billionaire philanthropist Bruce (Batman) Wayne; just as, over at Marvel, Norman (Green Goblin) Osbourn was the evil twin of Good Capitalist and reformed arms dealer Tony (Iron Man) Stark. Byrne later revealed that his model for the ‘new’ Luthor was New York property developer Donald J. Trump.

Phun Phact #2: In several early-2000s storylines, Luthor actually became President of the United States, ruthlessly exploiting the powers of his office to pursue his various and nefarious schemes and agendas before being driven from said office by the revelation of high crimes against not just the USA but Planet Earth and much of the galaxy. (Marvel’s Norman Osborn had to content himself with becoming Secretary Of Defence.) Well, fancy that …

So maybe there’s still hope. In the meantime, despite my fondness for the nickname ‘Mafia Don’, I may start referring to him as ‘Lex Looter’. Or, better still, ‘Lex Loser.’

Charles Shaar Murray mourns the passing of the NME print edition

The NME of my NME is …

David Bowie, NME, Charles Shaar Murray

Guess who got THIS scoop

Don’t start me talkin’ … I’ll tell everything I know. Because there’s so much things to say …

The news that the NME – where, during my twenties and half of my thirties, I worked and played and did my best to mess with the culture for fun, profit and the chance to make the world, in small and peculiar ways, a better place – has ceased to exist as a printed thing after many years of slow and steady decline gives rise to a plethora of remixed emotions.

Is it like seeing a dear old friend, braindead and paralysed after a protracted illness, having life-support finally switched off? Nahhhh … way too morbid, not to mention too melodramatic. I guess it’s more like passing somewhere you used to live and, even though you’re well aware that different people live there now, that the locks have long been changed and that you’re glad you moved, it’s still a shock to discover that it’s now been converted into a branch of Poundland.

Nevertheless, the NME is still a part of me, and some aspect of me is still a part of the NME. It was where I discovered that – despite all evidence to the contrary – that there was something I could do which people liked, and seized, with both hands and both feet, the opportunity to be part of an attempt to reboot an ailing and obsolescent music paper on the brink of potential cancellation into a mass-market underground-press rock rag capable of capturing the imagination of a significant chunk of the nation’s smartest and most inquisitive yoot-dem.

Long story short: we did it. And when I say ‘we’, I mean those who were there when I arrived in the summer of ’72 (Alan Smith, Nick Logan, Tony Tyler, Roy Carr, Julie Webb, Robert Ellis, Fred Dellar and others), those who arrived soon after I did (Nick Kent, Joe Stevens, Pennie Smith, Neil Spencer, Ian MacDonald) and them what came along in the next few new waves (Andrew Tyler, Mick Farren, John May, Pete Erskine, Chris Salewicz, Tony Benyon, Kate Phillips, Julie Burchill, Tony Parsons, Paul Morley, Ian Penman, Paul du Noyer, Anton Corbijn, Danny Baker, Chalkie Davies, Mat Snow, Barney Hoskyns, Chris Bohn … the list goes on and continued to do so long after my own departure ). No single one of us ‘was’ the NME. None of us ever could have been. We all were. And we all made contributions to building this … thing … which were as irreplaceable as was the thing itself.

If it hadn’t been for the NME, I have no idea what my life would have been like (apart from grievously bereft of sex, drugs and rockanroll). And I know that the demise of Printed Stuff is about as inevitable as a very inevitable thing can get, and that there’s no use crying over spilt beans and the passing times.

So let’s raise a glass and/or spliff for those no longer on the set: I.Mac, the Terrible Tyler Twins, Micky Farren, poor old Pete Erskine, Fiona Foulgar, the recently departed and already massively missed Cliff White.

Most of us had fun. A few of us (not me!) got rich. All of us made a difference.

Songs? Try The Beatles’ In My Life, Dusty Springfield’s Goin’ Back and Johnny Cash singing Kristofferson’s Sunday Morning Coming Down for how I feel now. For how it felt then … compile your own playlist, depending on when your own zeitgeisty NME ‘then’ was. Mine would run from Starman and All The Young Dudes to Ghost Town and The Message.

NME was a perfect storm, coming together from a set of social, cultural, technological and economic conditions which had never coincided before and will never coincide again. One of our distinguished alumni recently suggested bringing together the survivors of the 70s team for ‘one more issue’ but hey, fugeddaboudit … you can’t dip into the same river twice, or expect to look into the mirror of your teenage bedroom and see the same face again.

(Unless, that is, you could bring back I.Mac, the Terrible Tyler Twins and Micky F from wherever they’re currently hanging out …)

We only meet at funerals

Fewer of us each time

At every station somebody leaves

Approaching the end of the line …

These we have loved, these we have lost along the way … and the stars look very different today.

Charles Shaar Murray NME

Pic Pennie Smith

Indiana University’s Ku Klux Klan mural: intent vs impact


Thomas Hart Benton, A Social History of Indiana, “Parks, the Circus, the Klan, the Press” (1933), detail, at the University of Indiana. Courtesy of Bart Everson, via Creative Commons.

Ars Longa, Vita Brevis …

Your starter for ten: the above Latin aphorism is (a) the title of the second album by the late Keith Emerson’s pre-ELP prog band The Nice; (b) a saying by Hippocrates (better known for his medical activities) which literally translates as ‘Art is long, life is short’, or (c) both of the above.

Excellent! Now, let us proceed.

First of all, what the sage sayeth is that while the human lifespan is by definition limited (and I speak as someone closing in on three-score-and-ten), works of art can long outlive those who created them, whether we’re talking millennia-old cave paintings, the music of David Bowie or the writings of Hippocrates himself. Which is why our species has culture, history and collective memory. What the sage doesn’t say is that a work of art stays the same (well, it did before remixes, remasters, ‘director’s cuts’ and ‘ultimate editions’ became the new norm) while the world around it changes. By the same token, the intent of the artist may not have changed, but the impact which it has on its environment is forever in flux.

Case in point: a recent news story concerning the above mural panel, painted in 1933 by Thomas Hart Benton, in a classroom in Indiana University. It depicts a Ku Klux Klan rally juxtaposed with an injured black child being cared for by a white medical nurse while a sympathetic white journalist takes notes. Students, angered and upset by the image, have demanded its removal. A full account of the controversy can be found here; briefly, the clash is between the artwork’s status as a historical artifact and the pain which its imagery causes many of the students.

Clearly, the purpose of the artist was not to endorse, in any way, shape or form, the KKK: quite the reverse. Birth Of A Nation it most definitely ain’t. Benton’s intent was obviously to create a denunciation of their bigotry, racism and violence and to express solidarity with their victims. However, its impact – almost 85 years later, in the here and now of 2017 – is quite different. What it depicts, to the contemporary eye, is black people as essentially helpless: at the mercy of white people. Vicious nasty white people who bully, oppress and sometimes quasi-legally murder them or kind benign white people who protect, defend and care for them … either way, black people are here shown as objects, not subjects: denied agency, or any power over their own destiny. They are indeed mere victims, to be struggled over by competing groups of whites, rather than active fighters in their own struggle. Not protagonists in their own story, but supporting players in somebody else’s.

I must say that I can see the students’ point: considering what happened to many members of both sides of my family during World War II, I wouldn’t have wanted to attend daily classes in a lecture hall displaying a mural depicting a Nazi death camp, even if it also showed heroic Allied troops liberating it and rescuing the surviving inmates. I can also understand the arguments in favour of Benton’s work, and its importance as social and cultural history. It’s a shame that the work in question is a mural – by definition bonded to its surroundings – and not a painting on canvas which could simply be taken down and re-hung in a museum as an object of study.

Frinstance, I remember, decades ago, hearing the late great Steve Marriott, during his Humble Pie years, squalling from the stage, ‘I may be white but my soul is black!’ At the time, his intent, clearly understood by his listeners, was to express his admiration for, and identification with, African-American music and culture. Its impact now, were any modern performer to be sufficiently injudicious to deliver the same line, would seem an at best naively pretentious and at worst actively offensive manifestation of cultural appropriation.

Vita brevis and ars thorny and complicated. We can only work within the culture we’ve got, whilst always attempting to nudge and steer it into a direction more positive than its worst aspects might imply and hoping that the impact of what we create will never contradict or negate the intent with which we created it.

Maybe we’re back to Hippocrates and his best-known catch-phrase: ‘First … do no harm.’