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.
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.