Felix Dennis, without whom — a requiem

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This just in: Felix Dennis has left the building, departed this plane of existence, passed away. Another man done gone, less than a year after Mick Farren split. (Felix and I both wrote introductions of sorts to Micky’s best-of collection Elvis Died For Somebody’s Sins But Not Mine.) You’ll be seeing summaries of his extraordinary life and career all over mainstream media any second now, but since I pretty much owe what I laughingly refer to as ‘my career’ to Felix, let’s just stick with the personal stuff …

I first met him in 1970 at Richard Neville’s basement at the preliminary editorial meeting for what eventually became the OZ Schoolkids Issue. As the magazine’s business manager and in-house ‘freak with a briefcase’, I was struck by the clash of his pinstripe suit with his Louis XIV hair and wildman beard … and his near-hysterical piratical guffaw.

He was both the most practical and the most hedonistic of the OZ triumvirate: simultaneously brusque and compassionate. When I decided to relocate to London on New Years Day of 1972, it was Felix who put me up, rent-free, in the spare room of his then dwelling at 44 Wandsworth Bridge Road, allowing me unlimited access to his fridge, his library and his record collection, and there I stayed until Felix moved out several months later. By then I was able to roll a decent spliff and I’ve still never flatshared with anyone who had so many girlfriends – or such noisy ones. All he asked in return was that I always made sure there was an untouched pint of milk in the fridge: he needed it for the ulcer he already had in his mid-20s.

Without OZ I might never have found a first home in print: without Felix’s generosity I’ve no idea how I’d have gained my first foothold in London. Many years later I worked for him again, at MacUser, and more recently he helped me out of a massive jam, even though we’d seen very little of each other for decades. ‘We’re not close friends,’ he explained, ‘but we’re old friends.’

He was booked to appear alongside R Crumb and former OZ lawyer Geoffrey Robertson at a panel about the OZ trial which I’ll be hosting on July 14 as part of The British Library’s Comics Unmasked season, but last week we heard that he was unwell and not able to appear. Guess he wasn’t kidding … Felix, if you changed your mind about doing the gig, just saying so would’ve been enough. I therefore intend to dedicate the event to him.

For now: in his honour — a poem. Hail and farewell, Felix …

We only meet at funerals
Fewer of us each time
More and more passengers disembark
As we approach the end of the line

Fewer and fewer chairs required
At each gathering of the clan
How long before we can count ourselves
On the fingers of one hand?

Some of us split long ago
Some of us hang on
Some keep an empty glass on the table
For those already gone

Some of us got famous
Some of us got rich
Some of us just got all fucked up
Ain’t that a bitch?

Some of us remember
When it wasn’t all just for show
Some of us still light a candle
For the dreams of long ago

Some left the party early
But no matter how many are dead
A spliff still burns in the ashtray
For revolutions in the head

CSM meets R. Crumb and Gilbert Shelton live at the British Library’s Comics Unmasked!

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Charles Shaar Murray presents Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, Fat Freddy’s Cat, the Oz Trial, Felix Dennis, Geoffrey Robertson and Deyan Sujic in July.

It’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it. Since I must have done something good in a previous life (or maybe even this one), I was invited by the curators of the British Library’s Comics Unmasked! season to host a pair of back-to-back panels on the evening of July 14. The second will be cool enough — a retrochatty thing on the OZ Obscenity Trial featuring Felix Dennis (among many other CV items, one of the three editors of the Schoolkids Issue which kicked off the whole hilarious mess), Geoffrey Robertson (distinguished civil rights lawyer who worked on the defence case as a junior to the late John Mortimer) and Deyan Sujic (now a frontline architecture guru but, back in 1970, the sole skinhead member of the OZ Schoolkids posse).I may also be contributing one or two of my own recollections.

The first, however, will be a rare joint public appearance (arf, etc) by the two most distinguished cartoonists to emerge from the San Francisco underground of the late ’60s: Gilbert Shelton (creator of The Fabulous Furry Freak brothers, Fat Freddy’s Cat and Wonder Warthog) and R. Crumb (creator of Mr Natural, Fritz The Cat and — ummmm — R. Crumb). The latter will, we hope, also be sticking around for the OZ panel since it was a culture-jam mash-up of one of his strips with the Daily Express’s Rupert Bear which caused so much of the agg and trubb.

My answer? You’ve got two guesses, and one of them doesn’t count. The words ‘pleasure’ and ‘privilege’ spring irresistibly to mind.

(Almost) everything you need to know about this fabulous cultural event can be found here. It’s sold out — quite rightly, too — but it may be worth checking with the organisers to see if there are any available returns you can snaffle.

In the meantime, I’ve been catching up with the latest collections of both Crumb and Shelton’s work from Knockabout Comics – needless to say, I salute their indefatigabilty – and urge y’all to do likewise.

Hope to see you there …

Plus I’m immensely flattered that, out of all the work by megadistinguished comix creators which could have been chosen to represent the 1988 Alan Moore-edited anti-Clause 28 comic AARGH! (Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia), the one that the curators chose to display and to excerpt in the catalogue was the one I wrote (illustrated by Floyd Hughes), entitled Friday Night At The Boozer. All I can say is: my output as a comix writer is tiny … but cute.

Hup.

PS As an added tasty treat, I’ve commenced the reconstruction oof this site’s Comics section with a piece I wrote about Crumb some years back — find it here.