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.

Crumb, Shelton & Me: The Fabulous Furry Comix Brothers

crumbcsmshelton

Charles Shaar Murray interviews Robert Crumb and Gilbert Shelton at the British Library Comics Unmasked event. Plus Oz trial panel discussion.

Into the life of an impecunious freelance kulchah pundit occasionally comes a proverbial Dream Gig. Being invited by the honchos of the British Library’s Comics Unmasked season to host and chair a panel with the two greatest figures of First Wave Underground Comix — namely R(obert) Crumb and Gilbert Shelton was one such. I mean, I’ve adored and admired the work of both these guys since my teens, and here was an opportunity not only to meet them but to chat with them before a sold-out audience and attempt to provide the specks of grit around which the creators of Mr Natural and The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers could spin their respective verbal pearls.

With incomparable restraint and iron determination, I managed to restrain myself from lapsing into Fanboy Babble Mode for the first hour of the event during which i cajoled the legends into discussing their experiences in late ’60s West Coast kountah-kulchah, the effects of pyschedelics on them and their work, their earliest cartooning influences, their differing creative processes and other way-fascinating stuff. We were then joined for a second panel concerning the OZ Schoolkids Issue and the resulting legal shenanigans by Geoffrey Robertson QC, Dick Pountain (a veteran underground press hand deputising for our old friend Felix Dennis, who’d gone to somewhat drastic lengths for copping out on the panel) and my fellow ex-OZ schoolkid, architecture guru Deyan Sujic. I was only slightly distracted by a guy in the audience who could have won an Alan Moore Lookalike Contest even if Alan Moore himself had been participating.

The evening concluded with a banquetty thing at the Groucho Club (not one of my regular haunts, I must confess) where we were joined by Terry Gilliam (who’d worked alongside our two heroes in New York at Harvey Kurtzman’s HELP! magazine during the early ’60s) and where I discovered, much to my gleeful surprise, that a Seriously Famous Movie Star is a major fan of my Jimi Hendrix book, Crosstown Traffic.

So what were they like? Even cooler than I’d hoped. Shelton is a laid-back, dry-witted senior hippie and Crumb presents an elegantly dapper and sardonic figure bearing only a passing resemblance to the frazzled misanthrope of his on-the-page self. Video clippage is imminent.

Nobody seemed to have any bloody dope; everybody’s so damn respectable nowadays … but everything else one could have desired was present and more than correct. They even tell me I’m getting paid, too … miracolo!

Watch a video of the OZ Schoolkids Issue obscenity trial debate at Comics Unmasked.

Pix: Mr Crumb, Mr Me and Mr Shelton by Ander McIntyre; Aline Kominsky-Crumb and Anna Chen by Lora Fountain.

Anna-AlineCrumb-med copy

CSM’s Choice: Rock Stars Stole My Life! by Mark Ellen

Charles Shaar Murray reviews
ROCK STARS STOLE MY LIFE!

Mark Ellen
Coronet, 2014

Any autobiography worth reading (ghosted or not) will reflect the character and personality of its author. It should therefore come as no particular surprise that this account of Mark Ellen’s decades of writing, editing and broadcasting stuff to do with poppy rocky stuff should be bluff, boisterous, bustling, tiggerishly-bouncily energetic, insightful and oft-times coached in urbanely Wodehousean rodomontade. The aforementioned ‘stuff’ began with a stint at the NME and proceeded via a long and winding road which included editing Smash Hits, fronting the Whistle Test and Live Aid and founding Q, Mojo and the much-missed Word. This latter was the best mag of its type you could get: it collapsed just two issues short of what would have been its tenth anniversary, and I miss it both as a reader and as a contributor.

All in all, not bad for a former lumpenhippie devotee of truly awful prog-rock who briefly shared a college rock band with a hog-whimperingly embarrassing Mick Jagger impersonator later better-known as Prime Minister of the UK turned megalomaniac war criminal. The book contains somewhat less about their subsequent encounters than this reader would have liked: Mark being both a diplomatic and a loyal soul, he continued to insist that his former bandmate, Tony Blair, was ‘a good man’ long after the evidence clearly suggested otherwise.

Mark considered himself too old for punk. In fact, he was only a year older than Mick Jones, two years younger than Joe Strummer, three years younger than yr correspondent and considerably the junior of anyone in The Ramones, let alone Patti Smith or Debbie Harry. Despite considering the NME posse a standoffish lot when he first arrived, he evidently felt that I hadn’t been too horrible to him because he subsequently offered me gainful employment on three of the above-mentioned magazines.

As well as being an entertaining, enlightening and anecdote-stuffed ride, Mark’s provided a sobering requiem for a majorly fun era in both music and its attendant media which is rapidly disappearing, its smoke and funk being relentlessly sucked away by the air-conditioning of harsher times.

The Mark Ellen you meet in these pages is, for all practical purposes, the Mark Ellen I first met as a freshfaced lad hanging around the NME office hustling for the chance to write a 300-word gig review. He’s almost as entertaining on the page as he is in RL.


4/5

CSM’s Choice: BB King’s Blues All Around Me: the Autobiography

Charles Shaar Murray reviews
BLUES ALL AROUND ME: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY

BB King with David Ritz
Hodder & Stoughton, 1994

Somehow, this extraordinary memoir slipped through my net on original publication, back when BB was a mere 70 years old. Indeed, when I found it on Charity Shop Row (or a single solitary squid!), I almost passed it by under the impression that I already had it. (Yep, I AM slow on the uptake sometimes: I won’t embarrass myself by revealing how long it took me to figure out why Bill Haley’s band were called The Comets.)

BB King was second only to Louis Armstrong for the ability to combine the roles of Beloved Entertainer and game-changing, globally influential virtuoso: of the ’60s-and-after Rock Guys, only Paul McCartney really came close. Since this book was published, much of his back-story was eloquently depicted in the recent biodoc Life Of Riley, but here on the page — coaxed from him via the alchemy of confidant/confessor David Ritz — the Big B’s narrative takes you further behind that genial, self-deprecating façade than most could possibly have predicted. Until this book was written, B very rarely spoke about the pain in his life: he channelled it via his voice and his guitar. Then he’d smile and thank the ladies and gentlemen.

So here it is: an upbringing (or shall we say ‘non-upbringing’? ‘Semi-upbringing’?) gruelling even by the standards of those born black and poor in the rural Mississippi Delta during the 1920s. The struggle to acquire and master his chosen craft and then turn it first into a means of making a living, and then into a career. No drugging and not that much drinking, but a near-lifelong battle with sex addiction and a massive gambling habit. A cosy-schmoozy showbiz autobiog this most certainly isn’t, but neither does it drip with self-pity or lapse into therapese. Even at his most scarifyingly self-revelatory, B retains both his dignity and his charm.

If, gentle reader, BB King’s work has any significance for you, then try and be smarter than yr correspondent. In another words, don’t leave it 18 years before you read it.


5/5