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.

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

A few thoughts about rock criticism

charlesshaarmurray

… written in the early 1990s under circumstances I can no longer recall (hence the references to Guns ‘N Roses and Ice-T — then cutting-edge but now Old Folks Music and barely familiar to anyone under the age of 35 — and Frank Zappa as a living person existing in the present tense).*  Nevertheless, I still stand by it, and I still tell my Hothouse Project students much of this stuff today — alongside, of course, much more.

Goes something like THIS:

Notes On Dancing About Architecture

1. It may or may not have been Frank Zappa who dismissed rock criticism by suggesting that ‘writing about music is like dancing about architecture’ (perhaps it was Prince Charles, who himself has had many and merry a dance about architecture); but it was certainly Zappa who claimed that rock journalism is ‘people who can’t write interviewing people who can’t talk for people who can’t read.’ Zappa himself talks better than most rock musicians; he’s certainly been interviewed by many people (some of whom can actually write), and presumably the only rock fans whom he thinks can read are those who buy his own records; but he undoubtedly represents the views of a great many musicians. Any practicing rockcrit can quote examples of musicians who considered writers to be persons of vast acuity, immense musical knowledge and almost terrifying personal integrity as long as those writers were publishing favourable judgements on the recorded products in question. As soon as the critic registers a negative viewpoint on the artist’s work, (s)he is magically transformed into a deaf, ignorant reptile with no other agenda than the ruthless destruction of their betters. Certainly, there is considerable confusion about exactly what rock criticism is; and the first step to resolving that confusion is to discuss two of the things it isn’t.

2. The first thing that rock criticism isn’t is reviewing (except when Robert Christgau does it). Reviewing is a simple advisory service for consumers; letting them know what records are in the stores (or which tours are about to pass through which localities), and making recommendations as to which artefacts represent a sensible use of the rocking-dollar portion of the reader’s disposable income. The reviewer thus becomes a knowledgeable head waiter, prepared to tell the prospective diner what’s nice today – and what’s ‘off.’ This presupposes that the reviewer is either able to conceal their idiosycrasies and prejudices to a sufficient extent to serve as a neutral conduit for information, or else to make said quirks sufficiently obvious for the reader to make his/her consumption decisions whether in agreement with the reviewer or not.

3. The second thing that rock criticism isn’t is reportage. Description, colour, you-are-there: this is all good stuff, and it’s something that anybody who calls themself a writer – of any description – should be able to do. A sharp eye and ear for character, setting and nuance never did anybody any harm; at its best this kind of stuff is the sort of sketch-writing on which Charles Dickens honed his skills; at its worst it’s the kind of bland celebrity journalism which currently dominates all cultural discourse. The demand thus placed on the artist is to become a ‘character’: to have interesting drug habits, diet tips, tattoos and working methods, or to cultivate controversial opinions, beat up photographers and undress in public.

4. None of the above should imply that there is anything negligible about being a competent, knowledgeable reviewer, sympathetic (and/or confrontational) interviewer or snappy, perceptive descriptive writer. No-one who has not cultivated these skills is liable to last very long as a cultural journalist, unless they are appallingly well-connected within their chosen industry and are in a position to deliver ‘exclusives’ on a regular basis. (As a rule of thumb, anybody whose by-line appears regularly in important periodicals on stories about major entertainers despite style-free prose and inconvenience-free questioning probably falls into this category.) Nevertheless, this isn’t criticism.

5. So, what is? Criticism implies perspective: it means having a clear and precise vision (and not just an additood, dooooood) of where the work of the artist under discussion at any given moment fits into the history and current state of the art-form, how that art-form fits into the general state of popular culture, and what popular culture itself represents in view of the social and political realities of the time. A new record by Ice-T or Guns N’ Roses or anybody else is, to the reviewer, a state-of-the-art example of rap, hard-rock or whatever; and it may or may not be better or worse consumer-value than the last record by that artist or the latest by a comparable artist whose work could be considered better. To the celeb-journo, Ice-T and Axl Rose are controversial public figures guaranteed to toss out a few good quotes which can be pulled out of the feature and splashed acoss the page in 72-point type. To the critic, Axl and Ice-T may be exemplars of a crisis in masculinity among insecure adolescents; they may be symptoms of a decline in popular culture since the days of Sly Stone or Jim Morrison; they could be the result of a moral failure on the part of ‘responsible’ rockers since they both use the N-word about blacks and the B-word about women; they could be great popular entertainers who articulate the needs and concerns of the communities who support their work; one of them could be a brainless thug while the other is a great poet … and so on.

6. It doesn’t matter what the ‘line’ of any individual critic might be as long as there is one. What matters is the quality of the argument, and the resources that the critic brings to bear to back it up. While the reviewer counsels your cultural investments on a bang-for-the-buck basis and the celeb-journo describes the public (or private, or second-level-public disguised as ‘private’) face of a phenomenon, the critic does all of that … and then more.

7. On a good day, anyway.

* My friend Dave Rimmer reminds me, “I commissioned that piece for the Berlin Independence Days catalogue 1992. As part of the deal you were also on a panel with Swells, Chris Bohn, Diedrich Diedrichson and others I can’t recall, moderated by moi.”

Aha — it’s all coming back to me now …

Read more about Charles Shaar Murray’s Hothouse Project “Journalism as Craft and Art” writing course.

One Hothouse Project writing course closes, another one opens

HotSpring14-CSM01 copy

An utter triumph, dwahlinks. Another term of North London’s finest indie writing course comes to a close.

Next Hothouse writing course starts Thursday May 29th at Emmanuel Church, West Hampstead, NW6.

We laughed, we cried, we hurled, we learned stuff … well, apart from the ‘crying’ and ‘hurling’ bits.  The latest Hothouse Project course wrapped last Thursday night and, as ever, yr correspondent learned at least as much from the students as they learned from me. (Or, as I told them, if they enjoyed it half as much as I did, then I enjoyed it twice as much as them.)

The Hothouse Project, as those who’ve checked out the more recondite bits of my site will know, is my 8-week course in Journalism As Craft and Art (held at the Emmanuel Church in West Hampstead under the joint auspices of Aaaargh! Press and Storm Books), and we’re already gearing up for the next one, which kicks off on May 29.

Remember: unlike the myriad classes and courses running under the umbrellas of major publications and educational institutions, The Hothouse Project  is the guerilla-stylee, underground-press, 100% indie writing course … about as uncorporate as it gets.

So come sign up, awreddy … we’re ready for you, and I hope you’re ready for me …

The Hothouse Project writing course is an eight-week part-time course of weekly evening classes in West Hampstead, London NW6. Next one starts 7-9pm, Thursday 29th May.